2023 Author: Bryan Walter | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-21 22:24
A couple of weeks ago, the results of a study of one of the daggers found in the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun (1332-1323 BC) were published in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science. Apparently, the dagger blade was made of meteoric iron, its composition (the alloy contains about 10 percent nickel and 0.6 percent cobalt) is identical to the composition of the studied meteorite fragments. Diana Johnson, a researcher at the Physics Department of the Open University, decided to figure out why the ancient Egyptians used meteoric iron and how an iron dagger could end up in the tomb of the pharaoh.
Ancient Egypt had many natural resources: the Egyptians used copper, gold and bronze as early as the 4th millennium BC. Iron ore was also found in abundance, but, apparently, it was of poor quality and the level of technology development did not allow smelting metal products from it. The ore was used primarily to make paints for painting and makeup. Iron products in Egypt began to be made later than in neighboring countries; the first mention of iron smelting dates back to the 1st millennium BC. Before that, iron products were rarely used. In the Bronze Age, they were more expensive than gold and were used as jewelry, as well as for ritual and ceremonial purposes. Scientists speculate that iron items were made from meteorite material, although occasionally iron was obtained as a by-product of copper and bronze smelting. The oldest iron artifacts found so far: Nine beads, which scientists date from around 3200 BC, were made from meteoric iron.
Meteorite Iron Bead
The value of iron is evidenced by the fact that a dagger with an iron blade is mentioned in the list of the dowry of the royal daughter, whom her father, King Tushratta, gave as a wife to Pharaoh Amenhotep III (presumably the grandfather of Tutankhamun).
Perhaps the Egyptians knew that iron is found in meteorites falling from the sky. The word "bi-A", which can be translated as "iron", and also as "metal" or "mineral" is found in the "Pyramid Texts" - the oldest monument of religious literature that has come down to us. The texts were carved on the walls of the tombs of the pharaohs of the 5th and 6th dynasties - Unas, Teti, Pepi I, Merenre and Pepi II Neferkar. The pyramids were built between 2350 and 2175 BC; the texts on the walls of the tombs are probably even more ancient and were created even before the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.
At the beginning of the XIX dynasty (about 1295 BC), another word appears in the sources for iron: "bi-A-n-pt", which translates as "heavenly iron". Why the new word appeared at this very moment and in this form is unknown, but later it began to denote metallic iron in general.
The priests of the god Anubis, the guide of the dead, perform the "Opening of the Mouth" ritual. Illustration from the Book of the Dead, circa 1300 BC.
An iron or flint knife was used in the ritual of "Opening the Mouth", which appeared during the period of the Old Kingdom and existed until the conquest of Egypt by the Romans. During the ceremony, a specially appointed person touched the mouth and eyes of a mummy or statue depicting the deceased and “opened” them so that the spirit of the deceased person could breathe and speak. Perhaps the iron knife was an important ritual item because the Egyptians associated iron with a meteorite, and believed that "heavenly" iron made the ritual more effective.
Currently, researchers are aware of only two cases of the use of meteorite iron in ancient Egypt. To find out if meteorites were a constant source of iron for the Egyptians, further analysis of ancient artifacts is needed.