8 mysteries to unravel at the California Science Center's King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh exhibition

With more than 150 authentic items from the tomb of King Tutankhamun, King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh is the largest King Tut exhibition to ever tour outside Egypt, and it's scheduled to visit only one American city: Los Angeles. AAA members save 20% on adult admission to the exhibition when they buy online with the promo code AUTOCLUB, or show their AAA membership card at the California Science Center box office. The California Science Center is currently hosting the exhibition until January 2019, at which point the tour will head to Europe.

The stars of the show are the 60 items that have never left Egypt before, and may never again after this tour. We pose eight questions that members can find the answers to when they visit the exhibition.

What does King Tut's name mean, and how was it spelled?

"Tutankhamun" can feel like a mouthful, but it's much simpler broken into three parts:

  • Tut (pronounced "toot")
  • Ankh, as in the Egyptian symbol for life
  • Amun (pronounced "a-MOON"), one of the most important gods in ancient Egypt. 

Put them together and you have King Tut's birth name. So what does it mean? The points above offer a hint, but you'll have to visit the exhibition to unlock how tut ties it all together, and see the hieroglyphic symbols that spell out the name.

What does an immortal king do for fun in the afterlife?

King Tut's tomb contained thousands of items believed to be of use to the pharaoh in the afterlife. Among these was one of the world's oldest board games, senet. In fact, the tomb contained two full sets of senet, with the pieces stored conveniently inside the game board.


The rules of senet are still a subject of discussion, but many historians believe the game involved rolling multisided sticks to determine moves, much as modern games use dice. King Tut's senet sets were found with a different kind of object to determine moves—see the exhibition to find out what.

How does one navigate the ancient Egyptian underworld?

The ancient Egyptians believed that when a pharaoh died, he did not simply go to the underworld (known as the Duat), but rather journeyed through it every night with the sun god Re. The pharaoh would face many challenges, and overcoming them represented the victory of order over chaos, embodied by the sun rising once again in the east.


As part of this journey, the deceased pharaoh had to travel from west to east under the world after sunset, so his tomb included methods of transportation fit for a king. Visit the exhibition to see what form they took and which gods imbued them with symbolic power.

What musical instruments did ancient Egyptians play?

Many cultures are associated with well-known instruments, such as the Scottish bagpipe or Irish harp. While ancient Egypt doesn't bring any household-name instruments to mind, King Tut's tomb wasn't lacking in the musical department. Among the instruments were sistra, ritual rattles associated with the goddess Hathor that sounded like wind moving through papyrus. The tomb also contained ornately decorated ceremonial horns, which are some of the only ancient Egyptian instruments whose exact sound is known. Visit the exhibition to see what sistra look like, and how intricately the horns were decorated.

Why would King Tut need a bow and arrows in the underworld?

Among the 60 items never displayed outside of Egypt before is a compound bow with a gilded gold grip. It was one of around 30 bows found in the tomb, along with hundreds of arrows. The bow is densely decorated with motifs and includes text praising Tutankhamun's archery skill. The bow isn't just a decoration; it was included to arm King Tut against dangerous foes he was expected to encounter every night as he traveled through the Duat. The exhibition explains who these enemies were, including a giant opponent who had to be slain to allow the sun to rise.

Who is this upside-down man on King Tut's walking stick?

A walking stick would serve two purposes for a pharaoh in the afterlife: It would help him keep his balance in the unfamiliar underworld (especially helpful for Tutankhamun, since he had a club foot), while also symbolizing his authority and leadership. This walking stick from the tomb includes a human figure built into the end, suspended upside down. Visit the exhibition to find out who this person is and what their presence on the handle represents.

Why did King Tut's tomb have so many human figurines?

Tutankhamun needed more than inanimate tools in the afterlife. He was also accompanied by miniature human sculptures, called shabtis, that were meant to transform into servants in the Duat. Not all had the same job; the number, types, and hierarchy of shabtis reflected a belief that the workplace of the dead would be similar to that of the living. Visit the exhibition to see how each shabti was unique, why so many were crafted, and the jobs they were expected to fill.

How did the crook and flail become royal symbols?

The rounded crook and the three-headed flail were widely used in ancient Egyptian art to represent royalty; in hieroglyphic writing, the crook symbol is used to represent the word for "ruler." The crook-and-flail pair on display at the exhibition is one of only two physical sets ever found. The other pair, which is significantly smaller, was also found in King Tut's tomb and may have been used when he was coronated as a child. Where do these symbols come from, and how did they attain royal status? Visit the exhibition to find out.

Ready to embark on your own voyage of discovery?

The California Science Center is hosting King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh through January 6, 2019. AAA members can save 20% on adult admission to the exhibition when they buy online with the promo code AUTOCLUB or show their AAA membership card at the California Science Center box office.

Not in Southern California? Come visit!

King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh is currently scheduled to leave North America for Europe in 2019, so if you want to see the exhibition without crossing the Atlantic, now is the time.


While you're here, you can save on tickets to other attractions, including the L.A. Zoo, the Battleship Iowa, and more. Save money on lodging and transportation too when you book a hotel stay and a Hertz rental car through AAA.