Saturday, August 14, 2010

King Tut Inc

Heritage Key (Malcom Jack)

According to figures quoted at an archaeological conference last week by Dr Zahi Hawass, the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) has generated more revenue in recent years from sending treasures of Tutankhamun abroad than it has from collections in the country’s own museums. That includes the Howard Carter collection at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, which features key pieces from King Tut’s tomb – such as the Golden Death Mask (some amazing picture of which you can view here) and coffins – deemed too fragile or unwieldy to travel outwith the country.

The SCA has made over $100 million from its pair of official touring exhibitions of King Tut which have criss-crossed North America since 2005. Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs has visited Dallas and San Francisco on its travels and is currently in the middle of a long run at the Discovery Times Square Exposition in New York (even though Hawass insists it deserved the Met), while Tutankhamun the Golden King and the Great Pharaohs has been to Atlanta, Indianapolis and Ontario and is at present resident at Denver Art Museum.

At the conference ‘Egypt between past, present and future’, organised by the Al-Samra Institution for Environment and Development, SCA secretary general Hawass quoted the total revenue taken in the same period by the SCA both from museums inside the country and antiquities traveling abroad as being one billion Egyptian pounds – about $176 million. That means the income from other touring exhibitions and Egyptian museums combined was worth just over $76 million – a huge sum, but still $24 million less than the amount made by Tut on his travels.

It underscores the overwhelming success of Dr Hawass and the SCA’s policy of using touring exhibitions to bankroll their activities back in Egypt.

Yet, doesn’t the increasingly dramatic skew towards externally – generated revenue also suggest that the SCA’s business activities abroad are beginning to eclipse their responsibilities closer to home – even though recent industry analysis shows that tourism in Egypt is bucking global trends and growing at a dramatic rate? Has Dr Hawass turned the SCA into a purely profited-driven operation, which has lost sight of its obligation to ensure its treasures are accessible to the largest possible number of people, both in Egypt and around the world, and not just the highest bidder?

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