When Howard Carter opened Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1925, the extravagantly opulent grave goods he found amazed the world. But something Carter couldn’t have known about an iron dagger found in the Pharaoh’s grave is even more astonishing. The dagger, we now know thanks to modern analysis, has an extraordinary origin. It’s not of this planet.
When Tutankhamun died some 3,300 years ago, his mummified remains were laid to rest in a triple coffin and surrounded by a huge array of artefacts. Two daggers were actually included within the mummy wrappings; one had a gold blade, the other an iron one. The gold one was no surprise, since the ancient Egyptians were highly skilled at working with the precious metal.
But the iron dagger was altogether more unusual, since ironwork was very rare at the time Tutankhamun lived. The knife was in a golden sheath which had ornate decoration. The dagger’s handle was also fashioned from gold and its top part, the pommel, was made from rock crystal. Remarkably, the dagger’s blade had not rusted despite more than three millennia underground.
In 2016, researchers scanned the dagger using a high-tech machine, an x-ray fluorescence spectrometer designed to measure chemical content. The results showed that as well as iron, the metal of the blade had a high level of nickel and traces of cobalt. This finding went a long way to confirming something that had been suspected since the 1960s. This dagger was almost certainly made with metal from a meteorite.
And it seems that the ancient Egyptians placed a high value on metal extracted from meteorites, which they knew fell from the skies to Earth. They regarded these rocks that had descended from the heavens with a special reverence. Joyce Tyldesley, an Egyptologist at England’s Manchester University told Nature magazine in 2016, “Something that falls from the sky is going to be considered as a gift from the gods.”