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Second time around, Tut treasures are a family affair


LOS ANGELES - Following up on the most spectacular royal tour ever, nearly 30 years ago, the wondrous tomb artifacts of Egypt's ancient boy King Tutankhamun have returned to America. Tut arrived in Los Angeles Wednesday with his own entourage, fanfare and the hype of a major modern-day rock star.

Egyptian and American officials unveiled the new King Tut traveling exhibit, "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs," at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Hoping to equal the success of the 1970s exhibition, which broke museum attendance records wherever it went, this time the exhibit will travel to four American cities and run through January 2007.

It has already been exhibited in Basel, Switzerland, and Bonn, Germany. After Los Angeles, it travels to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Chicago, Philadelphia and London. (The Philadelphia stop, the closest to Baltimore, is scheduled to open at the Franklin Institute in February 2007.)

The show unveiled in Los Angeles has striking differences from the 1970s exhibit. Gone is the spectacular, solid gold coffin mask of Tut by which the tragic royal figure is most widely identified.

Many artifacts in the new exhibit, however, have never been outside Egypt before. Some have never been shown publicly anywhere before. The biggest difference is that Tut this time is traveling with the trappings of a royal entourage. Besides 50 objects from his own tomb, there are 80 more from those of his fractious ancestors - father, mother, grandparents and great-grandparents.

Zawi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, who spearheaded the idea for the new tour, was frank in the reasoning for the return of Tut to American shores: Egypt needs the money that the tour is designed to generate.

"Museums have made a lot of money from these exhibits in the past," Hawass said Wednesday, "but Egypt got nothing."

Many of his country's greatest ancient monuments will crumble in the next 100 years, he said, unless expensive rescue and preservation projects are undertaken soon. A "significant" percentage of the entry fees that museums will charge to get into the new exhibit will go to underwrite those projects, he said.

In Los Angeles, where the exhibit opened to the public Thursday, the museum is charging a special $25 entry fee on weekdays and $30 on weekends.

Despite the high price tag, the allure and magic of the story of the tragic life and death of the powerful, fabulously wealthy, teenaged king has been powering advanced ticket sales for the exhibit that have crushed all previous records at the L.A. museum. About 300,000 tickets had been purchased by opening day, officials said.

The exhibit is laid out in 11 sections to tell the story of the troubled times in Egypt before and during Tut's reign 3,300 years ago. Each section showcases the dazzling craftsmanship of ancient artisans that characterized the earlier Tut exhibit.

This exhibit, however, includes artifacts from tombs of earlier royals, including pharoahs Amenhotep II, Thutmose IV, Amenhotep III and Akhenaten. Historians still are not certain if Amenhotep III, one of the most extravagant kings in history, or Akhenaten, the heretic king whose religious revolution failed, was Tut's father.

Items recovered from tombs of Tut's predecessors often display the same sort of achingly beautiful artistry of the objects found in Tut's tomb. One such treasure is an exquisitely carved wooden representation of a woman from Amenhotep III's harem.

Among the most numerous and beautiful pre-Tut objects came from the tomb of Amenhotep III's mother- and father-in-law, Yuya and Tjuya. Their tomb, excavated in 1904, was the most intact ever found until the discovery of Tut's 18 years later.

The gilded funerary and coffin masks of Tjuya, inlaid with precious gems, are among the most spectacular items in the new exhibit.

Tut's tomb, however, was the least disturbed of any royal burial site ever found, so the quality of the luxury goods that were found with him remain more breathtaking than anything else ever found.

Only about a dozen pieces from Tut's tomb that were in the previous exhibit are included in the new one, but they should be familiar to people who saw the earlier version. They include handsome inlaid tables and elaborate royal storage cabinets, alabaster vases, and a small, gold-covered shrine engraved with many tender, sensual scenes of Tut and his beloved teenaged wife, Ankhsenamun.

Tut took the throne at the age of 9 or 10, and among the touching new artifacts in the show is a small but elaborate throne chair he was supposed to have used as a small boy.

Among the exhibit's most beautiful objects is the royal diadem - an unusual, jeweled crown - that Tut wore both in life and in his coffin after his mysterious death at age 19.

The new exhibit ends with a gallery devoted to an investigation that Hawass and other scientists conducted early this year on Tut's body with the use of CT scans. It ruled out a recent theory that Tut was murdered by a blow to the back of his head, but it could not establish a probable cause of death. Many still feel he was murdered.

"He was still a relatively young boy, a relatively insignificant pharaoh when he died," said Terry Garcia, vice president of the National Geographic Society, which assisted the Egyptians in mounting the new tour.

"It was because he was overlooked that Tut was able to achieve what the greatest pharaohs failed to achieve despite their best efforts - true immortality. None is so well known now as Tut." Helping to organize and hype the new Tut tour are two giant entertainment corporations, AEG Exhibitions and Arts and Exhibitions International, which have staged major sports and entertainment events all over the world.

Timothy Leiweke, AEG president, said his company believes the new exhibit tour will have a $150 million impact in Los Angeles through increased tourism. By the time it completes its four U.S. stops and a run in London, it will probably leave behind an economic impact totaling more than $1 billion in those cities, he said.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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