King Tut was buried with a dagger blade that now supports the theory it was forged from meteoritic iron. Scientists used portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometry to determine that the daggerâ€™s blade contains 10.8 percent nickel and 0.58 percent cobalt by weight.
Researchers found 11 meteorites of well-known composition to the same testing, concluding that the dagger bladeâ€™s make-up “strongly suggests an extraterrestrial origin,” TIME reports. Iron wasnâ€™t a common material for tools in Egypt until the 8th century BC, much after King Tutâ€™s rule
Since the rarity of decorative iron objects were found in ancient Egypt, the authors suspect that King Tutâ€™s dagger was perceived as more valuable than gold at the time since it was made of meteorite iron.
“The problem with iron working is related to its high melting point,” Daniela Comelli, a physicist specializing in chemical analysis at Polytecnic University of Milan and lead author of the paper said. “Because of it, early smiths couldnâ€™t heat ore enough to extract iron and couldnâ€™t forge the iron into weapons.”
Comelli and her team analyzed the daggerâ€™s iron and compared it to 11 existing analyses of metal meteorites. In the dagger, they found the same kinds of impurities in the iron, including bits of the elements nickel and cobalt, characteristic of iron meteorites from space, Slate reported.
Rather than heating iron to high temperatures, ancient Egyptians likely used hammers to shape the metal that had fallen from the sky to make objects for King Tut and other pharaohs.
“The sky was very important to the ancient Egyptians,” Joyce Tyldesley, an Egyptologist at the University of Manchester, UK, and a co-author of the paper said. “Something that falls from the sky is going to be considered as a gift from the gods.”
Making the dagger from a meteorite is not a surprise. The ancient Egyptians didnâ€™t smelt terrestrial iron until the first millennium BC, so itâ€™s likely that prior to that any iron object ultimately originated from off-world material. Given its rarity, the Egyptians attributed great value to meteoritic iron for the production of precious objects.
“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,” the researchers wrote. While they may not have worked extensively with iron, craftsmen at the time of Tutankhamun boasted a significant mastery of ironworking, as evidenced by the daggerâ€™s “high manufacturing quality.”
As well as the high-quality-blade, the 34.2cm long dagger features a gold handle with “cloisonnĂ© and granulation work, and ends with a pommel of rock crystal”. The sheath “is decorated with a floral lily motif on one side and with a feathers pattern on the other side, terminating with a jackalâ€™s head.”
“If you find a piece of native metal with nickel in it, youâ€™ve got a flag that this might be a meteorite,” says Derek Sears, a meteoricist with NASAâ€™s Ames Research Center who was not involved with the study. “And then if you analyze the cobalt and you find a nickel-cobalt ratio the way they do, then itâ€™s certain it really is a meteorite.”
Yahoo Finance explained that while Sears said it would have been better to analyze King Tutâ€™s dagger in a lab, the immense value of the artifact made that impossible. Still, he is convinced by the researchersâ€™ findings, and stated that they went to every length possible to ensure that what they found was accurate.