Tutankhamun exhibition a 'message of peace from the Egyptian people to the British'

The exhibition's producers hope that at least two million people will visit the show while it's in London

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When British archaeologist Howard Carter and financier Lord Carnarvon discovered Tutankhamun's tomb almost a century ago, they captured imaginations across the globe.

The UK's ties with the golden pharaoh, dating back to that momentous day in 1922, are underlined in a major new exhibition in London, Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh.

“There is a very old and strong love story between Tutankhamun and the UK,” said Khaled El Anany, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, when speaking at the opening ceremony of the new exhibition, which runs from 2 November to 3 May 2020 at London’s Saatchi Gallery.

Produced by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture and curated by Tarek El Awady, the director general of the Egypt Museum in Cairo, the exhibition includes 150 antiquities on loan from Egypt – more than in any previous touring show on the Golden pharaoh, with 60 of the artefacts never previously shown outside Egypt.

Although the majority of the collection is in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the new London exhibition is three times larger than the original Tutankhamun exhibition that arrived in London in 1972. The antiquities all date back to the rein of the pharaoh between 1332 and 1323 BC.

The showing serves as a ‘teaser’, according to the minister, for the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo next year, which, for the first time in history, will publicly display all of Tutankhamun’s treasure all under one roof. Previously, there had been little more than a third of the child king’s treasure on display at any given time.

“It's a message of peace from the Egyptian people to the British people, telling them we are waiting for you to visit Egypt, to visit our archaeological sites, our new discoveries, the Grand Egyptian Museum,” he said.

Renowned archaeologist and former minister of antiquities Dr Zahi Hawass, who helped curate and write the catalogue for the exhibition, told The National that he would like to see the artefacts as part of an exhibition at the Louvre in Abu Dhabi. "If you have a famous guy there like Tutankhamun it will make this museum known to the world," he told The National.

The ancient Egyptians believed that death was also a rebirth. Through nine immersive galleries that incorporate digital content, contextual material, audio and custom soundscapes, the exhibition portrays Tutankhamun’s passage into everlasting life, discovering how his funerary objects were used on his journey.

Such objects include grand statues, scarabs, vases and a white lotus chalice, called “the wishing cup” by Howard Carter.

Perhaps the most impressive, according to El Awady, is the wooden Guardian Statue of the Ka of the King Wearing the Nemes Headcloth because of its “magic eyes”, which are made of volcanic obsidian. The king’s sandals and uraeus (cobra) on the guardian’s forehead are made of bronze. It is one of the 60 works in the exhibition that have left Egypt for the first time.

"Try to look at this statue from any angle and you will see the eyes are not looking at you because they look far beyond you. They are looking to the eternal life of the king," he tells The National.

It was one of two statues found in the tomb of Tutankhamun by Carter, where they were standing facing each other. When the archaeologist examined the space between the two statues, he found the sealed burial chamber. The other statue is in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

“That's why he named the two statues the guardian statues because they were protecting the burial chamber of the king. And this is the only life size sculpture found inside the tomb of Tutankhamun – that's why it's very distinguished.”

London is the third out of 10 cities in the tour of the golden pharaoh. Previous shows attracted crowds of 700,000 in Los Angeles and 1.4 million in Paris, becoming the most visited exhibition in France.

Noting that the second show attracted double the amount of visitors as the first, El Anany quipped that “the maths is simple” as to how many people he wants to attend the third show in London – 2.4 million.