Royal Mail is marking 100 years since the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, by British archaeologist Howard Carter, with a new set of 12 Special Stamps.
The main set of eight stamps include a selection of some of the most significant and well-preserved items and feature:
- Head of the king: The head of the king emerging from a lotus flower represents part of the ancient Egyptian creation myth when the infant sun-god Re appears from a lotus flower floating on the primordial waters.
- Inlaid Fan: Fans provided cool air and shade. Eight were found in the tomb, all beautifully decorated and originally fitted with ostrich feathers (long since perished).
- Gold Mask: The mask of Tutankhamun is now the most iconic object from the tomb, revealed in October 1925 when the innermost coffin’s lid was opened. Covering the head, neck and upper chest of the king’s wrapped body, the mask’s face is an idealised portrait of the young Tutankhamun.
- Falcon Pendant: This falcon pendant (or pectoral) portrays the sun-god Re-Harakhty, a merged form of the royal god Horus and the sun-god Re.
- Lion Couch: When Carter peered into the tomb’s antechamber, the first objects he glimpsed were the “gilded couches in strange forms, lion-headed, Hathor-headed, and beast infernal”.
- Throne: The ‘gold throne’ was referred to as “perhaps the most important item among the entire contents of the tomb”. The throne is made from gilded wood with gold sheets applied to the seat and backrest, and is lavishly carved and decorated.
- Boat model: This unique boat model is made from calcite (Egyptian alabaster) and decorated with gold, ivory, faience (ceramic-like material) and coloured pigments.
- Guardian statue: This imposing life-size statue of Tutankhamun, made of black painted wood with gilded details, shows the king wearing the striped Nemes headdress with the uraeus serpent at the front, the symbol of royal authority. Often referred to as a ‘guardian statue’, it is one of a pair found in the antechamber, positioned on either side of the burial chamber’s sealed doorway.
The artefacts, from the Grand Egyptian Museum were photographed by renowned professional photographer of art and architecture, Araldo De Luca.
A miniature sheet contains an additional four stamps which capture the discovery of Tutankhamun’s Tomb through a selection of photographs taken by Harry Burton – a pioneer of archaeological photography – whose images evocatively recorded the undisturbed tomb and captivated international audiences. Harry Burton was the only photographer permitted to work inside the tomb during the excavation.
Royal Mail worked with Egyptological experts at the Griffith Institute – the centre for Egyptology at the University of Oxford – on the stamp issue. The team there helped curate the eight stamp images, pictures of which were then provided by the Grand Egyptian Museum. The Griffith Institute also provided images for the miniature sheet and wrote the supporting copy for the wider product range.
David Gold, Director of External Affairs & Policy, Royal Mail, said: “The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by British archaeologist Howard Carter has inspired generations of people around the world. It has shaped historians’ understanding of the religion, rituals and culture of ancient Egypt to this day. We are delighted to have this opportunity to mark the centenary of that moment in these beautiful stamps.”
In early November 1922, the eyes of the world turned to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor with the announcement of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by a team led by Howard Carter and funded by Lord Carnarvon – the first intact royal burial found in Egypt.
On 26 November 1922, Carter made a small hole in the sealed inner doorway of the tomb and peered in. He later recalled: “At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold – everywhere the glint of gold.
“When Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, ‘Can you see anything?’, it was all I could do to get out the words, ‘Yes, wonderful things.’” The tomb contained food and wine, clothing, jewellery and furniture – ritual items to enable the king’s journey into the afterlife.
Tutankhamun’s body lay protected within a layered arrangement of four gilded shrines, erected around a sarcophagus containing three nested coffins. On 28 October 1925, Carter lifted the innermost coffin’s lid to reveal the king’s wrapped body; covering the head was what is now the most iconic object from the tomb – a gold mask. As well as a team of experienced Egyptian excavators, Carter and Carnarvon gathered a group of specialists to record and conserve the tomb’s objects, including the photographer Harry Burton from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, whose images evocatively recorded the undisturbed tomb and captivated international audiences.
It would take the team ten years to clear, document and conserve over 5,000 objects packed into the small tomb. The objects are in the Grand Egyptian Museum, Cairo, and the excavation documentation is in the archive of the Griffith Institute, the centre for Egyptology at the University of Oxford.