For those with a penchant for linking ancient Egyptian artifacts to the extraterrestrial scope, now is your chance to ‘credibly’ bask in glory. According to a new study, the famed boy-king Tutankhamun was buried with a special dagger that was probably made of iron sourced from a meteorite. This fascinating analysis in question was headed by Daniela Comelli, a professor of materials science at the Polytechnic University of Milan in Italy, along with the collaborative effort from other researchers at Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The international team made use of a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometry method (non-invasive) that determined the ‘content’ of the blade encompassing 10 percent nickel and 0.6 percent cobalt. This composition (with its unique percentages) was compared to metallic meteorites, and the figures were found to be pretty similar – especially denoted by the relatively high percentage of nickel.
From the archaeological scope, King Tut’s meteorite dagger was originally discovered by Howard Carter in 1922 when his team infamously came across the burial chamber of the boy Pharaoh. Described by him as ‘a highly ornamented gold dagger with crystal knob’, the impressive craftsmanship is quite evident from the non-rusted blade complemented by an embellished gold handle. The object is complete with its own golden sheath that flaunts a lily floral motif on one side, and feather-replicating decorations on the other, ‘topped off’ with a jackal’s head.
Now historically, the use of iron in an Egyptian artifact dating from 14th century BC is quite surprising. That is because the ancient Egyptians might have acquired the very technology of smelting iron (for crafting objects and weapons from extracted iron) in around 8th century BC. The reason for this ‘late’ development was because of the high temperatures required for melting iron and extracting the metal from ores, which must have required the apt furnace technologies. However the deft craftsmanship of King Tut’s meteorite dagger clearly shows the expert levels of iron working (like hammering and shaping) exhibited in ancient Egypt, circa 14th century BC.
Interestingly enough, ancient Egyptian literary sources from around hundred years later, make mentions of ‘iron of the sky’, thus suggesting how they were possibly aware of the celestial nature of iron meteorite. And just to give a perspective into the rarity of even finding a rough specimen of an iron meteorite, the researchers could only identify 20 pieces with an area of 2,000 km radius around the Red Sea. Even among them, only one specimen, known as the Kharga, had the nickel and cobalt composition that was similar to the blade content.
Lastly, and quite intriguingly, the decorative dagger is not the only object of extraterrestrial origin that was found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. The boy Pharaoh’s pectoral (necklace) is possibly made from Libyan desert silica glass (as opposed to the earlier conjecture of chalcedony), a very rare material formed by the impact of a meteorite or comet on the sand. These glass varieties are only found in what is known as the Great Sand Sea of Egypt – the arid, inhospitable region almost 500 miles away from the Nile-centered settlements of the ancient civilization.
The study was originally published in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science.