In 1922 British Egyptology Howard Carter chipped a small hole in a doorway in one of the underground passages in the Valley of Kings and peered through by the light of a candle to see a treasure of gold and ebony relics hidden within. Asked by his financier, who had joined him on the final leg of his expedition to explore the wonders of ancient Egypt, “Can you see anything?” Carter replied with the famous words: “Yes, wonderful things!”
But even Carter, who would himself become immortalized as the first person to set eyes on Tutankhamun’s tomb in over 3,000 years, could not have imagined that some of the “wonderful things” he found deep belowground could have origins in outer space.
After nearly a century of research into the trove of artifacts found in Tuankhamun’s tomb, researchers have, in some of the most compelling work on the subject to date, discovered that a dagger found in the sarcophagus of the Egyptian King was made from iron that came from a meteorite.
According to a new study published in the Meteoritics and Planetary Science Journal, the chemical composition of the dagger “strongly suggests an extraterrestrial origin.”
After analyzing the metal with an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, Italian and Egyptian researchers determined that its high nickel content, along with its levels of cobalt, matched samples taken from meteorites in the region. The findings suggest that the ancient Egyptians were the first civilization to extract metal from fallen meteorites.
“As the only two valuable iron artifacts from ancient Egypt so far accurately analyzed are of meteoritic origin,” the research team wrote, “we suggest that ancient Egyptians attributed great value to meteoritic iron for the production of fine ornamental or ceremonial objects.”
Due to the fact that iron was readily available from other materials, and extractable by more simple means, the researchers conclude that Egyptians made a specific effort to use the meteorite rock.
“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 [century] BCE, anticipating Western culture by more than two millennia,” they wrote. The study “confirms that ancient Egyptians attributed great value to meteoritic iron for the production of precious objects.”
The findings match those of other archaeologists such as Joyce Tyldesley, who has argued that Egyptians revered objects that fell from the sky.
“The sky was very important to the ancient Egyptians,” she told Nature magazine. “Something that falls from the sky is going to be considered as a gift from the gods.”