Immersive ‘Beyond King Tut’ exhibit opens at Del Mar Fairgrounds
The walk-through show at the Wyland Center, featuring educational displays and projection-mapped rooms, was co-created by the National Geographic Society.
Sometime this year, the $1 billion, 20-years-in-the-making Grand Egyptian Museum will open by the Great Pyramids on the Giza Plateau near Cairo.
That’s great news for global travelers, who will be able to see all in one place the national collection of tomb paintings, sarcophagi, sculpture and artifacts from ancient Egypt, including the treasures from the tomb of King Tutankhamun. But it also means that the famous “King Tut” artifacts — too valuable and fragile to travel safely anymore — will never be seen in the United States again.
But beginning Friday, Jan. 27, San Diego County residents can see the treasures up close in an immersive exhibition about the boy king, who briefly ruled Egypt 3,300 years ago.
“Beyond King Tut,” created in partnership with the National Geographic Society, is being presented through March 26 in the Wyland Center at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Similar to the immersive painting-themed show “Beyond Van Gogh,” which had an extended run last winter at the Wyland Center, “Beyond King Tut” is a walk-through exhibition where films and animations are projected on the walls and floors. The films tell the story of King Tut, as well as the gods the ancient Egyptians worshipped and how the Egyptians buried their pharaohs in splendor, believing they would have an even better life in the afterworld.
The Van Gogh show was mostly projections and music, but the King Tut show has several hands-on exhibits. There’s a large re-creation of a senet board (a board game found in Tut’s tomb) that visitors can play. There are stamping stations where people can stamp King Tut’s cartouche (a design of his name in hieroglyphics) and a separate-ticket “Enter the Tomb” virtual reality experience that takes the headset-wearer through the tomb to see the items as they were first discovered.
“Guests will get to experience the splendor of Egypt all around them, then take an imagined voyage with us to the ancient Egyptian afterlife.”
— Show producer Mark Lach
Van Gogh’s life story was told on written panels at the beginning of the exhibit, but visitors to the Tut exhibit can use their smartphone and earphones to hear educational audio recordings in each room that can be accessed via QR codes. The English audio is voiced by Fredrik Hiebert, an archaeologist and National Geographic explorer. The Spanish translation was recorded by Rudy Acosta of San Diego’s Entravision.
Compared with some of ancient Egypt’s other rulers — including the warrior Tuthmose, the nation-builder Ramses and the artistically minded Amenhotep — King Tut, the son of the unpopular Akhenaten, had an undistinguished rule for just eight or nine years until his death, possibly from malaria, at age 19.
What made Tut the world’s most famous pharaoh was that his tomb was discovered completely undisturbed by British archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922. Until then, most royal tombs uncovered by explorers since the 1700s were found to have been looted up to 2,000 years before. As a result of the pristine nature of the Tut tomb’s contents, a much clearer picture of his life and his fabulous wealth could be studied by scientists and shared with the public.
Tut’s treasures are still considered one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in history. They include his mummy in a gold-leaf-painted sarcophagus, a solid-gold funeral mask, chariots, jewelry, furniture, statues, paintings, burial implements, food, wine, sandals and loincloths.
Following Carter’s discovery, Tutmania swept the world in the late 1920s. It resurged in the United States in the 1970s, when the “Treasures of Tutankhamun” artifacts exhibit visited several U.S. cities. Millions of people lined up at every stop to view the treasures. Since then, Tut’s tomb items have rarely left Egypt.
“After the return of King Tut’s treasures to Egypt, ‘Beyond King Tut’ brings together the all-stars of immersive art and the National Geographic Society to present a fascinating story in a whole new way, with a multi-sensory journey,” show producer Mark Lach said in a statement. “Guests will get to experience the splendor of Egypt all around them, then take an imagined voyage with us to the ancient Egyptian afterlife.”
To prepare local visitors and school groups for their visits, National Geographic has created a free, downloadable 23-page guidebook for teachers and parents at beyondkingtut.com/educator-resources. It features maps of ancient Egypt, information about the country’s ancient history, its pharaohs and ruling dynasties, King Tut’s life, the tomb’s discovery and the items and wall paintings found inside.
‘Beyond King Tut’
When: Timed entry tickets from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays (last entry at 7 p.m.) and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays (last entry at 8 p.m.) through Sunday, March 26
Where: Wyland Center, Del Mar Fairgrounds, 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd.
Cost: $37.50-$53.50 for general admission; $28-$33 for students with valid ID and senior citizens 65 and older; $21.99-$26.99 for children ages 5-15
Information: beyondkingtut.com/city/san-diego ◆
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