When the child king died in 1323 BC at the tender age of 18 or 19, he had to face the judgment of Osiris, the god of the dead. More than three millennia later, Tutankhamun no longer stands alone before the guardians of the underworld: Visitors can follow him into eternal life in the "Fields of Laru" — the afterlife of the ancient Egyptians.
The immersive exhibition, which has its German premiere in Hamburg on November 3, 2023, uses state-of-the-art technology to make this experience possible: With multimedia illusions of image and sound and VR goggles, visitors are immersed in the long-lost world of ancient Egypt, which continues to fascinate people to this day.
It was 101 years ago that one of the world's most spectacular discoveries was made. For six years, British archaeologist Howard Carter had dug up the desert sands in Egypt's Valley of the Kings area, near Luxor, in search of the tomb of the famed boy pharaoh Tutankhamun— but to no avail. His financier, the Earl of Carnarvon, had become impatient, and Carter had one last chance to discover the crypt.
Then, on November 4, 1922, a local boy named Hussein Abd el-Rassul, who was bringing water to the workers, hit a stone step under the rubble. Carter later liked to tell the story that the boy had wanted to emulate the archaeologists from Europe and had therefore poked around with a stick. In the process, he said, he hit the stone surface.
From then on, gripped with anticipation, the excavation team did not stop. They uncovered 16 steps in all and also found two seals with Tutankhamun's royal mark. But it wasn't until Lord Carnarvon arrived from England that Carter opened the tomb's antechamber on November 26, 1922, and the real breakthrough happened.
"Can you see anything?" Lord Carnavon, standing in the dark passage, is said to have asked.
"Yes, wonderful things," Carter answered back.
The men had stumbled upon priceless treasures that no human eye had seen in more than 3,000 years. "We had the impression of looking into the prop room of the opera of a vanished civilization," Carter later described his first impressions. "Details from inside the chamber slowly emerged from the mist — strange animals, statues, gold. Everywhere, the glint of gold."
Word of the sensational find spread quickly, triggering worldwide "Egyptomania."
Harry Victor Frederick Winstone, author of "Howard Carter and the Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun," first published in 1991, writes how the discovery prompted architects to create Egyptian-style facades. Handbags, cookie jars and juice bottles bore the unmistakable symbol of the gilded king's mask, Winstone wrote, adding that even Tutankhamun blouses were for sale and that carmaker General Motors touted a vehicle inspired by the pharaoh.
In the Valley of the Kings itself, onlookers crowded the excavation site. Locals and tourists from all over the world wanted to catch a glimpse of the treasures while possibly grabbing a souvenir. Carter and his team had trouble keeping people away.
World-famous: Tutankhamun's death mask
For 10 years, Howard Carter and his assistants meticulously cataloged every tomb artifact. Each piece was photographed and packaged; larger items were transported to the Nile by a small narrow-gauge railway and loaded onto ships. The most important finds are now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and in Luxor itself.
The most famous of the approximately 5,400 objects found is 11-kilogram blue-and-gold death mask of Tutankhamun himself. Carter found it in the coffin chamber. Enclosed by four reliquaries of gilded wood, a stone sarcophagus and three mummy-shaped coffins placed one inside the other, the embalmed pharaoh lay within a 225-kilogram coffin of pure gold. The death mask covered his face.
In another chamber, a statue of the Egyptian god of the dead, Anubis, guarded a reliquary containing Tutankhamun's entrails.
Tutankhamun's parentage is a matter of scholarly debate. Many experts believe he was the son of Pharaoh Akhenaten, whose great royal wife was Nefertiti. But Akhenaten had several consorts and concubines, and a genetic study conducted on mummies suggests Tutankhamun was the child of a mistress, possibly the sister of his father, identified through DNA testing as an unknown mummy referred to as "the younger lady."
The young pharaoh ascended the throne around the age of eight or nine. At first, he was called Tutankhaton — "living image of Aton" — because at his birth the god Aton was still worshipped. Later, when the priesthood worshipped the god Amun, he changed his name to Tutankhamun.
The child king of the New Kingdom of the 18th Dynasty died in 1323 B.C. at the age of just 18 or 19. Examinations of the mummy indicate that Tutankhamun died in an accident, though this is not known for sure.
Apparently, however, the young pharaoh was quite frail during his lifetime. A team of scientists from Tübingen, Germany, Bolzano in northern Italy, and Cairo found out years ago that he suffered from a severe bone disease and malaria, as well as genetic deformities such as a cleft palate and a clubfoot.
The curse of the pharaohs
In his lifetime Tutankhamun was not a powerful pharaoh. Today the whole world knows his name. KV62, the scientific name for his tomb (KV stands for King's Valley), is still a tourist magnet today. Unlike the treasures found within, the sarcophagus with the mummified body of the pharaoh still rests in the burial chamber. On its walls, magnificent paintings illustrate the life and death of Tutankhamun.
Now all that can be experienced without traveling to Egypt, In the new immersive exhibition, Tutankhamun comes to life and tells his story. Visitors walk with him through ancient Egypt, exploring the Valley of the Kings, the temples, the treasures and secrets of a lost civilization. No one need fear the "curse of the pharaohs," which he allegedly used to protect his tomb against intruders — because everything here is purely virtual.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on October 28, 2022.