The earliest created iron artifacts ever found, so far, are funeral beads discovered strung around bodies in a 5000-year-old Egyptian cemetery. Recent research has determined that they were not of this world in origin, made from a meteorite, according to a study that appears in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
Scientists confirmed, through hi-tech scanning of the artifacts, that the iron used to make the beads came from a rock from outer space, a meteorite. The iron beads were discovered by British archaeologists in the Lower Egypt village of el-Gerzeh in 1911.
The archaeologists found the nine small iron beads in two different burial sites that were dated around 3200 BC. The beads were included in necklaces along with exotic minerals such as lapis lazuli, agate, and gold.
Currently, the home of the extraterrestrial artifacts is the University College London (UCL) Petrie Museum.
How is meteorite iron different from terrestrial iron?
Meteorite iron is different from terrestrial iron in that it’s an alloy that has a different composition (generally speaking) from the iron found on Earth.
Through the use of a non-destructive ID test called prompt-gamma neutron activation analysis (PGAA), the scientists were able to determine a signature of the elements in the iron beads.
Using this technique, a sample of the iron was bathed in low-energy beams of neutrons. Elements in the sample absorbed Some of the neutrons were absorbed by elements in the sample and emitted gamma rays in response. The level of the gamma rays provided the telltale evidence that the iron in the beads was not of this Earth.
There were traces of nickel, phosphorus, cobalt and germanium in the beads the research team examined. That meant the source could only have been extraterrestrial.
The addition of these elements, in particular nickel, made the iron harder than terrestrial iron, which means it would have been also more difficult for Egyptian ironsmiths to work. X-ray scanners showed that the meteorite iron had been repeatedly heated and hammered in order to alter its shpae into beads for the afterlife.
The researchers said that the making of the beads is proof that in the fourth millennium BC, the Egyptians were already advanced in the art in smithing.
Compared to copper, the material that was generally worked and used to create tools back then, meteoritic iron is much harder and more brittle.
According to Thilo Rehren, a UCL professor of archaeology:
They were rolled and hammered into shape. The shape of the beads was obtained by smithing and rolling, most likely involving multiple cycles of hammering, and not by the traditional stone-working techniques such as carving or drilling which were used for the other beads found in the same tomb.”
This is very different technology from the usual stone bead drilling, and shows quite an advanced understanding of how the metal smiths worked this rather difficult material.”
The source of the earliest iron artifacts yet to be discovered, corroded iron beads in necklaces from two different burial sites in Egypt, it’s been discovered is not of this world, but is from a meteorite.
Written by: Douglas Cobb