Ninety-four years after King Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered, scientists are still studying the objects buried inside to learn about the young monarch’s life. According to a new study, the blade of a dagger found on the king’s mummified body was crafted out of a meteorite. The results of the study have been published in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science [PDF], and the intricate space dagger is currently on display at The Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Using portable x-ray ﬂuorescence spectrometry, Egyptian and Italian researchers were able to determine the composition of the blade in a noninvasive manner. “Meteoric iron is clearly indicated by the presence of a high percentages [sic] of nickel,” lead author Daniela Comelli of Milan Polytechnic told Discovery. According to the study, the iron used to make the blade contained 10.8 percent nickel and .58 percent cobalt. “The nickel and cobalt ratio in the dagger blade is consistent with that of iron meteorites that have preserved the primitive chondritic ratio during planetary differentiation in the early solar system,” Comelli said.
The team used MetBase (a comprehensive meteorite database) to check the composition of every known meteorite that has landed within 1200 miles of the Red Sea, and of the 20 found, only one was considered as a possible source for King Tut’s dagger. Named Kharga, the meteorite was found in 2000 near the Mediterranean coast some 150 miles west of Alexandria. “It would be very interesting to analyze more pre-Iron Age artifacts, such as other iron objects found in King Tut’s tomb,” Comelli said. “We could gain precious insights into metal working technologies in ancient Egypt and the Mediterranean.”
The study also provides deeper insight into the use of the term “iron” by ancient Egyptians, the researchers say. In the 19th Dynasty—the one after Tut’s—a new composite hieroglyph was introduced that incorporated the hieroglyph for “iron.” Its literal translation is “iron of the sky,” they write: “The introduction of the new composite term suggests that the ancient Egyptians, in the wake of other ancient people of the Mediterranean area, were aware that these rare chunks of iron fell from the sky already in the 13th C. BCE, anticipating Western culture by more than two millennia.”