Earliest Known Egytpian Iron Jewelry Derived From Outer Space
August 20, 2013

Earliest Known Egytpian Iron Jewelry Derived From Outer Space

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Some of the earliest pieces of jewelry discovered have been found to contain samples from outer space. Archaeologists have confirmed funeral beads strung around bodies from a 5000-year-old Egyptian cemetery contained pieces of iron from meteorites that fell to Earth.

Using high-tech scanning methods, researchers from University College London (UCL) found the nine small beads, which were discovered in the Lower Egypt village of el-Gerzeh in 1911, confirm the metal came from outer space rather than terrestrial iron ores, as previously believed. The beads came from two burial sites dating back to 3200 BC and were discovered along with other exotic terrestrial minerals such as agate and gold.

UCL Archaeology Professor Thilo Rehren, lead author of a paper published in The Journal of Archaeological Science, said, "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."

Through Rehren and his colleagues’ work, it was determined these early jewelers had already mastered the smithing of metallic iron long before iron smelting came into existence, nearly 2,000 years later. This early knowledge was essential for the development of iron smelting and the production of iron from iron ore, allowing it to replace copper and bronze as main metals. This early technique may have essentially kick started the Iron Age.

The beads were already completely corroded upon discovery, so the research team used X-ray methods to determine whether the beads were meteoritic iron, or magnetite, which can be mistaken to be corroded iron due to similar properties. By using beams of neutrons and gamma-rays, the team was able to reveal the existence of nickel, cobalt, phosphorous and germanium – all elements found in traces of iron ore – that are typically associated with meteoric iron. The technique proved reliable enough, given that using a more invasive method would have damaged or destroyed the artifacts.

"The really exciting outcome of this research is that we were for the first time able to demonstrate conclusively that there are typical trace elements such as cobalt and germanium present in these beads, at levels that only occur in meteoritic iron,” said Rehren.

"We are also excited to be able to see the internal structure of the beads, revealing how they were rolled and hammered into form. 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," he concluded.

This has not been the first time meteorite had been discovered in Egyptian jewelry.

Researchers from Open University published a paper in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science back in May showing that other iron beads found at the same burial site were of extraterrestrial origin as well. That discovery slammed a 1980s challenge from experts claiming the samples were in fact of earthen origin.