An iron meteorite dagger found in Tutankhamun's tomb has undergone chemical analyzes in a new study to unravel the mystery of how it was formed. Last year, a team of Japanese researchers examined the dagger found in Tutankhamun's tomb to learn how it was made.

The results of the study, which was published on February 11 in Meteoritics & Planetary Science - an American scientific journal - show that its construction included techniques that were not common in Egypt at that time, which may support the interpretation of a discourse indicating The weapon was gifted to the grandfather of King Tutankhamun from abroad.

Golden handle of the dagger (top) and gold scabbard (bottom) (Meteoritics and Planetary Science)

dagger story

When archaeologists entered Tutankhamun's burial chamber in the Valley of the Kings in the 1920s, they found a dagger with a blade made of iron, a puzzling discovery given that the Iron Age did not begin until a century after Tutankhamun's death.

Tutankhamun ruled Egypt in the 14th century BC, and archaeologists have discovered an astonishing number of ancient artifacts buried with the king's mummified body.

Iron objects that predated the extensive knowledge of mineralogy led researchers to believe that the ancient elements came from meteoric iron, which are pieces of metal that fell from space and were formed on Earth.

But meteorite iron containing nickel is difficult to form due to the hardness of the material, so the conclusion that was reached was that swords could be made at temperatures below 950 degrees if there were few impurities - such as sulfur and phosphorous - in the iron meteorite.

Enlarged images of the dark areas of the golden knob and golden sheath (Meteoritics and Planetary Science)

In the 1990s, a team of researchers at the National Museum of Japanese History conducted experiments to determine if swords could indeed be formed from iron meteorites. .

The origins of the exceptional meteorite dagger were confirmed for the first time in a previous study published in the same journal in 2016, in which X-rays were used to prove that it was built using material from an iron meteorite, but questions remained about the type of meteorite that came from and how it was made, and here comes the role of the new study.

The scientists then traveled to the Egyptian Archaeological Museum in Cairo in February 2020 to conduct their research, and X-rayed the ancient blade, revealing concentrations of iron, nickel, manganese and cobalt.

They found in the black spots on the blade sulfur, chlorine, calcium and zinc, but their distribution was interesting, as the distribution of the meteorite dagger components was the most interesting.

Photograph of a close-up view of a specimen surface showing the Widmannstaten pattern (Meteorology and Planetary Science)

Widmannstaten figures

The meteorite iron's blade had a criss-cross texture known as Widmanstätten pattern, which are unique crystal shapes of iron and nickel, which are also characteristic of iron meteorites.

That name is attributed to the Austrian physicist "Alois Widmannstaten" (1754-1849) who in 1808 treated the surface of an iron meteorite (called the Hrashina meteorite) that fell near Zagreb in 1751, and discovered these shapes.

Researchers from Japan's Chiba Institute of Technology used analytical equipment brought to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, to unravel the mystery of how the dagger was produced through chemical analysis.

The research team found that the iron dagger made of meteorites was formed at temperatures of about 950 degrees or less, because this pattern disappears when the metal is heated to temperatures above a thousand degrees.

The equipment was used to identify the elements that entered the iron dagger as well as measure the details on its surface. They found that the dagger contained between 10 to 12% of nickel, and that the main component in it was "octahedrite", a type of meteoric iron.

Elemental distribution maps of metals on both sides of the blade of Tutankhamun's iron dagger (Meteoritics and Planetary Science)

The secret of the Tell el-Amarna letters

The golden handle of the dagger also contained traces of calcium, which would not normally be found when processing gold, and this led to the belief that plaster (gypsum) was used to attach the ornaments to the handle.

Egypt did not have the technology of manufacturing iron or gypsum at the time, but in the Amarna letters written on clay tablets there is information about an iron dagger presented as a gift to the Egyptian king from Mitanni, a kingdom located in northern Mesopotamia.

This reference led the research team to conclude that the dagger was a gift to Amenhotep III (the grandfather of Tutankhamun), so this wonderful artifact is a good example of the importance of the decoration made of meteoric iron, and indicates that the dagger was formed long before the dawn of the Iron Age.

Researchers believe that it is possible that Tutankhamun inherited the iron dagger from his grandfather, and that it was placed in his tomb when he died at an early age.