In 1922, an archaeologist named Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt. Tutankhamun belonged to the Eighteenth Dynasty. He reigned over Egypt around 1330 BCE, and restored the Ancient Egyptian religion. When he died, he was buried in a smaller-than-expected tomb, probably because his death was sudden and unexpected – for a while, it was hypothesised that he had been murdered, but it seems that he died from a combination of an infection and several previous pathologies (nothing to do with the fact that his parents were brother and sister, I’m sure).
The tomb was robbed and restored twice within a few years of Tutankhamun’s death, but it was eventually buried by alluvium brought by flash floods, and the debris from other tombs being built nearby. Thus, when Carter found it in 1922, it was mostly untouched and unspoilt. The death of Carter’s sponsor George Helbert, five months after visiting the tomb, sparked the rumour about a Curse of the Pharaohs, which has inspired countless works of fiction.
In 2022, Spain is living through a fad of “immersive exhibitions”, heavily based on technology, virtual reality and computer games. I was curious about what it would be about, exactly, so I decided to celebrate the end of work season by hitting the exhibit. I was early as the day before there had been a bit of public transport trouble and you usually have more chances of getting in if you’re early rather than late. Thus, I reached Centro Cultural Matadero in Madrid about half an hour earlier than my ticket read, and I was let in without any issue.
The “immersive exhibit” Tutankamón: La Exposición Inmersiva was devised by MAD, Madrid Artes Digitales, which specialises in digital creation and immersive experiences such a this. The exhibit has been designed in cooperation with the History Channel.
The first bit was a number of panels, explaining the “Egyptmania” that swept the world after the discovery of the mummy, the process of mummification, or life in ancient Egypt. The second held a replica of the inner and outer sarcophagus, along with the mummy, then replicas a few artefacts that had been found in the tomb, including the famous golden mask the pharaoh was buried with.
Afterwards, you go into a huge ward with a projection on all four walls plus the floor, which is very spectacular but does not tell you much about the real history of either Tutankhamun or the tomb, it was just a cool video of flashy images with a narration in first person, showing the interior of the tomb, yes, but mostly vaguely-related imaginary, including some of the Egyptian gods. What it did have, and that was neat, was an original newsreel about the opening of the tomb, including Howard’s voice.
The following area had an augmented reality game, which I won (didn’t get anything though), a photo booth that I skipped and some “I bet you didn’t know” facts – about one third of them were common knowledge, and another third was information from previous panels though.
Finally, there was a room with virtual reality glasses and headphones, but my headphones wouldn’t work – I later realised they were not plugged into anything. This represented – I think – the trip to the Egyptian underworld, as I “started” at Tutankhamun’s tomb, then there were volcanoes, and I ended up in front of Anubis, who weighed a heart against a plume – the Judgement of the Dead.
The VR experience there was the last spot in the exhibition – because I skipped the photo booth – before one went into the shop. In the end, I was there for about an hour and a half, but it almost took me two hours to arrive and an hour and half to come back.
Though I don’t regret the mental break, I have decided that immersive experiences are not for me.