Tut-Tut-Tut Part I: A Tale of Two Mummies

October 6, 2017 | By

Way back in the late seventies, every school instigated programs to get kids excited about the arrival of King Tut’s mask, the giant golden work of ancient funeral art which was touring the world in a rich collection and displayed in timed events at city art galleries.

Grade school classes were clearly encouraged to learn about ancient Egypt, and I remember ours depicted the discovery of the intact sarcophagus in a packed gymnasium – Chris Martin was the mummified boy king, using layers of winter jackets for coffins – and the trip to the AGO was a big, big thing.

Parental permission forms were filled out, buses ferried us to the AGO, and after being outfitted with tape recorders, we were ushered into the maze, one group at a time, with specific instructions to keep motoring, being a timed event.

The mask was clearly the centerpiece – there really is nothing like it, and nothing like seeing it in real life – but not long after the exhibit, class lessons were back to regular blah topics… but there were some minds more than intrigued with lost cities, tombs, mummies, and ancient artifacts than the correct usage of je, tu, ils, elles, ons, nous, and vous.

For myself, it completely seeded an interest in ancient cultures, which was given a further boost when I discovered a book on Pompeii that chronicled the discovery of the lost city + neighboring Herculaneum, packed with stark B&W stills and plenty of detailed prose.

The idea that a city was entombed, unearthed, and preserved with every day artifacts and objects remains remarkable, but the tomb of Tutankhamun will always be the sexiest archeological discovery in history because it was so unexpected. Archeologist Howard Carter knew it was somewhere in the Valley of the Kings, and during his last chance dig, found it, and rooms filled with wonder.

The ITV minister-series Tutankhamun (2016) may have been planned as a TV cash-in on the looming release of Universal’s The Mummy (2017) reboot, but there’s a lot of evocative period detail within its three hour-long episodes, and for ancient Egypt fans, Carter’s discovery of the tomb’s intact status is a real tear-jerker.

Brian M. Fagan’s book The Rape of the Nile is an outstanding, vivid account of how a country’s antiquities were fair game for anyone with money and influence, and the ITV series touches upon cultural theft in direct terms. Egypt’s decision to keep treasures on home soil was necessary to ensure the greatest examples of an advanced civilization would not be reduced to whatever was physically impossible to cart back to Europe or North America – basically the pyramids.

Both films offer distinct takes on the allure of ancient Egypt, but only one was crafted with a focus on story, plot, pacing, and wonderment.

Coming next: my take on 2017’s blockbuster, Wonder Woman.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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