A very long time ago, Britain went Tutankhamun mad. An exhibition of artefacts was showcased at the British Museum. I was scheduled to go with my school but due to an unfortunate accident with a train door and my hand, I didn’t get there. I was very disappointed. My mum took me to the museum in Birmingham instead which had sufficient mummies to keep me amused and interested.
Several years ago the Tutankhamun exhibition came back and was set up at the O2 Arena. I bought tickets and was very excited, blow me didn’t I come down with a very nasty bout of Sinusitis and couldn’t go.
So I was ecstatic when I heard that the Tutankhamun exhibition was to showcase at the Museum of Museums at the Trafford Centre in Manchester. I quickly read about it and booked tickets to go.
Sadly I didn’t read the part about ALL the exhibits and artefacts being fake, or rather “museum quality” copies, scientifically made and constructed as they would have been all those year ago. That I’m afraid tarnished the whole experience for me. But anyway. On to the exhibition.
At the start, we were ushered straight to the side where we were told to pick up our headphones and audio guide gadget which was included in the ticket price. The lighting was very subdued and because we were pushed to the side we missed the part where you could hand in your coats, scarves etc. This meant I was overloaded with outer clothes, handbag and round the neck audioguide and earphones that kept falling off my head. Having showed our tickets at the door, we went through the entrance only to be asked again for our tickets. Not a good start.
The first part is an introduction to Egypt, Tutankhamun’s family history, Howard Carter, Earl of Caernarvon and the Valley of the Kings. There are information boards and when you see a headphone symbol and a number you type the number into your gizmo. Now I am not a fan of audio guides. I find them disorientating and the headphones constantly fall off my head because they are too big. I digress. There was no guiding, no floorplan so you had to resort to wandering aimlessly between boards looking for the number 1. The lighting was so dark I found it really hard to read the explanations which were so low they could only have been designed with small children in mind!
The audio commentary was shared between a man and a woman who was purported to be an “expert” in Egyptology. Both of them talked down to you in a very patronising way. It was very bad. Plus the “expert” had a severe speech impediment which made it extremely difficult to understand and concentrate on what was being said. Once you had covered the introduction, you had to wait until the next room was cleared to watch a short film. Again near darkness surrounded you as you entered a large room to watch a film. If you decided you didn’t want the audio guide then at this point you will be watching a film in silence as there is no external audio. The film was all about Tutankhamun’s “parents” and his early childhood.
When the film finished, again there was no guidance on where to go or what you were supposed to be doing next, so there we all were standing around until someone appeared from around the corner to show us. We arrive into another large room with a cinematic screen and loads of seats. Oh joy! another film. This one was all about Howard Carter and the Earl of Caernarvon. The film ended with a spiel about joining us in recreating that wondrous moment when Howard Carter first spied the wondrous things he could see in the tomb.
We entered an enormous room with a bunch of artefacts stacked onto a platform in one corner, more in another corner and so on. Another woman showed us to one corner where we were to listen to the commentary on our audio guides. The trouble was the guides didn’t tell you when you were supposed to be moving onto the next bit and when Rowland and I decided we were looking at the wrong platform and tried to get to the next, we were told we couldn’t until we had listened to all of the audio guide!
By this time I had had enough. The whole thing to this point was absolutely dire in my opinion. I was ready for the exit. Fortunately we ignored the rude woman and carried on to where we thought we should be and came into the part of the exhibit that had all the shrines and sarcophagi. Stunning! They may be copies but they do give an insight to size and sheer magnificence. BUT on the otherhand, they are copies and for me, they didn’t project a sense of history. I knew they were brand new, I couldn’t stand there and exclaim that this artefact had survived all these years and still look amazing.
The rest of the exhibition showcased all the treasures that were found at the tomb (all copies) with information boards explaining life at the time of Tutankhamun. Again the lighting was very dark making it difficult to read the boards, but providing excellent lighting for photos.
My opinion? well, I was disappointed they were all fakes, not one original Tutankhamun artefact. The whole exhibition for me didn’t feel right. There was no sense of history, no sense of awe and wonderment. However, I did get some great photos! I felt the whole entering the tomb experience could’ve been staged far more successfully by providing a series of small tomblike rooms that mimiced what Howard Carter found.
Would I recommend you go to this exhibition, well frankly, no. I would far rather have gone to the British Museum to read the whole Book of the Dead which is being exhibited in its entirety at the moment. Perversely, Rowland enjoyed it after we’d waded through all the films and fake tomb experience!
To see all the photos go to Tutankhamun Flickr