August 25, 2013
Jewelry From Outer Space?
Back in 1911 at the Gerzeh cemetery, roughly 43 miles south of Cairo, Egypt, strings of iron beads were excavated from a grave. They were estimated to be around 5,000 years old, and when analyzed, it was concluded that because of their rich composition of nickel and iron, they may have been made from a fallen meteorite.
An interesting fact is that these beads are the earliest known artifacts in the world and date back 2,000 years before iron smelting was performed in that region.
In the 1980s, the theory of these beads being made from a meteorite was challenged. It was thought they were, in fact, attempts at iron smelting. However, recently a meteorite scientist, Diane Johnson from the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK, borrowed one of the beads from the museum and scanned it using electron microscopy and computed tomography.
Ms. Johnson said, “The research highlights the application of modern technology to ancient materials not only to understand meteorites better but also to help us understand what ancient cultures considered these materials to be and the importance they placed upon them.”
The results was the metal had a crystalline structure called a Widmanstatten pattern, which is only found in iron meteorites that have been cooled slowly inside their parent asteroids. It was also found that the beads were not made by the typical carving or drilling like other beads found in the same tomb; they were made from hammering multiple times.
“These beads were made from meteoritic iron, and shaped by careful hammering of the metal into thin sheets before rolling them into tubes,” researchers noted. Then the beads were strung together with other precious minerals.
Professor of Materials Science at the University of Manchester, Phillip Withers stated, “Meteorites have a unique micro-structural and chemical fingerprint because they cooled incredibly slowly as they traveled through space. It was really interesting to find that fingerprint turn up in Egyptian artifacts.”
“The sky was very important to the ancient Egyptians,” says Joyce Tyldesley, an Egyptologist at the University of Manchester, UK. She added, “Something that falls from the sky is going to be considered as a gift from the gods.”
She also said, “Today, we see iron first and foremost as a practical, rather dull metal. To the ancient Egyptians, however, it was a rare and beautiful material which, as it fell from the sky, surely had some magical/religious properties. They therefore used this remarkable metal to create small objects of beauty and religious significance which were so important to them that they chose to include them in their graves.”
Last year, German scientists discovered a Buddha statue that they said dated between the eighth and tenth centuries and was also carved from a meteorite, though it was later deemed a fake.
Image Credit: Sarun T / Shutterstock