WEEK 17. The boy king's golden mask. Tutankhamun Exhibition, Dorchester. Perhaps the one object that symbolises Ancient Egypt more than any other is the wonderful gold mask of the boy king Tutankhamun. Discovered in the pharaoh's tomb in the Valley of the Kings by Howard Carter in 1922, the mask is a fine and moving portrait of the young king. It is one of the great treasures of the ancient world and this faithful replica of the original is undoubtedly the most admired object in the Tutankhamun Exhibition in Dorchester.
The exhibition, now in its 12th year, is the successor to the Treasures of Tutankhamun Exhibition at the British Museum in 1972, which travelled throughout the world.
Despite the great care taken, many of the treasures suffered. In an effort to preserve them for future generations the Egyptian authorities decreed that they were never again to leave Egypt.
The exhibition in Dorchester was designed and created to overcome this problem. All the exhibits are facsimiles and have been crafted with meticulous reference to the original antiquities, photographic records and detailed measurements and diagrams. Craftsmen and artists have recreated the treasures by using, wherever practicable, the same materials and methods used in making the originals, making the treasures shown in this exhibition as close as possible to the originals in Egypt.
The gold mask is a mummy mask and was never intended to be used in life.
Made from several pieces of gold, this fantastic mask was placed over the bandaged mummy of Tutan-khamun. It is in-laid with semi-precious stones and blue glass, which was greatly valued in ancient Egypt. Making facsimiles of golden objects is notoriously difficult as the light is known to play mischevious tricks. The only way to overcome this is to pay careful attention to the exact dimensions of the real thing.
The care and accuracy in reproducing Tutankhamun's treasures has extended to the reconstructions of the tomb's antechamber and burial chamber. The antechamber has been recreated exactly as it was discovered, with all the treasures in position, as Howard Carter saw it when he entered in 1922. The burial chamber has been recreated to show the moment the golden coffins were removed from the sarcophagus.
Such is the accuracy of the treasures and the setting of this exhibition that it has been extensively featured on television throughout the world, including all the major documentaries on Tutankhamun.
Michael Ridley is director of the Tutankhamun Exhibition, 25 West Street, Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1UW. Tel: 01305 269571