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King Tut’s Space Dagger

You don't have to smelt iron if it comes from a meteorite.

A close-up image of King Tutankhamen's burial mask. It is made out of gold. The only features on the face that are not gold are two thin black eyebrows and two large eyes with iris and pupils colored black.

Photo: tutincommon (Flickr)

King Tutankhamen ruled ancient Egypt as Pharaoh around 1330 BC, and died when he was only eighteen years old.

King Tutankhamun of Egypt has fascinated people ever since archeologist Howard Carter discovered his splendid tomb in 1922. He ruled ancient Egypt as Pharaoh around 1330 BC, and died when he was only eighteen years old. A little known fact about King Tutankhamun is he had a dagger from outer space.

He was buried with a dagger on his right thigh that had an iron blade. A team of Italian and Egyptian scientists studied how the dagger reflects X-rays to learn its chemical composition. They found traces of nickel and cobalt mixed with the iron in the blade, indicating that the iron came from a meteorite.

Iron of the sky

They were interested because before the Iron Age, iron was extremely rare. It takes exceptionally high temperatures to extract iron from ore, a process called smelting. People didn’t know how to build kilns that could reach those temperatures until about the end of the second millennium BC.

But iron from meteorites doesn’t need to be smelted. It was a rare and valuable treasure that could be worked to make artifacts. Scholars suspected Tut’s dagger was made from a meteorite even before the tests.

It wasn’t a mystery to people in ancient times where the iron came from. Literally translated, the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for iron means ‘iron of the sky’.

Read More

Andrews, Robin. “King Tutankhamun’s Dagger Was Literally Out Of This World.” IFLScience. January 6, 2016.
Lafrance, Adrienne. “The Coolest Thing About King Tut’s Space Dagger.” The Atlantic, June 8, 2016. Accessed October 20, 2016.
Pearlman, Robert Z. “From King Tut to Kitchen Knives, Meteorite-Made Relics Span Centuries.” Space.com. June 8, 2016. Accessed October 20, 2016.
Yuhas, Alan. “Dagger in Tutankhamun’s Tomb Was Made with Iron from a Meteorite.” The Guardian. June 2, 2016. Accessed October 20, 2016.

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