King Tut has been dead more than 3,000 years, but now enjoys the status of a rock star. The teenage pharaoh of Egypt is generating excitement in the United States, as a collection of artifacts from his era begins its U.S. tour. It's first stop is Los Angeles.
The collection contains 130 artifacts from the tomb of Tut, the graves of his relatives, and others who lived with him in 18th-dynasty Egypt.
The exhibition is called "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs," and before it opened June 16, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art had sold a record 300,000 tickets. At least 1.2 million visitors are expected before the exhibit moves to its next stop, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in December. From there, it will travel to Chicago next May and Philadelphia in early 2007.
Andrea Rich, director of the Los Angeles museum, says an exhibit of objects from Tut's tomb drew record crowds here in 1978, and since then, fascination with the pharaoh has only grown.
"King Tut, since his discovery and his first visit here 30 years ago, has become a rock star," she said. "I cannot quite figure out why myself, but there is something about this youthful king and the mythology surrounding him and the wonderful works that come out of his tomb - it simply excites the imagination of everyone from every age group."
King Tut sparked intense interest in 1922, when British archeologist Howard Carter opened his tomb. Tales of a royal curse on those who disturbed the monument only added to the excitement around the discovery.
Terry Garcia of the National Geographic Society, which helped organize the current exhibit, says people are fascinated with Egyptian myth and ritual concerning the afterlife.
"And then, the fact that this is the only intact treasure of a pharaoh that has ever been found. Every other pharaoh's tomb that we have found to date has been looted, and those objects disappeared thousands of years ago," he said.
Many items from Tut's tomb seem almost new, and the curators say they are stunning: a diadem, or crown, made of gold, colored glass and semi-precious jewels found on the head of King Tut's mummy; a tiny coffinette of gold and inlaid stone that held his mummified liver; a gold dagger with a filigree shaft that was found in his coffin. All are works of art by any standard.
John Norman, president of Arts and Exhibitions International, is also helping to organize the exhibit. He says the quality of the workmanship is astounding.
"The meticulous attention to detail, I think, knowing that these objects are 3,400 years old, knowing that it really took a lot to engrave these wonderful objects, even in the wood that you see in some of these chests, the quality of the workmanship is just incredible," he said.
Terry Garcia of the National Geographic Society hopes the exhibit will generate interest in the rich history of Egypt.
"We hope that people will also learn from this exhibit the need to protect and preserve and conserve artifacts around the world, not just these artifacts, but all of the many archeological sites and objects in Egypt and in other countries, because they are disappearing every day," he said.
He says he hopes the show may inspire some youngsters to pursue archeology themselves.
Zahi Hawass, the colorful archeologist who heads Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, says that is already happening.
"I receive, almost every week, five to six letters from American children the age of nine, asking about King Tut, asking to be an archeologist. And King Tut did a big favor in introducing archeology to the public here. But it is important for you to know others than King Tut," he said.
King Tut's mummy and key objects from his tomb, such as the striking gold mask found on his body, are delicate and by law must now remain in Egypt. The archeologist adds that this may well be the last U.S. tour of King Tut artifacts. But other traveling exhibitions on Egyptian history are being planned. One will look at Queen Hatshepsut, a woman who reigned as pharaoh 100 years before King Tut, and another at Cleopatra, who ruled Egypt nearly 1,300 years after the boy-king.