This is a King Tut exhibit for the digital age.
A replica of the Boy King’s mummy, created by a 3-D printer, is as close to the real thing as you’re going to get this side of the Valley of the Kings.
The blackened thing is an arresting highlight of a new exhibit opening Friday at Union Station, a North American premiere.
It’s true, “The Discovery of King Tut” does not contain actual Egyptian artifacts from more than 3,300 years ago. But in an era of virtual reality, the producers say they are offering something else: a chance to re-create a moment of wonder.
“Once that tomb was found, it was clear that it was the find of the century — or ever,” said Egyptologist David Silverman of the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, who is a scientific director for the exhibit.
Silverman, who was curator of three touring shows of actual Tut objects, said this exhibit allows visitors to experience things the others could not.
Visitors pass chambers of the exact size that were found in the Valley of the Kings and see the golden and wooden-carved objects under choreographed spotlights, along with an audio guide that is included with admission.
“Here they are in the darkness,” Silverman said of the stacked and jumbled objects discovered in 1922. “This is the way they were found.”
After the theatrics, the second part of the exhibit allows visitors to take a closer look at those objects as they appeared after being cleaned up and restored to their original glory.
The detail extends to variations in style among hieroglyphs on a gold-plated shrine.
“In no other example does it look like this,” said Silverman, pointing out a slight difference in a character, “so this was done by a different artist in ancient times. And the replica is that good, that it picked it up.”
The reproductions took craftsmen more than two years to create and may appear even better than the originals do these days in politically turbulent Egypt.
“I was at the Cairo Museum in December,” said Christoph Scholz, executive producer of the new exhibit. “Everything is in a complete desolate state.”
Tutankhamun was a pharaoh who died young and whose tomb was undiscovered until British archaeologist Howard Carter found it in 1922. Carter’s story is told in a brief introductory film.
Tut’s tomb actually was looted at least once around the time of his burial, but the thieves were caught. Carter found some rings strewn in a corridor.
“We don’t know exactly what they have stolen,” said Egyptologist Wolfgang Wettengel, also a scientific director for the exhibit.
But more than 5,000 precious objects were still there when Carter poked his candle into a small hole and reported that he saw “wonderful things.”
“The Discovery of King Tut” exhibit has more than 1,000 replicated objects, including the famous golden mask. Another centerpiece is the king’s chariot, which had retreaded wheels, indicating he actually used it.
Robert Cohon, a professor of ancient art and curator of the Egyptian collection at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, toured the Union Station exhibit Wednesday afternoon as workers were finishing up. He declared it “absolutely top-rate.”
“Kids are going to really enjoy it,” Cohon said. “They’re going to want to read more about Egypt, and that stimulation is fundamental to education. I mean, golden thrones, golden chariots, mummies, it has everything.”