Thursday, November 8, 2007

The King is Dead, Long Live the King

When I was a kid, I was absolutely obsessed with Egypt. I've followed the discovery of various treasures and tombs in Egypt my entire life. And more than one Saturday night has been passed on the sofa in sweats, watching an Egypt or pyramids marathon with bated breath.

So when I read that King Tutankhamen was being unmasked and placed on display, it was simultaneously exciting and disheartening. Recently, King Tut has been the focus of renewed scientific inquiry. His face has been reconstructed (which was itself the cause for controversy as he was represented with lighter skin) and somehow I suspect it really satisfies no-one as each person associated with the pharaoh must’ve had his or her own idea of what he looked like.

Now, Zawi Hawass and the Egyptian Antiquities Board have decided to put the head and feet of the boy king on display in his underground tomb in the Valley of the Kings. The move is designed to help preserve the mummy, which has been damaged by the thousands of visitors that come to gaze on the king each year.

The display, while macabrely interesting, raises questions of the respect for human remains and the appropriateness of ogling one who has made that long journey into the afterworld.

On that same track, if one takes the ancient Egyptians’ own views into consideration, then King Tut is truly living and being worshiped forever. It also probably helps that he’s been dead for 3,200 thousand years and now looks more like a sculpture, less like a man.

Nonetheless, its easy to imagine that it is a humbling experience to gaze upon Egypt’s golden boy; to wonder what his life was like, and what remains to be discovered about the immortal 18th Dynasty.

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