There’s a puzzle to be solved on the second floor of the History Museum of Mobile (111 S. Royal St.), possibly involving foul play. You have only four weeks to solve it.
That’s because the exhibit “Tutankhamun: Wonderful Things from the Pharaoh’s Tomb” leaves April 17. When the splendor of ancient Egyptian rule is packed up for departure, it takes with it the clues.
In place since late October, the exhibit is awash in the mystery that has accompanied the “Boy King” since the 1922 discovery of his long-lost resting place. Even the musical strains that waft from the exhibition hall as you approach have a hypnotic and murky tone.
Comprising reproduced artifacts crafted by Egyptian artisans, the show was curated by the International Museum Institute of New York. It was made possible with help from the Battle House Renaissance Hotel, H& Commercial and Industrial Supply, International Wine and Craft Beer, the Mobile County Commission and the Prichard Housing Corporation II.
Outside the doorway to the visiting show are pertinent displays from the museum’s own “Hidden Treasures” collection. The reproductions of an obelisk and the Rosetta stone, cat effigies, a sarcophagus for a mummified bird and scarab beetles were collected by Mobilian William T. Hamilton during his travels in the 1850s.
The first thing visitors to the exhibit see is a placard spelling out the extent of the mythology around “the curse of King Tut’s tomb.” It traces the missteps and tragedies, minor and major, surrounding one of the chief archaeological finds of the 20th century.
There’s no Boris Karloff or animated mummies involved, though it might be more fun if there were. It’s just a string of happenstance that imbues the aura of Howard Carter’s discovery.
Chief among them is the death of George Herbert, the Earl of Carnarvon, who was a chief financier of the expedition. Herbert, however, died a full year after the find, wasn’t in good health and contracted a common mosquito-borne disease.
The placard lists various pets that succumbed, power outages and other coincidences. Then there’s the death of a radiologist who X-rayed the mummy, a visitor who died of pneumonia and a member of the sizable excavation team rumored to have been poisoned.
What of Carter, the man who led the team and uncovered Tut’s coffin with his own two hands? He was felled a mere 16 years later at the tender age of 64 by Hodgkin’s disease.
The curse itself was a common warning for royal burials and Carter utilized it to great effect. He promulgated the legend to safeguard the treasures from robbery.
The exhibit is impressive. Painstaking reproductions and descriptions of original objects and materials speak not just toward the wealth of the rulers but the care and pride of the craftsmen.
There’s a notable array of objects. Obsidian figurines, alabaster statuary and bronze and brass effigies of falcons, cobras and divine cows are everywhere.
Notable points mark even a casual perusal. How the dark tone of Nubian ancestors and relatives was considered spiritually linked to the soil and silt of the life-giving Nile delta. And how the Egyptians asserted their political dominance in every way possible. The soles of royal sandals were adorned with the likenesses of captive Asian and African enemies so the wearer could “step on them” with every stride. The same goes for the royal footrest before the golden throne.
A wooden likeness of Queen Nefertiti still bespeaks her legendary beauty. Along with Tut’s funeral mask – perhaps the most widely recognizable of his relics – it shows detailed attention as even the smallest flaws and incomplete portions are replicated.
A golden chariot, a lounging couch, a golden mummiform coffin all dominate the room. But it’s a replicated mummy that holds the most obvious of the aforementioned clues.
Its placard describes a 1968 X-ray and evidence of Tut’s fractured cranium. It’s apparent from the modest size of his tomb in combination with other aspects of the exhibit’s antiquities that his death at a young age was sudden and burial preparations hasty, even cobbled together from available resources. Was there a chariot accident? Was he murdered?
It’s noted mummies of Tut’s two stillborn daughters were found in the site, one deformed by congenital spina bifida and scoliosis. Egyptian royal lines were noted for extensive inbreeding.
More recent science has changed the diagnosis of Tut’s injuries, citing the skull damage as post-mortem, likely after his tomb was unearthed. “Virtual autopsies” conducted via CT scan now reveal a man who suffered from malocclusion, deformed hips, a clubfoot, maybe even epilepsy.
It explained the wealth of walking canes in his tomb. So would evidence of a broken leg contracted not long before death. A fall by an unstable man, a compound fracture and gangrene, then death would have followed.
Talk about your curses. A family tree that looks like a hula hoop was likely the most significant blight in Tut’s existence.
Ignore these conclusions and do your own snooping, but you’d best hurry. The evidence gets crated up in just a few weeks.