King Tut, or Tutankhamun, is perhaps the most recognizable of the Egyptian pharaohs, mostly because his tomb remained remarkably intact until it was discovered in 1922, and because of the media drama surrounding a supposed "mummy's curse" that haunts those who have disturbed the tomb.
Now researchers have discovered another special aspect to this mummy's legend: an ornamented iron dagger buried with the young pharaoh is apparently made from a space rock, reports Seeker.
The meteoric origin of the dagger was discovered using X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, which found that the blade contained an unusually high amount of nickel — a characteristic of meteorites. Artifacts produced with ordinary iron ore quarrying typically display only 4 percent of nickel at most, but Tut's weapon contained nearly 11 percent nickel.
Another characteristic of iron meteorites is the presence of cobalt, which was also identified within the dagger's blade.
"The nickel and cobalt ratio in the dagger blade is consistent with that of iron meteorites that have preserved the primitive chondritic ratio during planetary differentiation in the early solar system," explained Daniela Comelli, lead author on the study.
Incredibly, by further analyzing all the meteorites found within a 2,000 kilometer radius of the tomb, researchers were able to track down the exact meteorite that the blade was likely produced from: a rock named Kharga that was found some 150 miles west of Alexandria. Kharga was the only meteorite studied with the same ratio of nickel and cobalt as the blade.
The fact that Tut's blade was made from meteoric iron was probably not a coincidence. The ancient Egyptians attributed great value to meteoric iron, possibly even considering it divine due to its celestial origin. The blade was also adorned with a gold sheath garnished with a floral lily motif on one side and with a feathers pattern on the other side, terminating with a jackal's head.
"It would be very interesting to analyze more pre-Iron Age artifacts, such as other iron objects found in King Tut's tomb. We could gain precious insights into metal working technologies in ancient Egypt and the Mediterranean," said Comelli.