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Tut's bling is the golden ticket this summer

Boy king's treasures return to U.S. after 30 years for four-city tour.
/ Source: TODAY

Forget Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, there's a new golden boy in town who shines in his own summer blockbuster. “Tutankhamen and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” has arrived from Egypt for a four-city tour that opens this week in Los Angeles. “Today” host Katie Couric reports.

It's the biggest comeback tour in over 3,000 years as the curtain rises again on one of history's most famous faces. Nearly 30 years after his American debut, King Tut returns.

“Every piece in this exhibit will tell us a story and it will capture our hearts,” says Dr. Zahi Hawass, the chairman of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Over twice the size of Tut one, this is the first time most of the exhibit's 114 treasures have ever left home. Though his celebrated mask remains in Egypt, visitors will cast their eyes on Tutankhamen's golden crown, the gilded wood coffin that held his organs, and the smiling mask of Queen Tuyu, the boy king's great-grandmother.

“What this exhibition does is present material from Tut's tomb.  But it also presents material from tombs of pharaohs who preceded him. So you can actually see in a more meaningful context [objects from] the 18th dynasty,” says David Foster, project administrator for the Field Museum.

King of the wealthiest nation on earth, Tutankhamen took the throne when he was just 9 years. He died only 10 years later, and was buried under the sands of Egypt until Howard Carter unearthed the tomb in 1922.  When asked what he had found, Carter replied, "Wonderful things ... the glint of gold."

The big question surrounding Tut has always been his death. Had Tut been murdered?  Had a chariot accident killed him?  It was a fiercely debated mystery, until now.

In February, Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s head of antiquities, removed the king from his eternal resting place for a virtual autopsy — a CAT scan.

“There is no evidence of a blow to the back of the head or indication of foul play,” says Hawass.

Hawass believes an infection in his fractured leg may have caused Tut's premature death. Also included in the exhibit were the results of Tut's reconstruction. The CAT scan allowed forensic artists to create a more accurate model of the man behind the mask.

“What they show, actually, is not a very glamorous rock star kind of a guy,” says Foster. “He actually had buck teeth — an overbite was common in his dynasty — [and] a receding chin.  Not what you'd expect on a noble ruler. It's a much more human portrait that emerges.”

Transporting each piece of Tut's exhibit to fans across the globe was a feat in itself.

“The material that they're wrapped in is a chemically inert material called Tyvek — it looks like paper, or a plastic. I'm guessing they probably used a mile or two of Tyvek to wrap these objects,” says Foster.

After a two-foot statue broke in 1981, the exhibit was grounded. But memories of the first tour's record-breaking attendance and ensuing Egypt-o-mania enticed Dr. Hawass to try again. Profits will go back into Egypt’s antiquities.

“By sending King Tut to the States and Europe, we can say that King Tut is responsible for the restoration of the Egyptian monuments,” says Hawass.

The exhibit — which will also stop in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Chicago; and Philadelphia before Sept. 30, 2007 — is undoubtedly impressive, but the 50 pieces shown are just a fraction of the more than 4,000 found in Tut's tomb. Once piled high with gold, that tomb still holds King Tut's mummy — a wonder you can't see in any museum.