Q&A with Egyptian Antiquities Chief Zahi Hawass





Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" opened on Friday at New York's Discovery Times Square Exposition center, next door to Sardi’s on West 44th Street. It’s the last stop on a six-city North American tour billed as the "Return of the King," a reference to the original Tut exhibition that debuted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1976. That show, which revealed the boy king's mysterious treasures (and mummy) to American audiences for the first time, created the ur-model of the blockbuster exhibition and revolutionized museum marketing — much in the way that Steven Spielberg's Jaws had reconfigured movie marketing the summer before.

Tut II is an apt successor. But Zahi Hawass, who as the secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities has been the Spielberg figure (down to the Indiana Jones Hat) behind Tut and Egyptian archeology altogether, is unsatisfied. A man famously unafraid of speaking his mind, Hawass has publicly complained that the show — which augments the 50 objects in the original exhibition with 80 more from the tombs of Tuts family — has not returned to the Met, but is instead displayed in a “hole.” Unkind, perhaps. The Times Square space, a Discovery Channel spin-off, opened last year with shows devoted to the hominid “Lucy” and the Titanic, so it is very much part of the event-culture sphere that the young pharaoh has occupied since Howard Carter discovered the entrance to his tomb on November 22, 1922.

A companion show to the Discovery exhibition, "King Tut: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs," is also traveling across Canada and the United States. According to Hawass, who worked with National Geographic to engineer both displays, the twin Tuts have already pulled in a hundred million dollars — much of which is destined for the construction of a new Tut museum in Cairo. I met with Hawass in the darkened Times Square venue to talk about the exhibition, the scientific discoveries since the Met appearance, and his spectacle-seeking brand of Egyptology....


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