When Highclere Castle Gin contacted my husband, Professor John Coleman Darnell, and me to help design a bottle that would commemorate the centenary of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, we were excited to create a series of images that would celebrate the reign of Tutankhamun. It was particularly fulfilling to meet Lord Carnarvon and explain the symbolism to him, since his great-grandfather, the Fifth Earl, provided the financial backing for Howard Carter’s first decade of work in the Valley of the Kings.
After years of relatively unrewarding excavations in the desert canyon that had held the burials of the New Kingdom pharaohs between 1475 and 1070 BCE, Howard Carter pleaded with his patron to allow one final season of work. With the dedication of Carter’s team of Egyptian excavators, his and Lord Carnarvon’s dreams would come true in November 1922. As Carter would discover, Tutankhamun was buried with a wine cellar, including white and red vintages. A barrel-aged gin would have been surprising to the ancient inhabitants of the Nile Valley, but enjoying a fine alcoholic beverage had a two millennia old tradition by the time that King Tutankhamun came to the throne.
The mellow, rich gold of the Highclere Castle Barrel Aged Gin bottle perfectly captures the abundance of this precious metal that was found in the tomb. Tutankhamun’s treasure will soon take pride of place in the Grand Egyptian Museum, a celebration of Egypt’s cultural heritage and an exciting new destination for future visitors. One of Tutankhamun’s beautifully crafted pieces of jewelry that will be on display is a pectoral in the shape of a winged scarab. But this is not simply the solar beetle in flight: between the rear legs are three strokes, and below those is a basket. The scarab pushes between its front legs a sun disk. A stylized version of this pectoral adorns the front of the gold bottle. The winged scarab and the other signs write the coronation name of Tutankhamun: Neb-kheperu-re. The basket is neb, “lord,” the scarab with three strokes (making the noun plural), kheperu, means “transformations,” while the sun disk writes the name of the sun god. When Tutankhamun became king he was named: “The Lord of Transformations is Re.”
The image of Tutankhamun’s name on the front of the bottle is complemented by equally beautiful images on the sides. Above and below the depictions of Tutankhamun and his wife, Ankhesenamun, are hieroglyphs that write: “The estate of the high, bright place,” how an ancient Egyptian might have expressed the name Highclere Castle. Rather than just spelling out Highclere in hieroglyphs, we have translated the meaning of the word to make the decoration on the bottle truly authentic.
The scenes of Tutankhamun and his wife on either side are drawings inspired by a small golden shrine that celebrated the king’s intimate relationship with Ankhesenamun. On one side, she pours him wine in an elaborate goblet, while on the other, he dispenses wine into her hand. Each of these scenes has religious significance relating the king and queen to the gods.
Through the decoration of this bottle, we elevate a celebratory design to one steeped in the type of imagery that Tutankhamun himself might have chosen. Enjoy the rich barrel-aged gin inside and marvel at the sophistication and beauty of ancient Egypt and the people who lived three thousand three hundred years ago.