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3 June 2013
Iron in ancient Egyptian relics came from space

After carefully analysing a 5,000-year-old iron bead from Egypt, a team of specialists reached the conclusion that it is made from a meteorite. The iron bead is shaped like a tube, and was discovered in 1911 while exploring a cemetery at Gerzeh, about 70 kilometres from Cairo.
     Researchers realised the iron in it was particularly high in nickel - a hallmark of iron meteorites. "Micro-structural and chemical analysis of a Gerzeh iron bead is consistent with a cold-worked iron meteorite," the researchers write. The ancient Egyptians had made it by hammering a fragment of iron from the meteorite into a thin plate, then bending it into a tube.
     Eight other tube-beads were found alongside this one. They all contain iron, and date back to about 3,300 BCE - the oldest iron artefacts thus far in Egypt.
     The first evidence for iron smelting in ancient Egypt appears in the archaeological record in the 6th century BCE. Only a handful of iron artefacts have been discovered in the region from before then, and all come from high-status graves such as that of the pharaoh Tutankhamun. "Iron was very strongly associated with royalty and power," says Diane Johnson, a meteorite scientist at the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK, whose team performed the analyses. Objects made of such divine material were believed to guarantee their deceased owner priority passage into the afterlife.
     Campbell Price, a curator of Egypt and Sudan at the Manchester Museum, who was not a member of the study team, points out that during the time of the pharaohs the gods were believed to have bones made of iron.

Edited from Nature (29 May 2013), Softpedia (30 may 2013)

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