Tutankhamun’s “extraterrestrial” meteorite dagger was forged at low temperatures and not in Egypt

Japanese scientists have X-rayed an iron dagger found in Tutankhamun’s tomb to find out how the item was made, the metal of which was already confirmed in 2016 to be from a meteorite. 

According to a new study, the dagger was made using a low-temperature forging process, but it was not forged in Egypt. An article about this was published in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science.

A 35-centimeter dagger was discovered by archaeologists in the burial chamber of Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings in the 1920s, among other riches, buried with the pharaoh. Its blade was made of iron, but scientists were puzzled by the fact that the Iron Age did not begin until a century after the death of Tutankhamun, and besides, this blade was hardly touched by rust. 

Ⓒ Daniela Comelli/The Egyptian Museum of Cairo

Gradually, researchers came to the conclusion that iron objects, which preceded the widespread dissemination of relevant knowledge about metallurgy, were forged from meteoric iron – pieces of metal that fell from space and then only processed on Earth. Such things were highly valued both in Egypt and abroad. A 2016 study confirmed the probable meteorite origin of the dagger’s iron, but questions remained about its manufacturing technology.

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Now researchers have examined the structure of the blade at the microscopic level, using X-ray diffraction analysis, and have identified nodules of iron, nickel, manganese and cobalt contained in it. Sulfur, chlorine, calcium and zinc were also found in the blackened spots on the blade. No less interesting than the presence of certain chemical elements was their distribution, which indicated that the dagger was made from octahedrite, which belongs to the most common structural class of iron meteorites. In addition, it was forged at a relatively low temperature – less than 950 degrees.

“We found small black spots on the surface of the dagger,” said one of the co-authors of the study, Tomoko Arai from the Chiba Institute of Technology in Japan. “At first we thought it was rust. But it turned out that these are iron sulfides, which are usually found as inclusions in octahedral iron meteorites, Arai explained.”

Although chemical analysis did not directly reveal the origin of the dagger, scientists were able to use a series of 3,400-year-old tablets known as the Amarna Archive, documenting diplomatic activity in ancient Egypt in the mid-14th century BC, to find out that a certain iron dagger in a golden sheath – apparently a rare accessory at the time – was given to Amenhotep III, Tutankhamun’s grandfather, by the king of Mitanni, a region in Anatolia, when the pharaoh married his daughter.

So it’s possible that Tutankhamun’s space dagger was a family heirloom obtained from abroad. Detailed analysis also showed that the gemstones in the dagger hilt were attached in a manner that was widely used in Mitanni but not used in Egypt itself at the time.

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