Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Tomb of Tutankhamun - Past Exhibitions - British Museum

Tutankhamun's tomb was discovered in November 1922 by the archaeologists Howard Carter and the fifth Earl of Carnarvon.

The discovery was an important archaeological event. Tutankhamun's tomb is the the only tomb dating from Egypt’s New Kingdom (c1550–1069 BC) to have been found substantially intact. 

The contents provide an unequalled insight into royal funerary practices, art and craftsmanship of the period.

All of the items found inside the tomb are now in the Cairo and Luxor museums in Egypt, while Carter’s excavation records are kept in the Griffith Institute, Oxford. 

 From Egypt to London
In 1967, Egypt's President Nasser consented to a loan of objects from Tutankhamun's tomb to the British Museum. The exhibition date was set for 1972, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the discovery of
the tomb.

Among the star objects chosen for the exhibition were the gilded wooden statuette of Tutankhamun harpooning, the small gilded shrine and the gold mask from the head of the king’s mummy. The objects were carefully assessed in Cairo before being packed in airfreight crates and flown to England. 

The gold mask, together with the other objects of the highest value, travelled in a special high-security consignment on board a Royal Air Force plane.

A whole suite of galleries on the upper floor of the British Museum was vacated (the former Ethnography galleries, now Rooms 41 and 49 – 52) and new display cases installed to receive the objects. Most of the exhibits were displayed individually so they could be seen from all sides.

 The Exhibition
The exhibition Treasures of Tutankhamun was opened on 30 March 1972 by H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. The public reaction to the exhibition was overwhelming. Originally scheduled to run for six months, the exhibition was extended until 30 December 1972 because of its popularity. It was open six and a half days per week, 10am – 9pm.

A total of 1,694,117 visitors saw the objects, over 7,000 per day. Every day, long queues of visitors stretched from the first floor galleries, where the exhibition was staged, back through the Museum, around the forecourt and colonnade and out onto the pavements.

Legacy of the Exhibition
Conservation work in Egypt: The profits from Treasures of Tutankhamun were donated to a major cultural project in Egypt. The construction of a new dam at Aswan threatened several ancient sites with destruction and an international rescue campaign was organised to save the monuments in the area.

£657,731 was raised from the London exhibition towards the UNESCO campaign to rescue the ancient temples of Philae. The campaign involved a massive engineering operation: a coffer-dam was built around Philae island and, once the water had been pumped out, the buildings were dismantled and reassembled nearby. In total, 37,363 blocks of stone were moved and the temples reopened in 1980.

Boosting public interest in EgyptThe exhibition intensified public interest in ancient Egypt. This resulted in a boost in tourism to Egypt and an increased demand for books, films and exhibitions on the subject. The interest generated in 1972 has continued to grow up to the present day.

Further major exhibitionsThe success of Treasures of Tutankhamun opened the way for further major exhibitions at the British Museum and other cultural institutions in Britain.

Find out moreHoward Carter’s records of the excavation of the tomb of Tutankhamun can be consulted on-line HERE. 

Archival material relating to the 1972 exhibition is held at the British Museum, both in the Central Archives and in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan. The objects from the tomb of Tutankhamun are housed in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. At present, a selection of objects form part of a touring exhibition: www.kingtut.org 

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