Tutankhamun, X-rays confirm that the blade of his dagger comes from space

One hundred years ago, in 1922, two names went around the world: that of Howard Carter and that of Tutankhamun. In fact, Carter is the British Egyptologist who in that year was the protagonist in the Valle di Re of one of the archaeological discoveries that have most impressed themselves in the collective imagination. That is the almost intact tomb of the young pharaoh Tutankhamun, who died at the age of 19 in about 1323 BC.

The discovery received worldwide media coverage at the time, and ever since the myth of Tutankhamun has grown and been preserved over time until todaysurrounded by the shadows of the mysteries and of the legendary curse that was attributed to him when Lord Canarvon, the financier of the excavations that uncovered his tomb, died shortly after (April 5, 1923) of pneumonia. And even though Carter and everyone who came into contact with the mummy had no problems, the magical suggestion prevailed over public opinion.


A century later, the figure of Tutankhamun still remains full of mysteries. One of this is the nature of his dagger, one of the many treasures of the funeral, which has a total of over 5,000 finds. The question that archaeologists have asked themselves to date concerns the material of which it is composed: the eye is attracted by the handle and the golden hilt, but the protagonist is iron. According to the hypotheses of archaeologists, at the time of Tuankhamun, iron was a more valuable material than gold, and indicated a very high social status.

Scientists, carefully analyzing the dagger, advanced in 2013 the hypothesis that the iron used came from spacethat is, had been obtained from a meteorite. In 2016 the blade was subjected to X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy to analyze its composition, and the results confirmed the theory of the “extraterrestrial dagger”: in fact, the blade is mainly composed of iron, with 11% nickel and 0.6% cobalt, which is a composition comparable to that of ferrous meteorites. The nickel content in artifacts made with terrestrial iron, in fact, never exceeds 4%.


Today another study delves into the matter furtherexamining the possibilities related to the type of meteorite who provided the material and how the dagger was made (without bothering the aliens, as Elon Musk did some time ago for the pyramids). In fact, there is no archaeological evidence of iron smelting in Egypt prior to the 6th century BC, and the earliest known example of the use of metallic iron dates back to around 3400 BC, therefore before unification and the era of the pharaohs, which begins around 3,000 BC

The team of Chiba Institute of Technology in Japanin collaboration with the Grand Egyptian Museum, has worked precisely to shed light on these residual shadow areas. Their analyzes confirmed once more the meteoritic origin of iron, since the material on the blade showed a cross-hatched structure (known as the “Widmanst├Ątten pattern”) that is typical of an octahedrite, the largest group of iron meteorites.

There are three hypotheses relating to the manufacture of the dagger: the iron may have been cold worked, cutting and polishing the meteorite; or it may have been hot worked, by melting the high temperature iron and then pouring it into a mold; or finally it may have been heated to a low temperature and subsequently forged.


The answer comes from several blackened points which were traced on the blade and which contained chlorine, calcium, zinc and sulfur. And it is precisely there low amount of sulfur found in the black spots which prompted scholars to conclude that the iron of the dagger must have been cold forgedthus exploiting a relatively low temperature (below 950 ┬░ C).

And also theorigin of the dagger it seems to be a clearer question now. Unlike the other iron artifacts of the funeral kit, all rather crude, the dagger instead has a particularly meticulous and refined construction. If the iron with which it was made comes from space, the dagger itself seems to have an external origin: in fact, in the diplomatic correspondence a dagger with an iron blade and a gold hilt with lapis lazuli inlays is mentioned. It would therefore be a giftand to send it would have been the king of Mitanni, but the initial addressee would have been Amenhotep III, or the grandfather of Tuankhamon, from whom the young pharaoh would later inherit it.

The Chiba Institute of Technology study offers further confirmation of this reconstruction: the precious stones that decorate the golden hilt were in fact attached to it using lime plaster, a technique that was in use in Mitanni, while the Egyptians instead preferred the gypsum plaster.