To mark a century since the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, since January, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit has hosted King Tutankhamun: “Wonderful Things” from the Pharaoh’s Tomb. Before the exhibition wraps on Aug. 22, explore more than 120 replicas across two galleries, many of them recreations of artifacts found in the tomb.
Today, the most fragile artifacts, including King Tut’s burial mask and his golden chariot, are no longer allowed to leave Egypt. The golden mask, for example, has been on display at The Egyptian Museum in Cairo for years. The boy pharaoh’s mummy is on display within the tomb in the Valley of the Kings, his coffins replaced with a climate-controlled glass viewing box.
The reproductions on display at the Wright belong to The Origins Museum Institute, and this is the second time they’ve been at the Wright; the first was in 2008. Guests can observe a likeness of King Tut’s body as it was laid to rest, covered in cloth and surrounded by amulets. Throughout the exhibit, there are personal and sacred items that represent ancient Egypt, the discovery of the tomb, and the pharaoh’s life and death.
Patrina Chatman, director of collections and exhibitions at the Wright Museum, says the hope with this exhibition of replications is to introduce audiences to ancient Egypt and make approachable what can sometimes feel otherworldly. Chatman, who’s visited Egypt, says she and other museum staff were impressed with the quality of the renderings. “Several people had traveled to Africa and seen these pieces, the originals, and felt that this would help tell the story for people who may never get to Africa, never get to Egypt,” she says.
The exhibition is divided into five sections: “An Introduction to Ancient Egypt,” “The Archaeological Discovery,” “The Private Pharaoh,” “The Public Pharaoh,” and “The Royal Burial.” Pieces on display range from the easily recognizable, like the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti and King Tutankhamun’s golden funerary mask, to the more intimate. Stroll through the first gallery and observe works like an ivory headrest, a pair of court sandals, an alabaster oil lamp, and an ebony game box for playing senet, purportedly one of the young king’s favorite games. Grander items are also on display, like the pharaoh’s golden chariot, his throne and ceremonial footrest, and the guardian statues that stood at the entrance to the pharaoh’s burial chamber.
Since the exhibition’s opening, Chatman says the response has been enthusiastic, despite COVID restrictions. “We’ve had over 10,000 people,” she says. Chatman particularly loves to see families stop in and kids be exposed to ancient Egypt and the short life of the boy pharaoh. She says, “He was a young man. He ascended to the throne at age 9 and died at about 18 or 19 years old.” During that decade, King Tut helped to restore traditional Egyptian religion and art, which had been set aside by his predecessor and father, King Akhenaten.
Chatman says the museum has received some calls from people wondering why this particular exhibition is on display at the African American History Museum. Her answer is simple: “Egypt is in Africa,” she says, and a point of pride for many Black Americans. Whether the ancient people of Egypt were of sub-Saharan African ancestry has been an ongoing point of contention among historians and Egyptologists, but what’s undoubtable is that for 3,000 years, ancient Egypt reigned supreme as the most influential civilization in the region — influencing architecture, science, agriculture, art, and culture.
Advanced ticket purchase is recommended at thewright.org.