When the tomb of Tutankhamun was discovered nearly 100 years ago in the Egyptian desert, the treasures found inside had an other-worldly quality to them that captured the global imagination.
But new research has discovered that one of the items found alongside the mummified remains of the young ancient Egyptian pharaoh really is from out of this world.
Analysis of a dagger, intricately decorated and encased within a golden sheath, has found the blade was made from iron from a meteorite.
Researchers at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Milan Polytechnic and Pisa University, used x-ray scanning technology to examine the composition of the metal.
They found the remarkably well preserved blade, which had suffered little corrosion while buried with its owner, contained high levels of nickel, along with traces of cobalt and phosphorus.
They were able to match the chemical composition of the blade to a meteorite named Kharga, which was found in 2000 on the Maras Matruh plateau in Egypt, 150 miles west of Alexandria.
The dagger, is considered to be one of the most outstanding items to have been retrieved from Tutankhamun’s tomb due to the fine metal work is shows.
It was found within the young pharoah’s sarcophagus.
The handle has a finely embossed gold handle with a crystal pommel while the sheath was decorated with a floral motif, feather patterns and a jackal’s head.
Writing in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science, the researchers, led by Daniela Comelli from the Polytechnic of Milan, said: ‘Our study confirms that ancient Egyptians attributed great value to meteoritic iron for the production of precious objects.
‘Moreover, the high manufacturing quality of Tutankhamun’s dagger blade, in comparison with other simple-shaped meteoritic iron artifacts, suggests a significant mastery of iron-working in Ttankhamun’s time.’
The 13 inches long (34.2cm) dagger was found lying beside the right thigh of King Tutankhamun’s mummy.
Ancient Egyptian royal archives from 1,400BC mention royal gifts of iron in the period immediately before Tutankhamun’s reign.
Tushratta, King of Mitanni – a kingdom in northern Syria and Anatolia – is reported to have sent iron objects to Amenhotep III, who is thought to be the grandfather of Tutankhamun.
Recently several small beads found in a tomb in Gerzeh in Egypt, thought to date from 3,200 BC in the early days of ancient Egypt’s history, were also found to be made of iron from meteorites.
The findings provide important insights into the use of the term ‘iron’ in relation to the sky in ancient texts found in Egypt and Mesopotamia, Dr Comelli and his team say.
Composite heiroglphic figures have been translated as meaning ‘iron of the sky’ and came into use in the 19th Dynasty in ancient Egypt, around 1,300BC, to mean all types of iron.
The researchers said: ‘the introduction of the new composite term suggests 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 century BC, anticipating Western culture by more than two millennia.’