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Archaeology Watch

Pharaoh's Glories Come to Basel and Dazzle the Swiss
Thursday, April 15 (Issue 7)
Courtesy of Egypt Tourism Ministry

CAIRO ( - The most important exhibition of ancient Egyptian artefacts to be seen in Europe for over 20 years has opened in Basel.

Tutankhamun – the Golden Beyond” has over 50 pieces from the tomb of the mysterious boy pharaoh, as well as a further 70 items, many of which have never been seen before outside Egypt.

The exhibition is the result of long years of negotiation by the curators of Basel’s Museum of Antiquities, who had to persuade the Egyptian authorities to overrule a parliamentary vote forbidding the loan of Tutankhamen’s tomb relics to other countries.

The Boy King Tutankhamon
The Boy King Tutankhamon

Egyptian mystery:

The last time an exhibition of this magnitude was seen in Europe was in Berlin in 1980. But that exhibition, and the famous London show of 1972, focused almost entirely on the mystery of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamen himself.

The Basel exhibition takes a broader view. As well as over 50 relics from Tutankhamen’s tomb, there are pieces from other royal tombs, and the tombs of high-ranking members of the court.

“We wanted to show Tutankhamen in a wider context,” explained chief curator André Wiese. “So we have included other tomb relics from the period 14th to 15th centuries BC.

The exhibition is indeed a stunning illustration of the effort and artistic skill that went into preparing the luxurious tombs, whose contents were designed to speed the dead into the afterlife.

As well as relics from Tutankhamen, there is an ornately carved chair belonging to Princess Satamun, a graceful wooden unguent spoon, and even a painted leather collar once worn by a royal hunting dog.

A gold-gilded cartouche bearing
A gold-gilded cartouche bearing
the king's name among the exhibition

Tutankhamen’s reputation:

Despite Tutankhamen’s reputation as having the most luxurious tomb of all, many of its contents were not in fact originally designed for him.

The young pharaoh died mysteriously at the age of only 17; preparations for his tomb had scarcely begun, so many of his funeral items were in fact hastily borrowed from older members of the royal family who were still alive.

The exhibition, which will last six months, is expected to attract at least half a million visitors.
And contrary to rumours in the press, there is no shortage of tickets. However, visitors will be expected to state not only a day, but also a specific time at which they intend to come to the museum.

Egypt has received SFr5 million ($3.86 million) for loaning the exhibits – the money will go towards building a new museum in Cairo. And the pieces have been insured for around SFr840 million.”

Legendary curse:

One aspect of ancient Egypt which the exhibition does not address is the legendary curse of the pharaohs, which apparently dooms all those who dare to disturb their tombs.

But Zahi Hawass, who has excavated many tombs himself, had a light-hearted answer to that question.

“On the entrance to one tomb I excavated, there was a carving which said ‘anyone who disturbs my tomb will be eaten by a crocodile, a hippo, and a lion’,” he said.

In fact Egypt is hoping that the exhibition in Basel will bring not only money for the much needed museum construction, but increased numbers of tourists to Egypt itself. And chief curator André Wiese is so delighted by the very fact of staging the exhibition at all, that he has little time to think about curses.

. 4000-year-old tomb of Egyptian official unearthed at Saqqara
(issue 1)
. Thousands of antiquities retrieved from sunken city at the Mediterranean Sea (issue 2)
. New Kalabsha Island Turns into an Open-Air Museum (issue 3)
. Website Brings Life to Egypt’s Monuments (issue 4)
. Courtiers and Donkeys Buried to Escort Pharaonic Kings in Afterlife, New Discoveries Reveal (issue 5)
. Pharaoh’s Sarcophagus Re-Assembled from 250 Fragments (issue 6)

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