King Tut’s Meteorite Dagger

June 12th, 2016 by

(Carsten Frenzl [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons)

A dagger containing iron that almost certainly came from a meteorite (with gold and jewels) was found in the tomb of King Tut in 1925, but scientists are only now using modern technology to confirm that its origins were in fact out-of-this-world.

It sounds like something out of a B-movie—“King Tut’s Dagger from Outer Space.” But while this claim may sound fanciful, there is some truth in the story that has excited pundits and readers alike.

In 1925, archeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Egypt’s King Tutankhamun. Inside the tomb, were the usual ornaments that accompanied a royal funeral in ancient Egypt: beautifully crafted bracelets amulets, rings and of course precious jewels. One object in particular—birthed of a deep understanding of metal work—though, would arrest the imaginations of its discoverers. It was a dagger, struck from iron, with a gold handle, and housed in sheath of elaborate artistic design. Iron, however, was a very rare commodity in ancient Egypt, leaving scientists confused about the origin of this ceremonial instrument.

gold handle and an ornate sheath

Source: Politecnico di Milano

After a ninety-one year wait, those with questions about the blade’s composition would finally receive their answer. Italian and Egyptian researchers, using a technique known as X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, determined the blade was in fact made of an otherworldly material.

Daniela Comelli, associate professor at the department of Physics of Milan Polytechnic and head of the research team revealed that the cobalt and nickel ratio of the blade was similar to that of iron meteorites.

After surveying an area approximately 2,000km in radius centered in the Red Sea, researchers found 20 iron meteorites. One meteorite dubbed Kharga had nickel and cobalt contents consistent with the composition of the blade. Kharga was discovered sixteen years ago near a seaport west of Alexandria—its location making it the likely source of the blade.

“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 century BCE, anticipating Western culture by more than two millennia,” said Daniela Comelli.

Despite being of considerably short span, King Tut’s tenure as ruler has been one of the most eulogized, and this discovery will undoubtedly add to his legend.

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