Feb 23, 2022 I Paul Seaburn

King Tut’s Meteorite Dagger May Not Be From Egypt

There are few Egyptians – ancient or modern – as famous as King Tut, the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun who was the last of his royal family to rule during the end of the 18th Dynasty. His fame today comes from the discovery in 1922 of his nearly intact tomb filled with treasures made famous by their finding, then a worldwide exhibition of them from 1972–1979, and now by their display at the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo. One of the more noted artifacts is an iron dagger -- iron smelting and manufacture was rare in Tut’s time, making this dagger more valuable than gold. Today, the dagger is valuable for another reason – it’s believed the high nickel content in the blade came from a meteorite. Recently, its value went up again as a new study revealed neither the meteoric nickel nor the dagger originated in Egypt. Where did it come from … and why did a pharaoh need a dagger?

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Where did Tut get the meteorite dagger?

“The high quality of this iron object indicates that the skill to work meteoritic iron was well established at that time. Yet, its manufacturing method remains unclear.”

According to the study, published in the journal Meteoretics and Planetary Science, the fine workmanship of Tut’s dagger (photos here) was unusual for the era – Tutankhamen reigned c. 1332 – 1323 BCE during the Late Bronze Age and before the Iron Age. Because of the time period and the quality of this and a few other daggers of that era, the iron had to be a special kind and the only known source would be a meteor. Study co-author Tomoko Arai, a researcher at the Chiba Institute of Technology in Japan, tells Gizmodo his team had to use a non-contact, non-destructive two-dimensional chemical analysis of the heavily corroded dagger at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. X-rays showed concentrations of iron, nickel, manganese, cobalt sulfur, chlorine, calcium, and zinc. They also revealed a distribution pattern for the nickel – a well-known pattern that immediately identified the source as an octahedrite meteorite.

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If only they had left a note or a receipt

“We noticed a cross-hatched texture present in places for the both sides [of the dagger], suggesting Widmanstätten structure, typical of [an] octahedrite iron meteorite. That was our WOW moment.”

The good news is … Arai’s team identified the meteorite. The bad news is … octahedrite is the largest group of iron meteorites, which means they’re found everywhere. It also appears that it wasn’t just Egyptian kings who liked meteorite weapons. The Japanese meteorite Shirahagi – a huge chunk was discovered in April 1890 in Japan’s Kamiichi-gawa River – was the source of the iron in some Japanese swords acquired by Emperor Taishō in the early 1900s. All the team could determine was that the dagger was forged with relatively low heat – high heat would have destroyed the Widmanstätten pattern – and some 3,400-year-old tablets known as the Amarna Letters refer to an iron dagger in a gold sheath that was given to Amenhotep III, Tut’s grandfather, by the king of Mitanni, a region of Anatolia (modern Turkey) when the pharaoh married his daughter.

Tut didn’t need the dagger, but like all kings with power and wealth, he had a desire for more and the unique dagger was an example.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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