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King Tut's dagger

A deadly tool and the birth of a science.
"I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, ‘Can you see anything?’ it was all I could do to get out the words, ‘Yes, wonderful things.’ ”

Those were Howard Carter’s words when he looked into the newly opened tomb of King Tutankhamun in 1922. What he saw was astounding: “Strange animals, statues, and gold — everywhere the glint of gold.”

And within the wrappings of the entombed mummy, there to serve the young ruler during his journey into the afterlife, was a dagger. The dagger’s handle, topped by a crystal pommel, was intricately crafted gold. But the most remarkable part of the dagger was the 13-inch blade itself. Largely untarnished in the 3,200 years since Tut’s death, the blade was expertly worked from a metal that Egyptians would not begin to smelt for another half a millennium: iron.

It wasn’t until 2016 that a team led by Daniela Comelli of the Department of Physics at the Polytechnic University of Milan finally put the question of the blade’s provenance to rest. High concentrations of nickel and traces of cobalt left no doubt — the blade was made of iron from a meteorite.

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