Tutankhamun’s Space Dagger: Young pharaoh’s weapon was carved from a meteorite

I can’t say the above headline was one I expected to be writing when I woke up this morning, but I’m more than happy to be proven wrong on this occasion.

Tutankhamun’s Space Dagger: Young pharaoh's weapon was carved from a meteorite

Let’s talk about Egyptian pharaohs – specifically, King Tutankhamun, which is just as well, as he’s pretty much the only one most people have heard of (sorry Egyptologists). The boy pharaoh ruled Ancient Egypt between 1332 and 1323 BCE, and was famously excavated in 1922, after which a number of accidents befell those involved, leading to rumours of a curse – more likely known to us nowadays as mosquitos, bacteria and radiation. Amongst the belongings buried with the young ruler was this rather snazzy dagger:space_dagger_tutankhamun

Somehow it seems even more beautiful when you realise it was carved from an iron meteorite.

Published in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science, the paper “The meteoritic origin of Tutankhamun’s iron dagger blade” makes just that assertion. Using X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, the team of researchers found that the dagger is composed mainly of iron, with little bits of nickel and cobalt in the mix. The analysis suggests it comes directly from an iron meteorite.

Knowing this much, the researchers began searching historical records for meteorites that fell within the Egyptian kingdom, concentrating their search of an area of around 2,000km. After discovering 20 iron meteorites in the area, the researchers were able to pin down the dagger’s unique composition to that of the Kharga meteorite, discovered in 2000 near Alexandria.

The clues have been there for some time. The hieroglyphic term “iron of the sky” began to appear on tablets around this period, which, with hindsight can surely only refer to falling meteorites. The researchers acknowledge this at the end of the paper, writing, “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.”

So, even though Tutankhamun’s reign lasted just nine years, he did at least get an incredibly intricate space dagger to show for it.

READ NEXT: Cosmic rays can show us what the inside of a pyramid looks like

Image: Carsten Frenzl used under Creative Commons

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