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More than mummies

Much to see, and enjoy, in ‘Pharaohs.’

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AMULET OF HARSAPHES: Cast gold object, only 2 3/8 inches high, dates to 740-725 B.C.
  • AMULET OF HARSAPHES: Cast gold object, only 2 3/8 inches high, dates to 740-725 B.C.

It's with relief and pleasure that I can report that you won't regret for a minute the $22 you spend to see “World of the Pharaohs: Treasures of Egypt.” The Arkansas Arts Center's biggest show ever — in expense, prestige and sheer number of objects — opens Friday, Sept. 25.

The strength of the show lies not in any one astonishing or celebrated object, like Tut's gold slippers, nor in an elaborate display a la the Wonders series of exhibits of the previous decade in the Memphis Pyramid. Instead, it is the preponderance of the many fascinating and beautiful things here, their provenance in the halls of the dead, their fine presentation and — perhaps most importantly — their newness to an Arkansas audience.

 The exhibit, which spans 3,000 years of Egyptian dynasties (concluding at the time of Christ) and includes more than 200 objects, opens with the looming granite head and shoulders of Ramses the Great (1279-1212 B.C.) and concludes in a tomb-like gallery featuring painted wooden sarcophagi and a mummy discretely exhibited below and in the shadow of its coffin lid. In between are shabtis and amulets, figurines meant to protect in life and serve the dead; hieroglyph-carved wall fragments and statuary; carvings in wood and stone; ceramics; translucent travertine vessels and objects. A bird-shaped palette for grinding minerals for eyeliners — meant to deflect the rays of the desert sun — dating to 4,000 B.C. Gold finger and toe guards to protect the digits of the dead. A faience goblet in the form of a lotus, startlingly blue. A tiny vessel in the shape of a hedgehog, meant to hold ointments. A wooden stool, a golden amulet, only two inches tall, of Harsaphes, a man whose strength is represented by his ram's head and forward left leg. Canopic jars for the storage of internal organs, a mummy of a kitten. A relief showing a man stuffing the throat of a goose, an earthenware fragment on which is stylized drawing of a heron or phoenix, its long toes outstretched. A stone rattle symbolic of one used in the rites celebrating the cow-eared goddess Hathor. 

Headsets will be available for $3 to those wanting audio tours, and a number of free lectures on Egyptian art and life will be scheduled throughout the exhibit's nine-month run.

 Considering that it took more than an hour to examine these manifestations of Egyptian culture, and the fact that I didn't think twice about forking over $18 for a ring in the gift shop the minute I exited the exhibit, $22 for a ticket sounds cheap.

Tickets are $20 for seniors, $18 for college students, $15 military, $14 youth and free to children 5 and under.

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