Science

Iron tools from the Bronze Age found to have otherworldly origins

Iron tools from the Bronze Age...
A new study has found that all iron tools from the Bronze Age, including King Tutankhamun's dagger, were made from meteoric metal
A new study has found that all iron tools from the Bronze Age, including King Tutankhamun's dagger, were made from meteoric metal
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A new study has found that all iron tools from the Bronze Age, including King Tutankhamun's dagger, were made from meteoric metal
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A new study has found that all iron tools from the Bronze Age, including King Tutankhamun's dagger, were made from meteoric metal

A weapon as legendary as the dagger of King Tutankhamun needs an epic backstory, and last year X-ray analysis showed that the iron in the ancient blade had come from meteorites. Now, a French study has found that the artifact was far from alone as all iron tools dating back to the Bronze Age have otherworldly origins.

Beginning around 3300 BCE in the Near East and parts of South Asia, the Bronze Age was categorized by the widespread use of bronze in weapons, tools and decorations. Made by smelting copper and mixing it with tin, arsenic or other metals, bronze was durable and relatively easy to come by, and as such it remained the top choice until it was supplanted when the Iron Age began some 2,000 years later.

That's not to say that iron wasn't used during the Bronze Age – on relatively rare occasions iron artifacts have been found dating back to before the Iron Age, but it was much harder to come by and work with. The trouble was, most of the metal was locked in ore and needed to be smelted at extremely high temperatures, which was beyond the technological capabilities of the time. So where did those early iron artifacts come from?

It's long been thought that iron tools of the time were made from meteorites, which would have deposited the metal in an already-workable state on the Earth's surface. The theory would explain the presence of iron in artifacts before the advanced smelting techniques had been developed, and whether or not their owners knew that the metal was not of this planet, iron would have been prized for its relative rarity.

To determine whether these early iron artifacts were of terrestrial or extraterrestrial origin, Albert Jambon from the the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France conducted chemical analyses of several Bronze Age samples. Along with King Tut's dagger, Jambon studied a bracelet and headrest belonging to the Egyptian king in 1350 BCE, axes from Syria and China dating back to about 1400 BCE, a Syrian pendant from 2300 BCE, a Turkish dagger from 2500 BCE, and beads from Gerzeh, Egypt, which stretch right back to 3200 BCE, just after the Bronze Age began.

Jambon used a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, an instrument that can determine the elements that make up a sample of rock or metal without damaging the target. Using this, Jambon could tell from the iron's impurities whether the metal in the relics came from meteorites or was naturally occurring on Earth. Iron meteorites usually contain higher levels of nickel and cobalt than Earthly iron due to the tendency for nickel to drift towards the molten core of a planet.

Sure enough, all of the tested samples had levels of nickel and cobalt that lined up with those seen in iron meteorites. Jambon concluded that essentially all iron items from the Bronze Age would therefore be made of meteoric iron, until the development of the smelting process that marked the beginning of the Iron Age from about 1200 BCE.

The research was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Source: CNRS

5 comments
Nik
It is often said that the ancient Egyptians only had bronze tools with which to build the pyramids, but this is not true. The reality is that they also had iron tools, but they have long ago rusted to dust, so only the bronze tools remain to be found. Iron plates were found between some of the stones when people were tunnelling into the Great pyramid to find a way into it, and are stored in a museum. These were used, it is surmised to protect the stones from damage, when levering them into place, but these were accidentally trapped. There is even the remains of an iron smelting plant near the pyramids, but this is steadfastly ignored by most archaeologists.
aki009
This is hardly news as I must've read about this very topic some 30 or 40 years ago. After all iron becomes workable at lower temperatures than what is needed to refine it from iron ore.
Frosted Flake
If, as stated above, all these tested artifacts used iron that came from the core of an exploded planet (significant pause) then that means there was a planet and it exploded and it was near enough that these pieces landed here. This would seem to be solid evidence in support of Van Flanderns exploded planet hypothesis. One of the most ridiculed hypothesis ever made. It is one thing to have in hand the data, another to know what the data means. Please do not overlook the implications. A scientist might at this point say something like, "That's weird" and go on to discover important things.
JimFox
Frosted Flake-- What evidence do you propose for an "exploding planet"? Meteorites in their billions exist in the Solar system, no such 'planet' was their source-- Where Do Meteorites Come From? » Science ABC https://www.scienceabc.com › Nature › Universe Asteroid belt. You might be surprised to learn that nearly all meteorites (roughly 95%) are parts of asteroids that lie in a cluster called the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
Michael Z. Williamson
There's no evidence of smelting near the pyramids. The claims of Egypt nuts get ignored because they're fallacious. Neither the right type of furnace nor the tools nor fuel existed in that time and place. Nor would such technology have been forgotten, it would have spread, as it did when it actually developed. And even if the tools "rusted away," they'd have left oxide. And since the extant artifacts haven't rusted away, why would the others have been abandoned? The claim amounts to, "They developed a technology and tools but no one ever saw it to acquire it and they threw away the valuable tools to rust away, never using them and never making more, but you won't believe us." You're correct. We don't.