The Mummy Returns…Or At Least His Stuff Does
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The Mummy Returns…Or At Least His Stuff Does

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An Egyptian courier installs the lid to a canopic jar that once housed King Tut’s organs.


Egypt’s famed boy-king is gearing up to set off another bout of “Tut-mania” in Toronto.
On November 24, the Art Gallery of Ontario will unveil the popular travelling exhibition “King Tut: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs,” running until April 18—its final stop before heading home to Cairo permanently. There will be plenty to ooh and aah over: the exhibit will feature more than a hundred items from King Tutankhamen’s tomb and those of other ancient Egyptian monarchs from 2,600 to 660 B.C. The tour includes an audio guide narrated by Harrison Ford, and a 3-D film narrated by Christopher Lee.
There’s plenty more to see here than in 1979, when the “Treasures of Tutankhamen” exhibit made a stop at the AGO, says Mark Lach, creative director and senior vice president of co-organizer Arts and Exhibitions International (AEI).


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“The Tut objects are different,” Lach said. “I think there were only two or three that were here in the ’70s. There were many objects that were in the Cairo museum all these years, and Dr. Zahi Hawass [director of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities] thought it would be a good idea to send objects that had not been outside of Egypt before.”
Like other venues where Tut has appeared, the AGO has paid big bucks to bring it and mount it. Exactly how much, they won’t disclose. But along with getting a portion of the gate receipts—shared by, among others involved, AEI and the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, which is putting that money towards the construction of a museum in Cairo—the AGO hopes to increase traffic in the gallery. A CBC article in April argued that attendance was lower than expected since the Frank Gehry revamp late last year.
“That article caused a lot of headaches here,” says one AGO source, adding that, since the redesign, 650,000 people have been through the gallery, putting it well on track for its purported goal of a million visitors over a two year period. The AGO also notes that they’ve already sold 50,000 advance tickets, and that the opening week for gallery members has been sold out.
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If we can glean anything from the 1979 exhibit, which attracted a record 750,000 gallery visitors, it’s that attendance figures should have nowhere to go but up. This time around, the exhibit will provide background on ancient Egyptian worshipping practices, King Tut’s ancestry, and the latest theories behind his mysterious death at the age of nineteen.
The prevailing theory concluded by x-rays taken in 1968 was that Tut had been killed, either by accident or murder (possibly by his wife or chariot driver), due to severe trauma to the back of the head. A CT scan in 2005 showed that the damage was from the mummification process, in which the skull was drilled into for embalming. The real cause of death, experts argue, could have been from an infection brought on by a severe break in the left knee. An accident? An attack? Scholars can only guess at this point, but they do know Tut’s body sustained tremendous damage.
Lach notes that DNA testing is beginning on some royal mummies, which is expected to provide more data, especially in establishing bloodlines and family heritage. “It’s brand new,” he says. “With that testing, more information will probably come. If that happens while we’re still here, we’ll have to update our presentation.”
With the currently entombed Tut, it hasn’t happened yet. The reason, Lach jokes, is that it may unleash the mummy’s famous curse of swift death upon those who disturb the king’s sleep.
“The curse will always have life somehow,” he laughs. “And always will for those who believe it.”
Photos by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.

CORRECTION: NOVEMBER 16, 2009 This article originally said that Michael Lach was the creative director and senior vice president of Arts and Exhibitions International; in fact, it’s Mark Lach.

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