An iron meteorite dagger gifted to the ancient Egyptian King Tutankhamun has undergone chemical analyses in a new study to unravel the mystery of how it was forged. Results show that its construction included techniques that weren’t common in Egypt at the time, potentially supporting the interpretation of a letter that indicates the weapon was gifted to King Tut’s grandfather from abroad.
Scientists traveled to the Egyptian Archeological Museum in Cairo, Egypt, in 2020 to carry out their investigations, the results of which are published in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science. They fired x-rays at the ancient blade to get a better idea of the concentrations of different elements it contained and how it was made.
While this revealed a mixture of iron sulfide (among other elements), it was the distribution of its constituents that proved to be most fascinating. The meteorite blade had a cross-hatched texture known as the Widmanstätten Pattern, something that – alongside iron sulfide – is seen in the iron meteorite octahedrite.
That this pattern was preserved in the forging of the knife, alongside preserved deposits of troilite, indicates it was made using a low-temperature technique heated to less than 950 degrees Celsius (1,742 degrees Fahrenheit).
Moreover, the study results point to an unclear origin for King Tut’s space blade, which was laid to rest alongside him and later discovered within his tomb’s spoils. Its gold hilt appears to have been crafted using lime plaster, an adhesive material that wasn’t used in Egypt until much later but was being used elsewhere.
The researchers say this “hints at its foreign origin, possibly from Mitanni, Anatolia, as suggested by one of the Amarna letters saying that an iron dagger with gold hilt was gifted from the king of Mitanni to Amenhotep III, the grandfather of Tutankhamen.”
The Amarna letters were discovered along the Nile River committed to clay tablets, one of which tells of an iron dagger gifted to Amenhotep III after he married the King of Mitanni’s daughter. It’s feasible then that King Tut inherited the dagger as it was passed down through the family, having originally been forged outside of Egypt.
The exceptional meteorite dagger’s out-of-this-world origins were first confirmed in another study published in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science back in 2016 which used x-rays to establish that it was built using material from one of the oldest objects in the Solar System: an iron meteorite.
The remarkable artifact is a fine example of the significance of ornaments forged from meteoric iron.
Filmmakers: If Brendan Fraser should return to The Mummy franchise, we’d like to see him wielding a space knife, please.