Tutankhamun dagger was crafted from cosmic metal

2 Jun 2016

Metallurgic analysis of the dagger found in the tomb of the legendary Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun has found that the iron from which it was made crashed into Earth thousands of years ago as a meteorite.

Tutankhamun only lived to the very young age of 18, but his legacy has left a huge impression on our understanding of ancient Egyptian culture and archaeology as a whole.

When his tomb was discovered by archaeologist Howard Carter in 1925, the world was fascinated to hear stories of the items found within it, including two daggers – one iron, one gold – which were wrapped around Tutankhamun.

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Despite the obvious interest from a riches perspective of finding a golden dagger, archaeologists were more interested in the iron dagger, as the region was not known for its iron production, and were curious to know why the iron did not seem to rust.

Now, according to The Guardian, an international team of researchers has analysed the metallurgic make-up of the iron dagger using an x-ray fluorescence spectrometer and has found that it has a high nickel content, as well as cobalt.

Metallurgy refers to the study of the physical and chemical behaviour of metallic elements.


The iron dagger of King Tutankhamun. Image via Commeli et al

Pinpointed to one meteorite

Publishing their findings in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science, they said they believe this is strong enough evidence to consider it as having originated from an ancient meteorite that crashed into Earth.

Even more accurately, the researchers were able to analyse meteorites found within a range of 2,000km from the coast of the Red Sea and were able to pinpoint one specific meteorite as having the same properties.

Dubbed Kharga, the meteorite crashed into the Earth around 240km outside of the port of Alexandria and, as something that had fallen from the sky, would have been treasured by the ancient Egyptians.

The research team wrote of the discovery: “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.”

Interestingly, other objects found in the pharaoh’s tomb may have connections with space too, as the analysis of a yellow gem undertaken in 2006 suggested that it was likely to have been made from sand turning into glass due to the extreme heat caused by a meteorite crashing into the Earth.

Tutankhamun image via Jaroslav Moravcik/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic