Science

King Tut’s Iron Dagger Came From Space

You’ve all head the wild theories that the Egyptian pyramids could only be built with the help of aliens, never mind tens of thousands of slaves. But, a new study is showing that the steel dagger buried with King Tut has otherworldly qualities of its own and was likely crafted from metal found in a meteorite that fell to Earth.

King Tut's Iron Dagger Came From Space

King Tut’s space dagger

Howard Carter famously found the tomb and treasures of King Tut in 1925 before falling to the “curse of King Tut.” Most of those treasures are housed permanently in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo though a few traveling exhibitions have been but together in the last fifty years. Carter noted that the dagger in question was found splayed across the thigh of the young king and has been kept in the Egyptian Museum almost since its discovery.

The museum recently gave Italian researchers an opportunity to study the dagger owing to a new method of X-ray fluorescence spectrometry. Prior methods risk damaging it and the museum was having none of that and by employing this particular method, the researchers didn’t even lay a finger on it.

The researchers found that the knife had an 11% nickel composition while iron from Earth generally is only made up of 11% nickel. The former suggests that the iron used to craft the, presumably, ceremonial dagger came from a meteorite. Additionally, cobalt was also discovered in the Pharaoh’s dagger and there frankly is not cobalt in Earth’s iron effectively proving that the dagger was crafted from a meteorite.

The findings were published last month in the journal Meteorics and Planetary Science. While the use of the new X-ray fluorescence spectrometry method in the museum is not ideal when compared to a lab, the researchers are enjoying the support of experts in confirming their work.

“If you find a piece of native metal with nickel in it, you’ve got a flag that this might be a meteorite,” says Derek Sears, a meteoricist with NASA’s Ames Research Center who was not involved in the study but asked to comment following the publication of the researchers’ work. “And then if you analyze the cobalt and you find a nickel-cobalt ratio the way they do, then it’s certain it really is a meteorite.”

King Tut puts a spotlight on a known practice

Owing to his treasures, youth and the 20th century discovery of his tomb along with Steve Martin’s song “King Tut”, the young Pharaoh is something of a legend.

But in fact, the practice of purposefully recovering meteorites for their metal was a standard practice prior to widespread mining and the Egyptians practiced this ancient “salvage” enough that there is a hieroglyphic that is used specifically to refer to metal from space.

“The fact that native metal is so rare means that people have always collected these things going back to the Stone Age,” says Sears. “It’s not uncommon in the archeological world, if you find a piece of metal, for it to be meteoritic … It’s been strongly suspected that much of the metal we’ve been finding in the pyramids is meteoritic.”

It is truly amazing what science can bring us each day. In this case, Sears points out that the dagger was made from a time of meteorite known as a ataxite which are known for their high nickel content and likely began life as the core of an asteroid. Additionally, following the analysis by the researchers they believe that they have actually identified the meteorite that brought the heavenly iron based on the analysis of 20 iron meteorites located close by.