Dorchester's Tutankhamun Exhibition enables guests to explore the depths of the famous Pharaoh's tomb as it was when Howard Carter discovered it in 1922: From peering into the treasure room alongside Carter, to delving into the vast burial chamber where he unveils a glistening golden coffin, great lengths are taken to immerse us into that legendary moment of discovery.
Recreating a Legend
This atmospheric walk-through of the tomb is so close to the original that even the pleasant funerary odours match what Carter could smell at the time! The Exhibition's manager Tim Batty reveals the secrets behind recreating this remarkable scene so closely:
“Howard Carter was an excellent archaeologist so when he discovered Tutankhamun's tomb, untouched and filled with treasures, he realised that he had a massive responsibility to excavate it properly and carefully. The whole process of going through room to room, extracting the artefacts, took about ten years!
“He'd assembled a big team- a photographer, conservators, and various other professionals, who went through each individual treasure, photographing, measuring and documenting them. Because all this data exists, we worked from that and with reference to some of the original treasures too, so that everything is as close to the original as possible.”
Egyptologist Dr. Michael Ridley had involvement with the 1972 London exhibition, which featured the authentic treasures. Following damages, the treasures didn't leave Egypt afterwards, giving Dr. Ridley the idea to bring the excitement of Tutankhamun to England once more in his own way.
“We thought we'll do the next best thing- we'll recreate the treasures and also recreate something you didn't experience in London, which was the actual moment of discovery. The experience is like stepping back to 1922, being there with Howard Carter and the auras and the smells- the pleasant odours the funerary oils gave off when they got into the tomb, accompanied by the words that Carter and Lord Carnarvon spoke at the time.
“What we try to engender is to give people a feeling of what it was like to be there, to make this massive, now world-famous discovery. As well as thousands of members of the public, the Exhibition is visited by many school parties. Teachers tell us that it brings the whole subject to life for the children. When they're studying Tutankhamun at school, this experience is the pinnacle of the topic because it sets the whole thing alight and they love it. We get fantastic comments from families coming around because they can't believe how exquisitely detailed and accurate the treasures are!”
An Authentic Touch
Getting the scents of the tomb accurate required a surprising kind of research:
“The British Museum have a jar- you wouldn't believe this -of the air that was in the tomb! Dr. Michael Ridley was allowed to smell inside, so our exhibition's aroma is as close as we could get to what the original was like. It's amazing really!”
The Exhibition's treasures were even made with the same materials and methods that were employed in Ancient Egypt for near-unparalleled realism.
“In the final gallery are a range of key treasures, such as the funerary mask, the harpooner and Anubis. We used the same techniques and materials as were on the original artefacts so that everything is as exact as can be. For example, the harpooner was carved out of wood and then overlaid with gold leaf- the Tutankhamun Exhibition’s treasures are almost treasures in their own right!
“Many television companies, such as the BBC, Channel 4, and international companies, come to film here because they recognise the quality of the treasures we have.”
What is to Come
With the discovery being almost one hundred years ago, one might think an attraction like the Tutankhamun Exhibition would have nothing new to offer by now. Tim Batty thinks otherwise:
“One of the exciting things about Tutankhamun is that people are always making new discoveries. New scans within the tomb suggest that there are possibly hidden chambers that weren't known about before and it's thought that these might be where Nefertiti, Tutankhamun's step-mother, is buried.
“Another discovery was made concerning the two beautiful daggers, one of which we have on display in the exhibition. They've recently found that the iron of the dagger’s blades were made from an incredibly hard meteoric rock, so they had a very special meaning.
“The story will always go on; there are always new things to discover and people are fascinated by Ancient Egypt and Tutankhamun, which is great! Hopefully we capture a little bit of that- the reconstruction of the tomb and its treasures just gives a flavour of what Ancient Egypt was like.”
Tutankhamun is an iconic figure in history and popular culture alike. With his mysterious story and the worldwide influence of Carter's discovery, people are sure to continue visiting the Tutankhamun Exhibition for many years. What better way to spend an afternoon than to visit 1922 as a tomb explorer in your own right, and through Carter's eyes, journey even further back to the glittering years of Ancient Egyptian royalty?
For further information go to www.tutankhamun-exhibition.co.uk
Images copyright to The Tutankhamun Exhibition