So Ancient People Really Did Make Blades From Meteorites!

It’s cropped up occasionally in fiction (my favorite example being Sokka’s beloved Space Sword in “Avatar: the Last Airbender”), but one has to wonder: how often did ancient people really make swords out of meteorites?

Well, probably not all that often, since meteorites are so rare that even today they’re more valuable than gold, pound for pound, but when they could, it surely had an awesome-factor that was unmatched.

A few years ago, researchers determined that a glass scarab buried with King Tutankhamun was carved out of a special green silica glass found in the Egyptian desert (and which can still be found today) that is all that remains of an ancient astrobleme — an impact crater.  The sand was turned to glass by the heat released in the impact.  Now they know that isn’t the only meteoritic object that was buried with him — a spectacular dagger which spectroscopic analysis now reveals is from the same parent body as the Kharga meteorite found at Mersa Matruh (150 miles west of Alexandria) in 2000.  The meteorite had fallen to earth thousands of years previously, so it is entirely plausible that ancient Egyptian metallurgists found it and crafted this magnificent weapon from it.


What’s really remarkable is that ancient Egyptians didn’t possess the knowledge of smelting iron ore or making steel from it.  If they wanted steel or even iron, they were limited to naturally occurring steel — in other words, nickel-iron meteorites.  This blade, after all, predates the Iron Age.  It does demonstrate that Egyptians had learned how to work iron and steel in a smithy, rather than simply pounding it until it got flat and then bending it; this blade has been forged, not merely beaten.  And it is remarkably unblemished after so long, partly because of the high quality of the steel, but also because of the exceptionally dry environment of the tomb.

This blade is not a new discovery, incidentally.  It was pulled out of the tomb by Howard Carter way back in 1926.  But only now has the technology existed to analyze it without damaging it.


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Filed under Cool Stuff, Space

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