King Tutankhamun owned a dagger with a blade made of meteorites. The weapon, approx a foot long, was found in 1925. Yet experts have taken the best part of a century to understand its cosmic significance.
How do they know the ancient stabber is space-based? Nickel and cobalt feature in the iron blade – ingredients typically found in rocks plummeting earthwards.
The gold handle ends in “a round crystal knob, encased in an ornate gold sheath”, according to History.com. The sheath bears a floral lily and feathers design plus – appropriately for an Ancient Egyptian ruler – “the head of a jackal”.
Speculation began in the 1960s over the blade’s origins, though the theory was never proved. A breakthrough came in 2016. Teams from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, together with Italy’s University of Pisa and the Polytechnic University of Milan used up to date, non-invasive technology to examine the artefact.
X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, where high energy rays are beamed onto the surface to “excite” electrons, proved vital in establishing the blade’s background. The findings were published in Meteorites and Planetary Science.
They discovered not only a dagger with an unearthly dimension but evidence suggesting “significant mastery of ironworking in Tutankhamun’s time.”
Iron and its production was thought to be a limited business when the teenage Tut passed away centuries ago. The gold handle dazzles, but the real money would have lain in the blade.
Smithsonian Magazine noted, “King Tut’s craftsmen appear to have realized that meteoritic iron was a long-lasting and tough material.” As for the rock the iron came from, the Kharga meteorite was identified as a likely candidate. Discovered on a plateau near Alexandria in 2000, it’s one of 20 locations within ruling distance of Tutankhamun.
As mentioned by various sources, Egyptians referred to the material as “iron from the sky”. If that isn’t an indicator of something from the stars then what is?
Meteor content is also evident in 9 iron beads, dating back to 3,200 BC approx and stumbled upon inside a tomb in Gerzeh cemetery, 1911. These objects have helped experts build a picture of what remains an ambiguous area of the distant past.
There is of course spiritual significance to the blade. The team from 2016 wrote that falling rocks were “perceived as a divine message”. The Egyptians weren’t alone in their reverence. Ancient cultures, such as the Inuits and Tibetans, are known to have used meteorite material for “the production of small tools and ceremonial objects”.
When archaeologist Howard Carter opened the lid on Tut’s tomb in 1922, he revealed the boy and his kingdom to the world. My Modern Met writes the famous burial chamber has “perhaps taught the public more about ancient Egypt than any other discovery”.
It took a further 3 years for the dagger to be found, among wrappings on the King’s body. The blade was actually one of 2, the other made of gold and placed on Tut’s abdomen. The meteoric dagger lay by his right thigh. Another interesting detail about the blade is it hadn’t rusted.
The plot thickened in 2017, when Prof Albert Jambon of Paris did further research on the dagger. The results were an Ancient Egyptian eye opener. Tutankhamun’s blade and other items revealed iron not only from one space rock, but possibly more than two!
This changed the game. Before it was assumed “a few artisans during the Bronze Age in the ancient Near East knew how to make iron by smelting it from Earth’s crust.” Talk about hot work!
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Magma appears to have given way to meteorites, demonstrating that when it comes to the ancient world the truth can be written from the stars, if not in them…