“Can you see anything?” asked George Herbert, the fifth Earl of Carnarvon.
“Yes, wonderful things,” replied British archaeologist Howard Carter.
It was Nov. 4, 1922 in Luxor, Egypt—the Valley of the Kings—and, unquestionably, Carter was right. After eight years of diligent desert digging, he and his team struck pure gold. The “find” of the century.
The pyramids of Giza and Sakkara had been ransacked, the gold looted by grave robbers. But, hidden behind hills five kilometers across from Thebes, the religious and ancestral homeland, one tomb remained undiscovered, untouched. A smaller, well concealed, nine-year-old boy king’s tomb fulfilled a destiny he could never have imagined.
Despite only ruling Egypt for approximately 10 years before passing through to the afterlife (possibly due to an infected leg injury), King Tutankhamun achieved immortality beyond his wildest dreams.
He was well-named. Tutankhamun means “Living Image of Amun,” Amun is the god of the air, later to merge with Ra, the ancient sun god).
Tutankhamun reestablished the gods of the traditional Egyptian pantheon, made Memphis the capital again, and restored Egypt’s prior cosmic order. He is believed to be the son of the radical King Akhenaten. His mother’s DNA has not been clearly established.
Behind the solid gold door to Tutankhamun’s 3,000-year-old sealed intact tomb lay unimaginable untold treasures. An Egyptological Pandora’s box of artifacts, DNA, genetics, ancient history and, 100 years after the eye-popping discovery, still unanswered questions.
Wandering through Beyond King Tut: The Immersive Experience at the Vancouver Convention Centre last week, I was enchanted.
No, there are no artifacts. Cinematography, commanding voice-overs, massive screens and informational texts lead “travellers” from pertinent visuals of original newspaper clippings and photographs through nine multi-sensory galleries. The galleries culminate in descriptions and depictions of the 19-year-old king’s journey through life before deities he revered escort him to the afterlife.
For me, the experience was enhanced by having previously read The King’s Trilogy, an Egyptian historical fiction collection of novels written by Canadian author Pauline Gedge. Gedge’s depictions of life and governance of Upper and Lower Egypt around the time of the great Eighteenth Dynasty were so vivid for me they subconsciously worked as a subtle underpinning of the sense of place projected through this National Geographic immersive show.
Watching the audience, it struck me that, despite the wide age range, visitors seemed intrigued, relaxed, patient, at ease. History unfolded swirling colourfully around them as they waited for Anubis, Osiris, and Horus to interact in the young pharaohs life, until Ra, king of the deities, father of creation, played the final part.
Some visitors played Senet, a large wooden version of the pocket board game the boy king would likely have carried with him. No one seemed hurried. No audience time-limit was apparent once visitors were admitted, however the average time is an hour. You’ll learn about ancient Nile River life, as well as the significance of Carter’s burial chambers revelations. For a little pre-visit homework, read up on why the Rosetta Stone is key to interpreting the hieroglyphics you’ll see.
The space is wheelchair accessible, but be aware there is little seating and no bathrooms in the exhibit areas.
If in doubt about including the virtually reality option (VIP tickets or an optional extra), I’d recommend it. Narrated by Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville, the VR experience recreates Tutankhamun’s tomb as Carter would have found it. In fact, I’d have enjoyed a rerun, but others were waiting, so no luck there. Rather the icing on the cake, I thought.
This is a National Geographic researched production, with cinematic storytelling by City Lights, on at the Vancouver Convention Centre until Jan. 8, 2023.
Prices start at $31.99 for adults and $23.99 for children aged 5 to 15, plus fees. Package rates for families, seniors (on Tuesdays) and groups are available, as well as VIP Tickets, which include a “flex” ticket, merchandise, and entry to a “Tutankhamun: Enter the Tomb” VR companion experience. For more information visit beyondkingtut.com.
Travel Note: No confirmation yet on the opening of the billion-dollar Grand Egyptian Museum at Giza. It was originally scheduled to open November 2022. Stay tuned.
Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is the former owner/ managing editor of the Cloverdale Reporter. Contact her at email@example.com.