King Tut treasures back in Britain

( Reuters ) - The treasures of Egypt's boy king Tutankhamun have arrived back in Britain, 35 years after the last exhibition of the funeral artefacts here caused a sensation.

This time Egypt will benefit from the show.

In 1972 when nearly 1.7 million people queued for hours to pay 50 pence each to see the spectacle at the British Museum, Egypt received nothing.

This time the venue is the O2 exhibition centre in Greenwich, the entry price is 30 times higher at 15 pounds a head and Egypt gets three quarters of the ticket price to go towards preserving its antiquities.

"There are no more free meals," Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, told reporters at a preview of the show that opens on Thursday and runs through August 2008.

"This exhibition, and the next in five years' time, will make $140 million (67.5 million pounds) for Egypt," he said, adding that the money would go towards new museums.

Ticket sales have already topped 325,000.

The boy who became king aged nine and ruled for nine years until his death is the core of the show but it also studies his parentage and has archive material from the tomb's discovery in the Valley of the Kings in 1922 by archaeologist Howard Carter. Tutankhamun was the only pharaoh whose tomb was not stripped by looters in ancient times.

Egypt put the actual mummy of Tutankhamun on display in his tomb earlier this month, giving visitors their first chance to see the face of the teenaged ruler.

The mummified body has been examined in detail only a few times although the tomb's artefacts have toured the world.

"Not only will people learn about the ... most famous boy king, but they will also have the opportunity to learn first hand about ... ancient Egyptian history," Hawass said.

Through a succession of rooms, visitors see statues, empty jars for mummified body parts, masks and daily objects.

Turning a corner, the visitor is confronted by a life-sized bust of the boy king. Then comes the heart of the exhibition with gold figurines and the ceremonial trappings of power.

"To stand in the presence of an object that Tut touched or saw takes us back in time," said John Taylor of the British Museum.

In all, 130 objects, none less than 3,000 years old, are on display, including 50 from the tomb itself such as the boy king's gold crown.

Some critics have said the organisers have debased the treasures with merchandising that includes a Tutankhamun shot glass, mummy fridge magnets and a King Tut headband.

"The exhibition doesn't totally escape the risks of profiteering ... but it is often powerful, sometimes provocative and always worth seeing" the New York Times commented when the show was in the United States.

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