Maybe it was a just the times – Leonard Nimoy on In Search Of narrating the mysterious death of Howard Carter and asking: “Could it have been the mummy’s curse?”
The curse was missing from the Discovery Expo’s King Tut exhibit. In its place facts about his family tree. The sheer size of the exhibit and the organization of its objects into “chambers” that seemed to mirror Carter’s descent into King Tut’s tomb was impressive. The 60,000 square feet Discovery Expo (usually divided into two galleries) was converted into one single, massive gallery retelling old stories and introducing new facts about the infamous boy king, Tutankhamen.
To be honest the sensationalism of Tut’s curse distracted me from his personal history. It was much more exciting for me to imagine the supernatural consequences of Tut after his death than to ponder Tut during his lifetime. After this exhibit, however, my attitude has changed.
Eight years of Catholic schooling and decades of Easters spent with Charlton Heston asking Yul Brenner to “Let my people go,” I thought I was familiar with the introduction of the “One God” to Ancient Egypt. I did not know that King Tut’s father, Akhenaten (or Amenhotep IV), successfully installed a one-god belief system centuries before Ramses the Great met Moses. He called it “The Sun Disc.”
I had not realized the significant changes King Tut’s father made to Ancient Egypt’s art and culture. Of course, there was resistance and as soon as Akhenaten died, his son, King Tut, undid everything his father did. Tutankhamen restored the traditions his father abolished. Many of the statues depicting the Egyptian gods resemble Tutankhamen because they were restored during his reign. His father had them all destroyed.
The King Tut exhibit at the Discovery Expo answered a lot of the questions I was too in love with his curse to ask. In many ways the exhibit domesticated Tut. From something sensational and otherworldly, Tutankhamen became someone real and substantive – a son who disagreed with the politics of his father, a brother, a husband, and even a father himself.
A trip to the exhibit would be an excellent culmination (or introduction) to a sixth grade unit on Africa. However, it should be noted that some of the display cases are set too high for children to view. Also, a colleague pointed out though there are many interesting pieces, they are small and might lack the impact to hold a middle school student’s attention for long. She had anticipated more spectacular pieces like the enormous bust of Amenhotep IV or the simulation of Tut’s sarcophagus.
My own ask for the Discovery Expo exhibits is greater interactivity. Provide visitors – especially young visitors – with a tactile experience. The Expo’s inaugural Titanic exhibit attempted this with a huge block of ice visitors could touch to experience what the survivors experienced in the icy waters. The Da Vinci exhibit provided large touch screens visitors used to page through his codices and a table with large wooden pieces that challenged visitors to rebuild a bridge he designed. The Tut exhibit provided a brass replica of Tut’s skull but it seemed out of place. It might have had more impact to have a replica of his mummified skull so visitors could experience the coarseness of process and time.
I have been to all the Times Square Discovery Expo exhibits. I am always impressed by their showmanship – the drama used to convey potentially dry facts. It’s this drama that engages school age children and the casual observer. And while I would like more opportunities for a tactile experience, I can say I have yet to be disappointed.
In addition to the exhibit itself, the Discovery Expo has also planned special events tied to the Tutankhamen exhibit. The Discovery Expo is located in Times Square at 226 West 44th Street(between 7th & 8th avenues).
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