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Review: King Tut in Atlanta 

High-priced but worth it

The message travels far and wide. "Come see the ‘Tutankhamen: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs' exhibition in Atlanta." There's even a billboard touting the exhibition on Savannah's Islands' Expressway.

Savvy promoters lure us with the King Tut name and beguile us with a tightly cropped, bigger-than-life image. They bait and switch. We expect to see the boy king's famous death mask - the museum blockbuster of the 1970s - but instead gaze upon a shoe box-sized coffinette that used to hold some of the royal innards.

The exhibition Web site states that it "includes approximately 130 objects from the tomb of King Tut and other famous Egyptian pharaohs," implying that there are mainly King Tut items with a few other pharaoh things thrown in. But click around the site, and you'll discover the exhibition doesn't contain the famous death mask and only includes 50 king-related items.

Dubious hype and $32 adult ticket price aside, I still give the exhibition a thumbs up.

We started our visit with the 22-minute movie, "Egypt 3-D: Secrets of the Mummies," for an extra $5 each. While the 3-D glasses amused our inner children, we basked in the mood set by sweeping musical scores and panoramic vistas of Egyptian deserts and pyramids.

Then based on ticket entry times, ushers herded us into groups of a couple dozen people (and a few space-hogging strollers) to enter the exhibition. As we migrated through the chain of galleries, people set their pace based on their learning preferences. Some people relied on the brief exhibition signs conveniently placed above and below each display. Others clustered around displays as they pressed chunky, $6 walk-talkie looking audio systems against their ears.

Thankfully, the galleries were spacious with room for both readers and listeners. The exhibition seems to use every inch of the 30,000 square feet of space at the Atlanta Civic Center. Spotlights dramatically highlighted displays and glass-enclosed cases. Exhibition designers pair them with a melodious, looping soundtrack to create a reverent ambiance.

The beginning galleries were dedicated to sculpture - statues, busts and sphinx - of various sizes. We got close enough to appreciate the minute details, like the stone braids of hair, the tiny notches of hieroglyphics and the inlays of precious stones.

If bigger is better, the blue ribbon goes to the colossal 18-foot tall, long-faced bust of the pharaoh Akhenaten. Facing off with it, we were awestruck.

My favorites included the elaborately carved limestone sarcophagus Crown Prince Thutmose had built for his pet cat. Ancient Egyptians revered felines, which played a vital role in religious beliefs. The royal toilet seat- a square slab of stone with a hole big enough to drop on orange through - was rudimentary, but thought provoking. Were the toilets inside royal homes? What did pharaohs use for toilet paper?

The next four galleries were dedicated to King Tut. Each one corresponded to a room in his actual tomb (annex, antechamber, burial chamber and treasury), all discovered by archeologist Howard Carter in 1922.

Crowds gathered the most around the royal jewelry. There were items on the front and back sides of each display now, and this caused visitors to swirl around the room as they realized they missed seeing items, rather than continue forward to the next gallery.

However, we tolerated the crush of people to see the royal bling up close: intricately beaded necklaces and 5-inch wide collars; weighty looking, dangly earrings with miniature duck heads; and King Tut's solid-gold, pointy-toed flip-flops.

The golden stalls were decorative, thimble-looking objects that protected his fingers and toes. The display sign did not identify the threat. Perhaps the journey to the afterlife was more perilous than I thought.

Mural-sized prints by Harry Burton, the photographer who accompanied Carter during the King Tut tomb excavation, covered some walls. We saw a translucent alabaster vase with delicately curved handles in one print, and then were thrilled to see the actual vase in a display case.

The royal bed frame in the center display case looked curiously modern. Think shabby-chic trundle bed with chipped white paint and feline-shaped legs.

The last gallery zoomed from the ancient past to modern science. Giant pictures and CT scans presented King Tut's shriveled, mummified remains. After ruling for about 10 years, the king died when he was only about 19 years old. Evidence now points to an infected leg wound, rather than murder, as his cause of death.

We completed the tour of the exhibition - which spans about 2,000 years of ancient Egyptian history - in about two hours. Unfortunately, all visitors were forced to navigate through the crowded gift shop before they can leave. We left without a corny $34.95 King Tut gold and black striped headdress but with a hunger to learn more about ancient Egypt.

The Tutankhamen exhibition ends May 22. Shop around for discount tickets or combination tickets with other exhibitions, like China's Terracotta Army at the High Museum of Art. Learn more at www.kingtut.org.

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