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Confirmed King Tut’s dagger was made with iron from a meteorite

Ian Harvey
This undated image shows a dagger and sheath found in the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun (Daniela Comelli/Polytechnic University of Milan)

This undated image shows a dagger and sheath found in the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun (Daniela Comelli/Polytechnic University of Milan)

This undated image shows a dagger and sheath found in the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun (Daniela Comelli/Polytechnic University of Milan)

A recent study confirmed the makings of a famous dagger packed in the wrappings of the well known Egyptian King Tutankhamun’s mummy. The weapon was composed of iron that derived from a meteorite.

A professor of materials science at the Polytechnic University of Milan in Italy, Daniela Comelli, conducted the analysis of the dagger’s blade. The results showed that it contained 10 percent nickel and 0.6 percent cobalt. The findings were put into a report that was later published in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science.

In order to conduct the analysis, the researchers used a technique called X-ray fluorescence to identify different elements from the characteristic colors of X-ray light given off when hit with higher energy X-rays. The next step entailed comparing the composition of the dagger’s blade with 11 different metallic meteorites. The results were found to be quite similar.

Archaeologist Howard Carter came across the dagger in 1925; just three years after unearthing King Tut’s tomb. The dagger was located inside a wrapping that surrounded the right thigh of the boy king’s mummy. Indicative of the wealth and status associated with that family, it was decorated with a gold handle with a pommel of rock crystal. The iron blade was protected with a gold sheath and decorated with a pattern of lilies only on one side. Researchers also noted there were feathers on the other side and a jackal’s head.

There are not too many iron artifacts that date back to the ancient Egyptian culture. This particular dagger is from the 14th century BC. Researchers think the notion and ability to have developed iron smelting came about in the 8th century BC. Professor Comelli told the CBS news via email that this was later in time compared to nearby countries.

High Manufacturing Quality

Comelli wrote, “The problem with iron working is related to its high melting point (1,538 C). Because of it, early smiths couldn’t heat ore enough to extract iron and could not forge the iron into weapons.” Researchers also explained that iron objects from earlier times were most likely ornamental or ceremonial. They were made from meteoritic iron because it was seen as more valuable than gold.

The shape of the dagger came as a result of hammering. King Tut’s dagger was assumed to have been made with that type of iron, but it was never confirmed. The researchers wrote in their report that, “In this context, the high manufacturing quality of Tutankhamun’s dagger blade is evidence of early successful iron smelting in the 14th C. BCE.”

This discovery also gives insight into Egyptian descriptions of iron that did not appear for another 100 years. This is where the term “iron of the sky” derives from. The authors feel, “The introduction of the new composite term suggests that the ancient Egyptians … were aware that these rare chunks of iron fell from the sky already in the 13th C. BCE.”