A few weeks back, I met a friend of mine in Philadelphia to check out the King Tut exhibit at the Franklin Institute. If you saw the Tut exhibit when it was in the US 30 years ago (I didn’t), it’s pretty much the same show with a couple of differences here and there. If you’re like me and didn’t see it then, it’s a great show, but with one disappointment: The famous Tut death mask remains in Egypt.
It also turned out that it’s a controversial show. Outside the Franklin Institute, my friend and I saw several protesters denouncing the exhibit as racist, or something. Their beef is that the show depicts Tut as either white or Arab, but not black. And true enough, there’s a bust of Tut at the end of the show that’s a reconstruction based on scans of his mummy and facial forensics, built to life size and with stubble added atop his shaven head. The Tut head is one of the exhibit’s newer features, and it’s very cool. The curators chose to display it in a room dedicated to a multimedia examination of how Tut might have died, and the bust lends an eerie reality to the question. The bust happens to be light to slightly olive skinned. That is evidently what annoyed the protesters and had them out in the street on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.
Too bad for them, they have their own facts wrong.
CAIRO (AFP) – Egyptian antiquities supremo Zahi Hawass insisted Tuesday that Tutankhamun was not black despite calls by US black activists to recognise the boy king’s dark skin colour.
“Tutankhamun was not black, and the portrayal of ancient Egyptian civilisation as black has no element of truth to it,” Hawass told reporters.
“Egyptians are not Arabs and are not Africans despite the fact that Egypt is in Africa,” he said, quoted by the official MENA news agency.
Hawass said he was responding to several demonstrations in Philadelphia after a lecture he gave there on September 6 where he defended his theory.
Protestors also claimed images of King Tut were altered to show him with lighter skin at the “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” exhibit which leaves Philadelphia for London on September 30.
Hawass ought to know; As Egypt’s Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and Director of Excavations at Giza, Saqqara and the Bahariya Oasis, he pretty much controls the Giza plateau to the point that you can’t move or make an Egypt documentary without him showing up in it somewhere. He shows up in the Tut exhibit too, in a photo in the brik-a-brak store at the end of the exhibit that must be 8 feet tall (in real life, he appears to be about 5’6″). The photo’s purpose is evidently to sell the official Zahi Hawass hat, which looks suspiciously like an Indiana Jones chapeau (and would probably sell twice as fast if it were branded as such).
The protesters ought to spend the bucks to actually attend the exhibit. Within, they would quickly see that Tut and his empire obviously did not regard itself as black. The Egyptian craftsmen who made the objects on display in the exhibit portrayed Egypt’s warriors defeating their enemies by running over them with chariots or slaying them in battle in other ways. The Nubians, who were black Africans, were among those enemies, and they must turn up getting killed by the Egyptians in a dozen places across the exhibit. The Egyptian craftsmen themselves, 5,000+ years ago, depicted their own warriors as olive skinned and the Nubians as black. For whatever that’s worth.
The Tut show is still in Philly and will be there for another 3 or 4 days before it goes to Europe. My friend and I spoke with one of the museum’s staff, and according to her Tut won’t be coming back to the US for many years, if it ever returns. In Egypt, it’s controversial to even allow any of the nation’s treasury to leave for any reason. So this show might be the boy king’s last tour.