Tuesday, February 06, 2007

King Tut Franklin Institute Review

Today we went to see Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of The Pharaohs at the Franklin Institute. We were part of a large homeschool group and our entrance time was 1 pm. Although our group arrived 3 hours earlier the kids seemed to last pretty well. My friend and I took the kids to the easier exhibits and didn't worry if most of what they were doing was playing. We also saw a show for about 45 minutes so that we could all have some time off of our feet. If you are scheduling a group with younger children, I would advise an earlier entrance time to Tut or skipping the rest of the Franklin Institute and arriving just before your Tut time. You really will want them to have the mental and emotional energy to take in the Tut exhibit.

The first 20 minutes of our time in the exhibit area were spent waiting in line. (We spent about 1.5 hours in the exhibit proper.) Having purchased a few audio tours (prices are $6 for children and $7 for adult - same recordings on either player, so if you have a couple of kids with you, just get the kids tour), we used this time to pass around the players so that everyone could listen to the introduction. We got two audio tours for the four of us. This ratio worked out fairly well for us, although I didn't get to hear all the recordings as the youngest seemed to ask me questions whenever I turned the player on!

However large your group may be they stagger the entrance about every 5 - 7 minutes with about 40-50 people in a group. You enter a dark room with video screens over the doorway into the next. Here is where you hear the no photos, no video, no food, no drink reminder and then watch a 90 second intro video. The video is your first taste of the drama production that you are about to experience. At the end of the video the lights come up on the first object in the exhibit a statue of a Pharaoh about 30 feet ahead. If you go to this page and mouse over the exhibit rooms, you will get a good feel for how things are laid out.

The first room is large and was full of people. If you are patient and hang back you will get to see everything up close. The model ship caught my son's interest, my older daughter enjoyed the chest that was owned by Tut's great-grandparents. These first two rooms show you some objects from daily life and objects from tombs of predecessors to Tutankhamun. There is a transition space as you enter a dark room where you learn about their burial rituals and afterlife beliefs. Again, objects are from Tutankhamun's predecessors. In the center of the room is a large gilded coffin. The detail in the ornamentation and hieroglyphs are amazing. Most of the objects in this exhibit are able to be viewed from all sides which I really appreciated. It also gives a sense of space, so that things don't feel crowded. Two of the audio tour objects in this room are a funeral mask (the famous one of Tut's isn't part of the exhibit) and a princess' chair.

From this room, we entered a bright room with large pillars. At the end of the room was the sole artifact, a bust of Amenhotep IV. The 17 year reign of Amenhotep IV, who they believe is Tutankhamun's father, brought about a change in the structure of religion of Egypt. He changed his name from Amenhotep IV to Ahkenaten, reflecting the worship of Aten. Although the Amarna exhibit at Penn focuses on this reign, there is a strong dose of it here as well. From these two atmospheric rooms with only a few objects we move into a walkway. At the end is a picture of the entrance to the tomb and a short sentence about it, we turn the corner and head up a slight ramp with questions overhead, "Who will be the next king?", "Will chaos ensue?", "Will it be his wife, Nefertiti?", "One of his six daughters?". The drama builds, we reach the top of the ramp and turn right and see one object, a dramatically lit, life-sized statue of the boy-king Tutankhamun. From this point on all the objects are from Tut's tomb. Chairs, jewelry, model ships, figures, chests, his diadem, his flail and crook, a gold dagger and many other objects. The layout of the objects and the numbers of the objects in the rooms allowed for a rather close examination of them. Again, because they were able to be viewed from all sides many people could see the object at once. The dramatic storytelling and atmosphere of the exhibit enhanced the experience in my point of view. I didn't feel it was overdone and my 11 year old really liked that aspect. Oh, one more thing, in case you don't know already, the sarcophagus and funeral mask are not with this exhibit. The last gallery contains gold items that were wrapped in the linens of Tut's mummy.

When I asked all five of the kids who were in my van on the way home "Thumbs up or down?" Four replied as enthusiastically as they could after a long day, "Up!" My friend and I agreed. It was worth the money (at the group rate of $15). The exhibit was well done in every aspect, there was plenty of information, and the crowds were paced nicely. I recommend the audio tour for people who haven't studied King Tut and his predecessors and for teens/kids. The audio tour (it is narrated by Omar Sharif) made this exhibit interesting for my six year old - the one contrary thumbs down. I do think she enjoyed it, although she won't admit it. I saw many other similarly aged children enjoying the exhibit and the audio tour. Another friend with pre-school aged children reported back that her kids did well in the exhibit (they stayed in the exhibit proper for about an hour). She mentioned that some Inspector Gadget videos on Egypt had been helpful in preparing them for the exhibit. Her family also had time to see the planetarium show, Stars of the Pharaohs, and she recommends it.

One final note, unless you have a lot of extra money to spend avoid the gift shop. There were a few books that would be interesting for adults or children, but the overpriced Tut bobble-head, Tut tissue box (the tissues come out of his mouth) and Tut chocolate tin, although amusing, were certainly not worth the prices they were asking, if they were worth anything.

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  • At 7:54 AM, Anonymous Kris Bordessa said…

    Interesting. I remember visiting King Tut's mummy when I was 12 or 13. The mummy - along with many items that sound similar to what you saw - were part of a nationwide tour (I saw it in San Francisco). I vividly recall the amazement I felt at the wealth surrounding this king.

  • At 8:10 AM, Blogger Kathy said…

    Kris - So cool that you got to see the Tut exhibit that came in the 70's ! This one apparently is different, in that it has things from other kings and not all of Tut's things but still evokes that amazement.


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