In 1911, in a cemetery in Gerzeh, which lies about 50 miles south of the Egyptian capital of Cairo, nine 5,000 year old beads were discovered. Because of the high nickel content in the tube-shaped beads, it is thought that they most likely were fashioned from a material not of this planet, but something that came to Earth from space.Were meteorites or, perhaps, the gods responsible for these mysterious Egyptian beads?
These trinkets are the oldest known iron artifacts to come out of Egypt. The high nickel content, discovered during a scientific study in 1928, suggests that the material for the beads most likely came from a meteorite. There is no evidence of iron smelting in the region until many thousands of years later.
Not all scientists were in agreement about the makeup of the beads; some argued that the nickel could have been produced accidentally. Meteorite scientist Diane Johnson from the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK, used techniques which included scanning the artifacts with an electron microscope to determine that the metal’s nickel content was, indeed, around 30%. In addition, Johnson’s team discovered that the metal had a particular crystalline structure only found in iron meteorites that were slowly inside asteroids at the time the Solar System was forming.
Would the ancient Egyptians have agreed, however, that meteorites were responsible for these mysterious beads, or the gods?
Ancient civilizations across the world worshiped the sun, moon and stars. All considered the sky to be the home of the gods. They celebrated celestial events and considered such things as solar and lunar eclipses to be omens or messages. The earliest religions were born of the sky. All of these civilizations believed that the gods would, one day, descend from the sky to lead them or to judge them – and, perhaps, to destroy them. They also believed that the dead traveled to the heavens. Additionally, the peoples of the ancient world did not believe in coincidence: Everything happened for a reason. In light of these beliefs, therefore, it is no stretch to understand that the ancient Egyptians, having found an object that had fallen from the sky, would view it as something that was sent by the gods.
In early Egyptian culture, iron was a much-revered metal – associated with power and royalty. according to Johnson. Later iron artifacts were usually found only in the tombs or graves of nobility, royalty or important figures. The Egyptians associated iron with Set, the sadistic god of chaos and darkness. During the reign of the pharaohs, it was believed that the gods had bones made of iron.
Campbell Price, a curator of Egypt and Sudan at the Manchester Museum, where the beads were kept, has speculated that the discovery of this material may have been interpreted by the Egyptians as the physical remains of gods falling to Earth.
Using three-dimensional modelling techniques, the team of researchers were able to determine that the Egyptians had hammered pieces of iron from the meteorite into a thin plate, before bending them into tubes to fashion the beads.
Did these ancient people believe that they had been deliberately given the iron as a gift or merely harvested the bones of fallen deities? Were meteorites responsible for these mysterious ancient Egyptian beads, or was it the gods?
Written by Graham J Noble