While the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s rise to fame might be called meteoric, an item in King Tut’s tomb could literally be described that way. The story of the boy king has been a captivating one ever since Howard Carter’s 1922 discovery of the Pharaoh’s nearly intact tomb, but nearly a century later — more than 3,300 years since Tut’s death — we continue to find new, amazing surprises.
The most recent surprise? A space dagger. Though the beautiful weapon sports a gold handle and crystal pommel along with a sheath decorated in a lily and jackal motif, the focus here is on the iron blade unmarred by rust. The dagger itself was discovered in 1925, but as reported in a new article in Meteorics & Planetary Science, its composition was a subject of some speculation. The general consensus agreed that, yes, the dagger itself was made of iron, but due to “the rare existence of smelted iron, it is generally assumed that early iron objects were produced from meteoritic iron.”
The rarity of smelted iron, which could have been obtained by chance as a by-product of the more primitive methods of copper and bronze smelting, meant that “its value was greater than that of gold,” and perfect for creating “ornamental, ritual, and ceremonial objects.” Like, say, a dagger for the reigning Pharaoh.
The triumph of modern technology in this case comes from the research team’s use of portable x-ray fluorescence spectrometry, a technique commonly used to determine elemental and chemical compositions of metal, glass, and ceramics in the field of archaeology, among others. Their finding “strongly supports [the blade’s] meteoritic origin” and lines up with recent results of similar testing of ancient iron artifacts in the area. To the team, this discovery confirms the great value placed on meteoric iron by ancient Egyptians along with evidence of “a significant mastery of ironworking in Tutankhamun’s time.” The find also helps to clarify the hieroglyphic phrase that translates as “iron of the sky,” and, based on the metallurgic analysis, links it to the known meteorite known as Kharga.
For we laymen, however, it’s just cool to know that scientists have confirmed that the most famous Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt was buried with a space knife. I’m going to have to write that into my will.
Image: Carsten Frenzl, Meteorics & Planetary Science