King Tutankhamen, the once-forgotten monarch, takes Philadelphia by storm

Daily News Egypt
7 Min Read

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA: One king s reign heralded revolution.

The other s brought restoration. And after a later ruler set out to erase the pair from history, both were forgotten for more than 3,000 years.

The beginning of the now-famous story of King Tut and the revolutionary pharaoh who was his probable father is on display in Amarna: Ancient Egypt s Place in the Sun, now running through October 2007 at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

The exhibit, featuring more than 100 artifacts from the boy-pharaoh Tutankhamen’s birthplace of Amarna, serves as a sister exhibition to The Franklin Institute Science Museum s blockbuster Tut show beginning Feb. 3, 2007.

We wanted to get something up that would truly complement that show, said Pam Kosty, a Penn Museum spokeswoman. This was just perfect. It s the childhood home of Tut. The exhibition timeline starts before Tut s birth, and before Amarna was built, with excavated busts of the pharaohs from whom he was descended and of the many gods they worshipped.

Its focus, though, is on Egypt s brief Amarna Period, circa 1353 to 1336 BCE, when Tut s presumed father, the pharaoh Akhenaten, tried to refashion Egyptian society after his vision.

Seeking a place where no other gods were held sacred, Akhenaten moved the capital of the Egyptian kingdom from its traditional seat at Thebes to a spot on the eastern bank of the Nile River. There, he built the city now known as Amarna – and moved 20,000 people there – in about 12 years.

Stone statues and reliefs at the heart of the exhibit reflect the changes Akhenaten imposed on Egyptian society.

Trumpeting a religion that for the first time in recorded history relied on the belief in a single god, Akhenaten strove to turn his monotheistic subjects to the worship of the Aten – the sun disc.

The sun is in the sky and you always see it. In that case, it s almost transcendental, said museum curator and Egyptologist David Silverman.

Like in Judeo-Christian or Muslim religions, it s worshipping the concept of a deity rather than the deity itself. As a result, temple architecture under Akhenaten changed because the buildings no longer had to accommodate three-dimensional renderings of the gods. Art took on more naturalistic, curved lines, as can be seen in the full-figured, if headless, statue of a princess on display.

Without anthropomorphic gods to depict, reliefs began to show aspects of royal family life for the first time. A piece at the museum shows Akhenaten offering an earring to a princess, who also cradles a baby.

The largest and most striking piece in the exhibit is a monumental relief of Akhenaten and his daughter with their arms raised, worshipping the sun disc.

Hieroglyphs representing the pharaoh are carved next to the sun s rays on a stone, which has a subtle golden glow that almost hints that it, too, has been basking in the daylight.

The piece also belies the ultimate failure of Akhenaten s radical religion. Amarna was later dismantled and images of its heretic king destroyed, and marks remain from where the relief was cut to be moved to another city and used as the base for another monument. A later king s hieroglyphs also run down its side.

Luckily or ironically, it s because it was kept face down for so long that it was so well preserved, Silverman said.

The exhibit moves on to Akhenaten s presumed son Tutankhamen, who assumed the throne at the age of nine or 10.

Probably at the prompting of advisers, King Tut moved the capital back to Thebes after several years in power and recorded the date of the move as Year One of his reign – effectively erasing the time in Amarna from his record.

He began early on to restore Egypt to its traditional beliefs, a move evinced by the angular statues of him exhibited in the museum that represent a return to a style of sculpture from before Akhenaten.

Tut s conservative government may not have gone far enough, however, because when a general later took the throne, he spent much of his reign removing all signs of Akhenaten and anything or anyone related to him.

The exhibit closes with a royal genealogical panel that makes no mention of Akhenaten, Tut or those who ruled in the years closest to their reigns.

All memory of the revolutionary father and his more conventional son may have been lost if archaeologists hadn t begun to excavate the ancient capital of Amarna in the 19th century, and then Howard Carter s 1922 discovery of Tut s treasure-filled tomb and its mythical curse catapulted the once-forgotten pharaoh into the global imagination.

The Penn Museum, which holds the world s third-largest collection of Egyptian artifacts, will host a series of lectures, tours and films during the exhibit s run.

Also the curator of the national Tut exhibit, Silverman said he enjoyed putting together the Penn show because it allowed him to tell another detail of the story that didn t fit into the blockbuster, by bringing out pieces that Penn had been holding in storage.

Some of the artifacts on display have never been viewed by the public before.

Silverman said he thought visitors would appreciate the items – a comb, paintbrush, wine jug and basketry – that give a feeling of everyday life in Amarna.

I wanted to give more of a sense of the people of Egypt at the time, Silverman said.

It was not just gold and mummies.

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