Gawk Like an Egyptian

The Las Vegas Natural History Museum has a message to everyone unimpressed by its collection to date: Tut-tut.

On Saturday, it unveils “Treasures of Egypt,” a 4,000-square-foot stroll through replica Egyptian artifacts culminating in a re-creation of King Tut’s tomb.

The faux bounty became available in 2008, after Luxor began de-theming the inside of its shiny black pyramid. One of the casualties was its King Tut Museum.

“I’m very grateful that MGM Mirage is so in tune with the community,” said Las Vegas Natural History Museum director Marilyn Gillespie.

Four or five offers were received for the reproductions from museums and traveling exhibition companies, according to Felix Rappaport, Luxor president and chief operating officer, who values the collection at $3 million.

“But once our community relations department suggested that we donate it, at that point, it was an easy decision,” Rappaport said. “We felt that it would do a lot more good for us to donate it locally versus trying to make a quick buck.”

Visitors to Luxor’s former museum — replaced by its current “Bodies” and “Titanic” exhibits — may recognize some of the 500 donated replicas, including the boy king’s golden throne and shrine, chariots and outer sarcophagus.

“But we’re doing twice as much with the stuff as the Luxor did,” Gillespie said. “They just did Tut. We’re doing Egypt.”

A $500,000 grant from the Engelstad Family Foundation has enabled Gillespie to envelop Pharoah Tutankhamun’s burial chamber in an exhibit worthy of the 21st century. After being welcomed by a sentinel, his stone face animated via projected film, visitors snake through passageways dotted with glassed-in vases, baskets and pottery, as well as interactive touch-screen monitors.

A re-created Egyptian marketplace imparts the experience of gathering water and grinding wheat.

And a peek inside a mummy also is offered, by rolling what appears to be a portable CAT scan device over replica remains and viewing the results. (The illusion is created by state-of-the-art video technology.)

“Treasures of Egypt” sits on what was an outdoor patio where, years ago, schoolkids ate their bagged lunches. The patio has gone mostly unused since a more preferable picnic spot — Heritage Park — opened nearby in 2000.

“My original thinking was to create another dinosaur pavilion out here,” Gillespie said. “Then we heard about the Luxor and, OK, plan change.”

Although everything in the Egyptian Pavilion is a facsimile, that doesn’t render it unimpressive.

The gold-painted Tut sarcophagus alone cost $250,000 to re-create, according to Rappaport, who describes the replicas as “scrupulously designed” in Egypt, by Egyptian artisans, using the same materials and techniques that produced the originals 3,300 years ago. (In addition, he said, each item was signed off as accurate by the Egyptian government’s head of antiquities.)

Although Gillespie admits she would not have passed up an opportunity to display the genuine articles, replicas have their own benefits.

“The people in Egypt feel very robbed of their history,” she said. “You can go all over the world and see Egypt, and Egyptians today resent that.”

In addition, visitors are guaranteed not to pick up a curse from snooping around.

Contact reporter Corey Levitan at clevitan@review journal.com or 702-383-0456.

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