Tutankhamun, ancient Egypt's famous boy pharaoh, grew up 3,300 years ago in the royal court at Amarna, the ancient city of Akhet-aten, whose name meant the "Horizon of the Aten.” This extraordinary royal city grew, flourished—and vanished—in hardly more than a generation’s time. Amarna, Ancient Egypt’s Place in the Sun, a new exhibition at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia, offers a rare look at the meteoric rise and fall of this unique royal city during one of Egypt’s most intriguing times. The exhibition, which opened in 2006, originally scheduled to run through October 2007, has been given a long-term extension, as a complement to the Museum's refurbished Upper and Lower Egyptian galleries.

Amarna, Ancient Egypt’s Place in the Sun features more than 100 ancient artifacts, some never before on display—including statuary of gods, goddesses and royalty, monumental reliefs, golden jewelry as well as personal items from the royal family, and artists’ materials from the royal workshops of Amarna.  Most of the show’s artifacts date to the time of Tutankhamun and the Amarna Period, including many objects excavated almost a century ago from this short lived-royal city. 

With background information about the childhood home and unique times in which Tutankhamun lived, Amarna is a complementary exhibition to the nationally traveled, blockbuster exhibition from Egypt, Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs. Penn Museum is partnering locally with The Franklin Institute, which hosts the blockbuster Tut show beginning February 3, 2007.

Statue of Amun (E14350) with features of Tutankhamun, provenance unknown, possibly Thebes, late Dynasty 18-early Dynasty 19 (1332-1292 BCE), greywacke

The Amarna Period in ancient Egyptian history—circa 1353 to 1336 BCE— has long fascinated archaeologists, historians and the public—and not just because of Howard Carter’s spectacular discovery, in 1922, of the intact tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun,” noted Egyptologist Dr. David Silverman, one of three curators of the Amarna exhibition and national curator of the blockbuster Tutankhamun exhibition. “It is during this period that a still somewhat mystifying, short-lived experiment in religious, artistic and cultural change was happening at Amarna, and, from that seat of the royal court, quickly extended throughout Egypt.”

Located in a previously uninhabited stretch of desert in Middle Egypt, Amarna was founded by the Pharaoh Akhenaten. His wife, Queen Nefertiti, is still known worldwide for her exquisite beauty. She was not the mother of Tutankhamun, but it is likely that Akhenaten was his father. Sometimes referred to as Egypt’s “heretic” pharaoh, Akhenaten radically altered Egypt’s long-standing, polytheistic religious practices, introducing the belief in a single deity, the disk of the sun, called the Aten.  With the new religion came a dramatically new artistic style, one characterized by more naturalistic figures, curving lines, and emphasized gestures.  The new era, however, proved short lived—by the time that Tutankhamun died, at about the age of 19, hardly a decade into his kingship, the “Amarna Period” was not only coming to an end, but the Egyptian people’s traditional beliefs and religious practices were being restored.  Plans were also underway to abandon and dismantle the city.

Monumental wall relief of the royal family worshipping the Aten, possibly from Amarna, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten (1353-1336 BCE), quartzite

Penn Museum’s considerable collection of artifacts from this significant period provides the evidence for the exhibition’s storyline, which takes the visitor on a visual and intellectual journey from before the Amarna Period through to the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty (circa 1500 to 1292 BCE).  Since the ancient Egyptians were thorough in their efforts to dismantle the royal city, excavators at Amarna in the 1920s found fragmentary evidence—hieroglyphic texts, small royal stamps, tiny molds, half-finished sculptures, and artifacts bearing glimpses of the royal family.  Through drawings, maps, photography and computer recreations, the exhibition helps the visitor use these archaeological “clues” to rediscover this once-thriving royal court and city.

Central to the exhibition is a monumental wall relief depicting the solar deity Aten as a disk hovering above the pharaoh Akhenaten and a female member of the royal family.  The Aten’s rays descend toward the figures, each terminating in a hand. Some time after the restoration of the traditional religion, this relief was cut down, placed face down on the ground, re-inscribed, and reused, probably as a base for a statue in the shape of a sphinx for the later pharaoh Merenptah (1213-1204 BCE).  Ironically, this recycling accidentally preserved the decorated front of the relief from total destruction.

Kneeling Tut as Amun

Statuette of Tutankhamun (E14295), provenance unknown, late Dynasty 18, reign of a successor of Akhenaten (1332-1322 BCE), bronze with traces of gold

Other highlights from the exhibition, housed in two gallery rooms off the Museum’s Lower Egyptian gallery, include two statues that probably represent Tutankhamun: a bronze kneeling statuette and an elegant standing figure of Amun with Tutankhamun’s features.  The latter statue is an indication of Egyptian religion reverting to traditional presentations connecting the king and the god Amun at the head of the pantheon.  Other statues of traditional gods in the exhibition include the lioness-headed goddess Sekhmet and the mother-son Isis and Horus.  Personal items of ancient royalty—a seal and a scarab of Amenhotep III, vessel fragments bearing cartouches of queens Nefertiti and Tiye, a comb, an elegant statue of an Amarna princess—remind the visitor of the individuals who lived at that time.  An ancient wooden mallet, fiber brush, unfinished statue and decorative molds for the making of glass items speak to the presence of a vibrant artisan community.

More than a decade before British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s extraordinary tomb in the Valley of the Kings, American explorer Theodore Davis found a nearby pit that contained vessels from the boy king’s funerary feast, among other things.  Some of those ceramic pieces also will be on display.

Amarna is designed by the McMillan Group, designers of the Los Angeles installation of Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs.

Amarna, Ancient Egypt’s Place in the Sun is co-curated by Dr. David Silverman, the Eckley Brinton Coxe, Jr. Professor and Curator of Egyptology; Dr. Jennifer Wegner, Research Specialist, Egyptian section; and Dr. Josef Wegner, Associate Curator and Professor in the Museum’s Egyptian section.  All three curators also teach in the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Arts and Sciences.

Amarna, Ancient Egypt’s Place in the Sun has been made possible with the lead support of The Annenberg Foundation; Andrea M. Baldeck, M.D., and William M. Hollis, Jr.; Susan H. Horsey; and the Frederick J. Manning family.  Additional support was provided by the Connelly Foundation, the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, IBM Corporation, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Levy,  Margaret R. Mainwaring,  and The National Geographic Society.

In time for the opening of the Amarna exhibition, Penn Museum’s renowned Upper and Lower Egyptian galleries, will be refurbished.  The galleries offer visitors an opportunity to view a wide variety of ancient Egyptian artifacts from several millennia.  Materials range from monumental architecture to sculptures, pottery, jewelry, tomb goods, and mummies.

SphinxA twelve-ton, monumental granite sphinx (E12326) dominates the Lower Egyptian Gallery, which houses one of the finest collections of Egyptian architecture on display in the United States.  Surrounding the sphinx are the gateway, columns, doorways and windows from the best-preserved royal palace ever excavated in Egypt.  The palace was built in the city of Memphis for the pharaoh Merenptah (circa 1224—1214 BCE), thirteenth son and eventual successor of Ramesses II.


The Upper Egyptian Gallery is home to the Museum’s finest examples of Egyptian sculpture.  Highlights include massive stone sarcophaguses, and inlaid bronzes of the deities Osiris, primary god of the afterlife, and the warrior goddess Neith.  An imposing seated statue of Ramesses II from the temple of Harsaphes sits in the center of the gallery.  From this gallery, visitors may enter “The Egyptian Mummy: Secrets and Science,” a popular exhibition that takes an in-depth look at the ancient Egyptian beliefs in the afterlife, featuring human and animal mummies, tomb artifacts, and objects and materials used in the mummification process.

Download a pdf of the Educational Supplement for Amarna, sponsored by the News in Education Program of The Philadelphia Inquirer -->


*A new publication from Penn Museum Publications:

Akhenaten & Tutankhamun:
Revolution & Restoration

by David P. Silverman, Josef W. Wegner, and Jennifer Houser Wegner
200 pp., 140 full-color images, hardcover
ISBN 1-931707-90-1
$24.95