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Iron From Above

June 23, 2016

The people of ancient Egypt didn’t begin mining iron ore until fairly late in the kingdom’s history. But that didn’t stop them from using iron. The iron came not from the ground, though, but from the sky.

A few years ago, British researchers studied an iron bead from London’s Petrie Museum. The bead had been found in 1911 in a tomb about 40 miles south of Cairo. The tomb was built more than 5,000 years ago — a few centuries before the first pharaohs ruled over a united Egypt. The tomb included necklaces and bracelets containing beads of gold, semi-precious stones — and iron.

Scientists had long suggested that the iron came from a meteorite — a space rock that landed on Earth. But they couldn’t confirm that until the recent study. The researchers scanned one of the beads with beams of neutrons and gamma rays. They found a structure that resembled that of iron found in meteorites. More important, they found high percentages of nickel, carbon, germanium, and phosphorous — elements that are found in iron meteorites but not in ore deposits on Earth.

Their scans revealed that the iron had been melted and hammered into thin sheets, then rolled to form skinny tubes. So the artisans of ancient Egypt were working with iron long before they began pulling it from the ground.

The iron beads aren’t the only trinkets from beyond Earth found in ancient Egyptian tombs. We’ll talk about some found in the tomb of King Tut tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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