King Tut's dagger 'made from meteorite'

The 3,300-year-old dagger was found on King Tutankhamun's right thigh in the wrappings of his mummy. Its blade was made of iron and its fine gold handle was decorated with cloisonne and granulation work.
The 3,300-year-old dagger was found on King Tutankhamun's right thigh in the wrappings of his mummy. Its blade was made of iron and its fine gold handle was decorated with cloisonne and granulation work. PHOTO: UNIVERSITY OF PISA

X-ray analysis supports theory that 'iron of the sky' was used by ancient Egyptians

CAIRO • Scientific analysis of one of Tutankhamun's 3,300-year-old daggers found buried with him "strongly supports" a theory it was made of meteoric iron, according to a new study.

"Ancient Egyptians attributed great value to meteoric iron for the production of precious objects," said the Italian and Egyptian scientists who performed X-ray analysis of the dagger at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Tutankhamun died at age 19 in 1324BC after nine years on the throne.

His tomb, discovered in 1922 by British Egyptologist Howard Carter, contained artefacts including an 11kg gold mask that revived global public interest in Egyptology.

Carter found the dagger on Tutankhamun's right thigh in the wrappings of his mummy.

Along with its iron blade, the dagger's fine gold handle "is decorated with cloisonne and granulation work, and ends with a pommel of rock crystal", they said.

The findings match a 2013 scan of a 5,000-year-old cemetery in the Lower Egyptian village of El-Gerzeh which showed the earliest iron artefacts ever found were made from a meteorite, according to a paper published in the Meteoritics & Planetary Science journal.

As a result, "we suggest that ancient Egyptians attributed great value to meteoric iron for the production of fine ornamental or ceremonial objects", said the scientists behind the latest study.

The dagger's quality "suggests a significant mastery of iron working in Tutankhamun's time", said the study. In addition, a new term used in the 19th dynasty, which followed Tutankhamun, translated literally as "iron of the sky" and was used to describe "all types of iron", according to the study.

"The introduction of the new term suggests that the ancient Egyptians... were aware that these rare chunks of iron fell from the sky," said the authors of the study.

Dr Mahmoud el-Halwagy, a former director of the Egyptian Museum who took part in the study, said he was unable to confirm whether ancient Egyptians clearly knew that this iron came from a meteor.

"We don't want to go to other angles, to symbolic or religious issues. These were rocks that were available and were used by humans," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2016, with the headline 'King Tut's dagger 'made from meteorite''. Print Edition | Subscribe