Monday, June 3, 2013

Egyptian iron

The tube-shaped bead above was made of iron by the ancient Egyptians c. 3,300 B.C.E. - thousands of years before the earliest evidence of iron smelting in the region. It was found with 8 others in a cemetery south of Cairo in 1911, and by 1928 scientists were already speculating that the metal was of celestial origin. Diane Johnson of the Open University in Milton Keynes, U.K., borrowed the bead from the Manchester Museum to seek a definitive answer. She and her colleagues used scanning electron microscopy and computed tomography to analyze the trinket without having to cut it apart. Nickel content of as much as 30% and a distinctive crystalline structure pointed to its origins in a meteorite which had once been part of an asteroid dating back to the origins of the solar system. The handful of iron artifacts found in ancient Egypt were hammered from fragments in meteorites and placed in high-status graves. “The sky was very important to the ancient Egyptians. Something that falls from the sky is going to be considered as a gift from the gods,” says team member Joyce Tyldesley of the University of Manchester. Campbell Price of the Manchester Museum (not a member of the team) points out that during the time of the pharaohs meteorites were believed to be bits of the bones of the gods themselves.

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