Tutankhamun, the famous pharaoh of Egypt who died at the age of 19 after a 10 year reign, may have owned, and been buried with, a dagger made of a meteorite. According to a new study published in The Meteoritical Society on March 29th, 2016, researchers from Milan Polytechnic, Pisa University, and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, say the blade of the knife buried with King Tut possessed metals consistent with those found in meteorites.
“The extraterrestrial origin of the blade had long been debated by archaeologists and Egyptologists,” says primary author Daniela Comelli, from the department of Physics of Milan Polytechnic. “It was a known debated issue.”
Utilizing X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, the researchers were able to determine the composition of the dagger’s blade without touching or damaging it. The blade, which is made of iron, possessed a high percentage of nickel with smaller amounts of cobalt, phosphorus, and other materials that are generally found in a meteorite remnant.
“[We] determined with very good precision the percentage of nickel and cobalt in the dagger that resulted to be similar to the one that is present in iron meteorites,” says Comelli.
From the specific amounts of each metal found in the blade, the researchers have narrowed down what specific meteorite the blade could have come from. The meteorite, found in the Kharga Oasis region, is the only possible meteorite that could have the amount of nickel and cobalt to stay consistent with the amount in the blade.
“In principle the high quantity of nickel that was detected was close to 10%, which is a level much higher than the quantity if nickel that can be present in iron object made of terrestrial iron” Comelli says. “Typically in these objects the level of nickel never exceeds 3%. The high level of nickel in the blade is a clear evidence of its meteoritic origin.”
The dagger was not the only relic in King Tut’s possession that was rare and unusual; he also possessed a scarab necklace made of silica glass that might have been created by the heat of a meteorite impacting the desert sand and melting it down.
“A few years ago was related to the study of some other ancient iron objects from Egypt actually much more ancient that than Tutankhamun’s dagger,” says Comelli. “These smaller objects have been recognized as being made of meteoritic origin.”
Comelli says there are more studies that have found ancient items being forged from meteoritic iron, such as a buddha statue and Inuit iron tools found in Iceland.