King Tut's blade 'made from meteorite'

The death mask of King Tutankhamun.
The death mask of King Tutankhamun.

A dagger buried with King Tutankhamun's mummified body was made with metal that came from a meteorite, a new study has revealed.

A team of researchers from Milan Polytechnic, Pisa University and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo used non-invasive, portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometry to determine the make-up of the weapon.

"Meteoric iron is clearly indicated by the presence of a high percentages of nickel," said lead researcher Daniela Comelli of Milan Polytechnic, adding: "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."

The research team's findings were published in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science.

The dagger was found by archaeologist Howard Carter's team in 1925, enclosed in the wrapping around Tutankhamun's right thing. Carter described it as a "highly ornamented gold dagger with crystal knob."

Researchers also believe they've identified the exact meteorite the metal for the blade was sourced from. "We took into consideration all meteorites found within an area of 2000km in radius centered in the Red Sea, and we ended up with 20 iron meteorites," said Comelli.

Of those 20, only one had the nickel and cobalt levels consistent with Tutankhamun's blade: a meteorite found near the Egyptian resort town Mersa Matruh 16 years ago.

The researchers noted that their finding provides an insight into historic descriptions of iron used in ancient Egypt around 100 years after Tutankhamun's interment, involving the term "iron of the sky."

"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 C. BCE."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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