World Beat

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 September, 2005, 12:00am

What's going on around the globe

The Tutankhamun exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was expected to be so popular that a huge white tent was erected just to shelter waiting visitors. And the opening night of the exhibition - titled Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs - had all the makings of a movie premiere, with plenty of celebrities in attendance.

But now, midway through the five-month show (it's due to end on November 15), the crowds have all but gone.

The last time the Tutankhamun exhibition was in Los Angeles was 27 years ago. It's now a much larger and more significant incarnation. The show provides a rare opportunity to glimpse a lost culture, learn about the legends and mythology of ancient Egypt, and examine workmanship so fine that pieces dating from 3,000BC look as if they're only 50 years old.

The exhibition comprises more than 130 treasures from the tombs of Tutankhamun and other Egyptian royals, as well as pieces from other ancient sites. The museum has staged this as a separate presentation, allotting an entire building to it, and outfitting the rooms as if they're darkened caves. Large alabaster pillars define one section of the show from another.

Visitors are guided first into a small room to see a short film about the discovery of the artefacts, narrated by Omar Sharif.

From there, glass cases house priceless pieces showing how Egyptians lived centuries ago, and how they died. The items range from the mundane - a wooden bust was probably a mannequin to hold royal ceremonial garments - to the exquisite, such as a jewellery chest made from ivory and gold.

Many of the pieces were found in tombs along the Valley of the Kings, where they remained undisturbed until British archaeologist Howard Carter found them in 1922. Quotes from Carter's diary are written on the walls, giving an indication of what he was thinking during his hunt. On first seeing the treasures, he wrote: 'Everywhere, the glint of gold.'

About 50 major objects were excavated from Tutankhamun's tomb alone - among them his gold crown. Tutankhamun, who assumed the throne at the age of nine, died suddenly at 19. A central part of the exhibition is a small gold and precious stone-inlaid coffin that held his mummified internal organs.

Just as fascinating are the objects from other royal graves of the time, including those of Tutankhamun's ancestors, Amenhotep II and Thutmose IV, and his great-grand-parents, Yuya and Tuyu.

Gazing through the glass cases connects you to a time steeped in lore and legend. Certainly, the dog collars and perfume bottles could be from a more recent age - were they not made of ornate gold and turquoise. But the funerary masks of wood, gold and glass show the reverence with which Egyptians viewed death.

There are also many examples of the ankh symbol, representing life, which were found rendered in wood and faience within the tombs for use in royal last rites.

The many statues of Tut, made from a combination of wood, glass, gold, resin and copper alloy, indicate the god-like status in which he was held. According to Egyptian tradition, gold represented luxury and craftsmanship, lapis lazuli symbolised longevity, ebony was for endurance, and silver represented the moon. There's a small child's chair and footrest, as well as the crook Tutankhamun might have carried.

Entrance to the exhibition costs US$30 and a portion of the proceeds will go towards building a permanent home in Cairo for all of Tut's artefacts.