A research team led by Open University meteorite scientist Diane Johnson examined the nickel content and crystalline structure of one of the beads to confirm that the iron came from a meteorite. The team was able to reconstruct the way the ancient Egyptians worked the material: “Successive virtual CT slices revealed bending points and a joining edge, suggesting production by beating flat a fragment of iron, followed by bending to produce the tube.”
While there is no confirmed evidence of iron smelting in the region before Greco-Roman times, the presence of iron objects in royal tombs reveals that they were a symbol of status in earlier periods of Egyptian history. The Egyptians themselves appear to have been aware of the otherworldly source of their iron. The authors of the study write that “from the late 18th Dynasty, approximately 1300 BCE, the term biA-n-pt starts to be used, which literally reads iron from the sky and from this point onwards … the term becoming synonymous with metallic iron in general.”
Read the study “Analysis of a prehistoric Egyptian iron bead with implications for the use and perception of meteorite iron in ancient Egypt” by Diane Johnson, Joyce Tyldesley, Tristan Lowe, Philip J. Withers and Monica M. Grady as it appears in Meteoritics & Planetary Science.
Interested in ancient metallurgy? BAS Library Members: Read Thomas E. Levy and Mohammad Najjar, “Condemned to the Mines” as it appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review, Nov/Dec 2011.
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