May 30, 2013
Ancient Egyptian Bead Was Based On Meteorite
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
In 1911, archaeologists dug up strings of iron beads at the Gerzeh cemetery, about 43 miles south of Cairo. The Gerzeh bead is the earliest discovered use of iron by the Egyptians, dating back from 3350 to 3600 BC. The bead was originally thought to be from a meteorite based on its composition of nickel-rich iron, but scientists challenged this theory back in the 1980s. However, the latest research places this theory back on top.
The scientists used a combination of electron microscope and X-ray CT scanner analyses to demonstrate that the nickel-rich chemical composition of the bead confirms its meteorite origins.
Philip Withers, a professor of materials science at University of Manchester, said meteorites have a unique microstructural and chemical fingerprint because they cooled incredibly slowly as they traveled through space. He said it was interesting to find that fingerprint in the Gerzeh bead.
"This 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," said Open University Project Officer Diane Johnson, who led the study.
Iron obtained from a meteorite had profound implications for the ancient Egyptians. Meteorite iron led to their perception of the iron in the context of its celestial origin and in early metallurgy attempts.
"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," said co-author Dr. Joyce Tyldesley, a senior lecturer in Egyptology at the University of Manchester. "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."
Scientists believe meteorites are responsible for bringing precious metals like gold, platinum and titanium to Earth. Researchers wrote in 2011 that a massive meteorite shower about 650 million years ago led to our collection of precious metals. The scientists said their work shows that the most precious metals on which our economies and many key industrial processes rely on have been "added to our planet by lucky coincidence when the Earth was hit" by 20 billion metric tons worth of material from asteroids.