The Tutankhamun Exhibition, Dorchester
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Review of "The Tutankhamun Exhibition, Dorchester"
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As an impressionable pre-teenager, I was lucky enough to go on a school trip to see the Treasures of Tutankhamun at the British Museum in London in 1972. I loved it and can still remember craning my neck to see into the cabinets of glittering gold treasure over the other heads of my school companions. I guess like so many people, I find the whole ‘Pharaoh thing’ fascinating and years later I was able to visit the Valley of the Kings at Thebes and see King Tut’s treasure again in the Cairo Museum. I’m not an expert at all in the ancient Egyptians but I will watch any TV documentary on the subject that happens to be one and I did follow the recent TV series about Howard Carter who of course discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb and some would say fell victim to the Pharaoh’s curse, dying shortly afterwards.So when staying locally and I heard there was a Tutankhamun Exhibition in Dorchester, I had to go.
~~~ Finding it ~~~The Tutankhamun Exhibition is in the charming market town of Dorchester, 45 minutes from Bournemouth and Poole to the east and not that far from Weymouth to the West. Dorchester is in fact relatively easy to get to be train. I actually travelled down on South West trains from London Waterloo and was met at South Dorchester station by a friend who lives in a neighbouring village. On the day of our visit to the Exhibition we drove back into Dorchester and parked at one of the town centre’s car parks. Dorchester is a market town and we picked market day (a Wednesday) for our visit which meant that the town was busy and the car parks full. However, we did get a space in at the Middle Fairfield car park nearest to the market and a 10 minute walk from the Exhibition. The one advantage of going on market day is that prices at the car park were slightly reduced – we paid £2 for 3 hours saving 60p! - but finding a space was somewhat stressful!
~~~ Admission ~~~The Exhibition is open 7 days a week from 20 to 5 (closing slightly earlier at 4 in the winter months). Although the address is High West Street, the entrance is actually in Alington Street and the entrance doubles up as a small gift shop. This means that there is rather strange queuing system where people wanting exhibition tickets are separated from those visitors buying from the shop. When we were there, there was just one shop assistant (who seemed to be channelling Cleopatra) who was dealing with both sides. She was very friendly but quite slow so a level of frustration was beginning to build!
Adult admission is £8.99, child £6.99 and family tickets are also available at £28.99 for 2 adults and children. I did notice that children going into the exhibition are offered a quiz to take round with them which comes in an easy and ‘less easy’ version.Separate to the main Tutankhamun exhibition, there Is a Mummies Exhibition at the same location. Ticket prices are £4.50 for an adult, £3.50 for a child although you pay half price if also buying entrance to the Tutankhamun exhibition.
For visitors to Dorchester who have more time, you can get a Gold Saver Pass which is valid for 7 days and gives you entry to the Dinosaur, Teddy Bear and Terracotta Warriors Museums.
~~~ The Exhibition ~~~So to be clear, the Dorset version of the Tutankhamun exhibition is a collection of replicas. You will not see the original artefacts. After the 1972 London exhibition, the original Treasures of Tutankhamun collection went on tour across Europe, North America and Japan. Despite careful and expert handling, the Egyptian government felt that they are been damage to the treasure and so decided that the major Tutankhamun treasures would not leave Egypt again. So in 1987, this exhibition of carefully copied replicas was produced. Where practicable, the same materials and methods were used to craft the copies matching all the measurements and designs of the original. The Exhibition space is small and the visitor is directed through a warren of little rooms that tell the story of Tutankhamun himself and then his discovery by Howard Carter with the financial backing of Lord Carnarvon. It’s a slightly skewed story making no mention of the long number of years Carter spent in Egypt before making the discovery, and the frustrations and difficulties he and Carnarvon faced. Instead the displays rehearse the debate as to whether Carter first entered the antechamber illegally before the official entry with the Egyptian officials.
After this background information, there is a Who Murdered King Tut section which is supposed to represent modern day crime scene investigation room. There has been a lot of speculation as to whether King Tut died of natural causes or was murdered. The debate has swung from natural causes to murder; when the exhibition was mounted, popular belief was that he was murdered. I’ve been able to look up the video as I recognised the voice of the narrator, John Hurt. The film was actually made in 2003 and shows two former FBI detectives attempting to solve the murder mystery. However, the since then the debate now seems to have swung back to natural causes so this section seems a little dated; the most interesting part being the screening of a TV documentary discussing the murder theory.In the next section the antechamber to the tomb is recreated. There is a tableau showing Carter drilling a hole into the chamber wall and peering into the room. Lord Carnarvon is standing behind him and asks ‘Can you see anything?’, to which Carter replies ‘Yes, wonderful things’. There is a sound commentary and supposedly the scent of the chamber has been recreated although I can’t say it was particularly noticeable on the day we were there. However, it does looks to be a very authentic recreation of how the antechamber appeared to those who first entered it and has obviously been painstakingly made with reference to the many photos and narrative accounts that were made at the time. Because access to the tomb in the Valley of Kings is now restricted (I was so lucky to have gone in the early 1980s when tourists were allowed much freer access) and the treasures carefully guarded at the Cairo Museum, the exhibition has apparently been used in many of those TV documentaries I have watched over the years.
After the antechamber, visitors move on to a recreation of the burial chamber itself where a not very life like Howard Carter is opening the sarcophagus to find he inner gold and enamel coffin of Tutankhamun and of course are reminded of King Tut’s curse. Legend has it that anyone who dared to open a pharaoh’s tomb would suffer the wrath of the mummy it contained. When Lord Carnarvon died in the following year, the media had a field day. He actually died of malaria and of course Howard Carter lived until 1939.The final section contains some beautifully made and authentic looking replicas of some the well-known treasures that were found in the tomb. These include the amazing golden funeral mask as well as the throne which is carved from wood that has then been covered in sheet gold and decorated with glass and semi-precious stones. It is really rather splendid and you get the chance to get a really close look at this replica. There are many other familiar objects and statues as well as some items of jewellery including the collars that were found wrapped in the bandages of the mummy.
~~~ The mummies ~~~And talking of mummies, the add-on exhibition is upstairs in one small room. Again the mummies on display are not the genuine article but a specially recreated selection of royal mummies. This isn’t a large display but what is there, is informative. However even at £2.25 for the combined ticket, it seems a bit rich to make visitors pay an additional fee to view this exhibition.
The reproductions include the mummified remains of Rameses the Great, Seti I, and ‘Ginger’, thought to the oldest known sun-dried mummy dated at 3200 BC.
~~~ Overall ~~~All in all this is a rather strange little exhibition tucked away in Dorchester. We spotted a number of typos in the legends around the walls which in my view were poorly written. It’s in need of an update by a professional museum curator. The place has a lot of potential – there is so much interest still in the subject and I can’t help thinking that these superbly crafted replicas which must have taken hours to reproduce by skilled craftsmen deserve a better display.This remains an interesting and educational exhibition. School children studying the Egyptians will love it and it is a great way to see the Treasures of King Tut without travelling all the way to Cairo.
As exhibitions go, 3 out of 5.~~~
No photos are allowed inside the museum, so I’ve included a photo of my parents outside the entrance to the real tomb in the early 1980s.
Product Information : The Tutankhamun Exhibition, Dorchester
Manufacturer's product descriptionExhibition
Listed on Ciao since: 23/07/2017