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Dan Fronefield

Tutankhamen's dagger made from meteoritic iron

13 posts in this topic

That's great! It's hard to track down photographs of this piece.

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Looks like it was red-short a bit, and the smith was afraid to overwork it. Nice and clean for a piece thousands of years old, though.

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I was totally unaware of this piece. Thanks! The iron age was still several centuries away but those ancient smiths new a good thing when they saw it!

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Dan,

I happily defer to you with all things meteorite, however I do not believe that any metallurgical studies have been done on this blade (for many reasons). I can not see anything in the picture which says meteorite to me and yet that is what I had heard in school as well.

Have you seen this blade in your travels or have a better picture of it whcih shows you it is space rock?

 

Ric

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I don't believe any destructive tests were done on the blade, which can't be said for the unfortunate remains of Tutankamun himself. Carter was more interested in conserving artifacts than in mummies and destroyed the poor kid to get at his jewelry (and this knife). The general assumption is that this is meteoric in origin, as were a few tiny implements found elsewhere in the tomb. At the time, Egypt had no knowledge of iron-smelting. Most of the metal came either from the sky or from trade with the Hittites, who were just beginning to learn the technology and relied mostly on the heavens, too.

I've had a chance to get up close to this knife and the gold-bladed one that were wrapped with the mummy. The workmanship is, indeed, fit for a king. Makes me wonder what a major ruler would have owned, as Tut was essentially a non-entity as Pharaohs go. Both hilts have extensive granulation work, engraving and an astonishing amount of woven and braided, hair-fine golden wire. The textural detail is astonishing. I might add that Carter did not have to clean or polish that blade (He wouldn't alter an artifact, just conserve it). What we see here is exactly what he saw when he unsheathed the weapon in the 1920's. The iron had only a few spots of rust and was very sharp. This absence of oxidation on an item in the unusually soggy sarcophagus, where everything else was decayed and tarnished, suggested to Carter that there was a high level of nickel in the iron, thus likely meteoric.

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While I don't know to much about this blade, I do know that it's not hard to do a non-destructive, non-contact scan of the metal to determine what the nickel content is. I do not know if that was ever done on this blade, but I always "heard" that it was meteorite in origin.

 

I simply posted it as a great example of a very early iron blade ... and I was amazed at the condition.

 

Dan

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This absence of oxidation on an item in the unusually soggy sarcophagus, where everything else was decayed and tarnished, suggested to Carter that there was a high level of nickel in the iron, thus likely meteoric.

Not to be be stick in the mud, but I think the hoghest nickel content is about 46% for metoerites which is not enough to make it stainless. I think another effect is occuring there, but I do not know what that could be.

 

Ric

 

 

 

I simply posted it as a great example of a very early iron blade ... and I was amazed at the condition.

 

Dan

Dan,

Well that will learn you from trying to show us good stuff :rolleyes:

 

It is a great piece for the gold work alone and the blade may very well be more interesting if we only knew more about it.

 

Ric

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Right now, the Cairo Museum doesn't have the technology to do such a scan. They have to rely on foreign institutions for Cat-scan machines, spectrometers, etc. Being justifiably proud of their long history, they don't like to be borrowers. If I recall correctly, Siemens let them use a CT machine for Tut's battered remains, charging them some miniscule rent on the device for an unlimited length of time. Thus satisfying Egypt's pride.

Good on 'em, I sez!

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Nickel content goes from ~5% to ~26% in the chemical classes of iron meteorites, but that doesn't include anomalous types.

I feel sorry for those antik smelters, whose efforts were so easily dismissed as meteoric in origin.

Maybe somebody can drag a portable XRF machine over there and check the dagger, if they can find it.

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If they can, they'll need to be very polite to Professor Zahi Hawass, and let the Supreme Council on Antiquities publish their results first. After centuries of exploitation by other countries, the Egyptians got smart about their rights as owners of all that stuff just as Carter was starting to clear Tutankamun's tomb.

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I'm guessing it was pretty dry in that tomb. Are there any other examples of blades that old that have almost no rust on them?

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I'm guessing it was pretty dry in that tomb. Are there any other examples of blades that old that have almost no rust on them?

Tut's tomb had a bit of a flood from time to time: big fissure in the limestone walls, and cut out of a less-desirable low area in the Valley. The daggers were wrapped up with his mummy. Unfortunately for the body's preservation, before the coffins and sarcophagus were sealed the mourners poured gallons of oils, resins and perfumes onto the late lamented, nearly filling the golden inner coffin. Over the millenia, this decomposed in a form of slow oxidation. The resultant chemical and thermal reactions damaged the mummy, its wrappings and other contents. The oxidation of these unguents may have absorbed any stray oxygen in the coffin, thus reducing rust on iron, though.

Take a look at what's left of Tut some time: even for a dead guy, he looks pretty bad!

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