As Egypt goes through fundamental political change, people fascinated by the country's ancient civilization worry that a new government might restrict loans to museums overseas. Among the most successful commercial ventures involving Egyptian antiquities have been traveling exhibits of treasures from the tomb of King Tutankhamun, Tut as he is better known.
One of those exhibits is now drawing crowds at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Many people visiting the museum fear this could be their last chance to see such magnicient and important antiquities.
This exhibit is called “Tutankhamun, the Golden King and the Great Pharaohs.” It shows the splendor of ancient Egypt through art works and jewelry as well as ordinary objects, like this bed.
Visitors like Ayanna feel drawn to the world of these ancient people. “Three thousand years ago, and I am still able to see things that they touched and felt and interacted with. It's just amazing," she said.
King Tut rested in obscurity until British archaeologist Howard Carter found his tomb in 1922, more than three thousand years after his death. But since then, he has become an international superstar, thanks in part to films of the National Geographic Society, which was a sponsor of this exhibit.
Kathryn Keane, the society's Director of Traveling Exhibitions, says the world knows Tut because his tomb was mostly intact when Carter found it. “There are much, much larger tombs and burial sites and much more prominent pharaohs than King Tut, but all of those tombs had been looted or otherwise disturbed over time," she said.
Keane says the National Geographic Society has been following Tut ever since. "And new discoveries are constantly being made in Egypt, so we will be there as long as there are stories to tell," she said.
The stories in this exhibit include recent DNA samples from Tut's mummy, genetically linking him to Egyptian royals who preceded him, and tests showing an infection in a broken leg that might have caused his death, at the age of 19.
Egypt is building a huge new museum to house its ancient treasures, and some observers fear a new government may be less willing to allow treasures like these to leave the country again.
Mark Lach is a vice president with Arts and Exhibitions International, the company that organized this exhibit. He's more optimistic. “My sense is that Egypt will always want to share their history with the world and through exhibitions they will do that," he said.
This show is also raking in money for Egypt, something the country needs to maintain its treasures at home. Abd El Hamid Marouf is an official with Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. “We use the exhibitions everywhere in the world to gain the money for the conservation and preservation of our monuments," he said.
What exhibitions have also done is bring this ancient culture to the US heartland, where people might not otherwise have been able to see such treasures.
“Some of those cities... it has been spectacular, not only the reception of the exhibition, but how people have been affected and that has been a joy of ours to be a part of that," said Lach.
After it leaves Houston next April, the exhibition moves to its final US stop in Seattle.