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Ancient Egyptians wore jewelry made from 5,000 year old meteorites

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 31st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

It turns out that a 5,000 year old ancient Egyptian artifact hides an incredible secret; it was made from a meteorite. It's a significant find as it explains how ancient Egyptians obtained iron thousands of years before iron smelting was introduced to the region. That mystery has confounded scientists - until now.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The discovery also reveals a component of the Egyptians' religion, as well as the divine attributes they attached to meteorites. "The sky was very important to the ancient Egyptians," Joyce Tyldesley, an Egyptologist at the University of Manchester says. "Something that falls from the sky is going to be considered as a gift from the gods."

Strings of iron beads, excavated in 1911 at the Gerzeh cemetery, a burial site south of Cairo started scientists on the intriguing trail. The relic dates from 3350 to 3600 BC, thousands of years before Egypt's Iron Age.

The bead first analyzed was originally assumed to be from a meteorite owing to its composition of nickel-rich iron. This theory was challenged in the 1980s when academics proposed that much of the early worldwide examples of iron use originally thought to be of meteorite-origin were actually early smelting attempts.

Diane Johnson, a meteorite scientist at the Open University in Milton Keynes along with her colleagues used scanning electron microscopy and computed tomography to analyze one of the beads, which they borrowed from the museum.

Areas where the weathered surface had fallen away, provided Johnson with what she described as "little windows" to the preserved metal beneath.

The nickel content of this original metal was found to be high, suggesting that it did indeed come from a meteorite. Johnson also observed that the metal had a distinctive crystalline structure called a Widmanstätten pattern. This structure is found only in iron meteorites that cooled extremely slowly inside their parent asteroids while the Solar System was forming.

"Meteorites have a unique micro-structural and chemical fingerprint because they cooled incredibly slowly as they travelled through space. It was really interesting to find that fingerprint turn up in Egyptian artifacts," Philip Withers, Professor of Materials Science at The University of Manchester said.

Meteorite iron had profound implications for the ancient Egyptians, both in their perception of the iron in the context of its celestial origin and in early metallurgy attempts.

"Today, we see iron first and foremost as a practical, rather dull metal. To the ancient Egyptians, however, it was a rare and beautiful material which, as it fell from the sky, surely had some magical/religious properties," Tyldesley says.

"They therefore used this remarkable metal to create small objects of beauty and religious significance which were so important to them that they chose to include them in their graves."


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