• Featured: King Tutankhamun's sarcophagus. (AAP)Source: AAP
Scientists have discovered that a famous artefact from the pharaoh's tomb is literally out of this world.
Shami Sivasubramanian

2 Jun 2016 - 3:17 PM  UPDATED 2 Jun 2016 - 3:23 PM

King Tutankhamun's tomb has been a treasure chest of history and science for Egyptologists for decades. Now a study has revealed the child pharaoh's final place of rest holds insights on ancient Egyptian metallurgy, specifically their use of iron.

A research team, headed by Professor Daniela Comelli at Polytechnic University of Milan, has just published a paper in Meteoritics and Planetary Science about a well-known dagger found in King Tut's tomb - a dagger they claim was made from meteorite iron. 

Though it's not a new speculation, the Italian researchers have managed to provide a solid basis for the claim, by testing the composition of the dagger. 

Their paper shows the iron of the dagger contains 10% nickel and 0.6% cobalt. These impurities in the metal point to an extraterrestrial source of iron, as its makeup is similar to 11 other confirmed sources of meteoritic iron. 

To avoid damaging the dagger in the process of analysis, the team used a technique called X-ray fluorescence to determine its chemical composition. X-ray fluorescence analysises the frequency an object gives off when hit with higher energy X-rays. The frequencies reflected off the object reveal which elements it contains.

Historical sources have pointed to the extraterrestrial origins of Ancient Egyptian iron, too. 

"...a new composite term literally translated as 'iron of the sky', came into use in the 19th dynasty (13th Century. BCE) to describe all types of iron," reads the study.

King Tut's dagger dates back to 14th Century BCE, while Ancient Egypt only took to smelting in the 8th Century BCE, confirming what even the Ancient Egyptians documented millennia ago. The researchers go on to claim most iron artefacts of that era were made from meteoritic iron.

Given the dagger's smooth finish, the researchers believe the dagger was made by a process called 'hammering'.

"Recently it has been reported that the most ancient Egyptian iron artefacts, i.e., nine small beads, excavated from a tomb in Gerzeh (Egypt) and dated about 3200 BCE, are made of meteoritic iron, carefully hammered into thin sheets," reads the study.

The process came about because more modern forms of metallurgy, like smelting, would not have been possible during King Tut's time. Ironsmiths would not have been able to heat the ore to its high melting point of 1,538 C.

For that reason, most of the pre-8th Century BCE iron found in Egypt was used ornamentally, and at that time it was even considered more valuable than gold, the authors write.

Tutankhamun's tomb was famously discovered by English archeologist Howard Carter in 1922; three years later he found the iron dagger.

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