Subject of many studies and investigations, Egyptian King Tut’s dagger has already been proven to have been made from meteorite iron. A recent study has now added a new dimension to exactly where this dagger came from, and how it was forged.
The new study published in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science explores the possibilities of where and how King Tut’s dagger was made. And the answer may be that the iron meteorite dagger was a foreign gift, and that it was fashioned with advanced metallurgy understandings from distant lands.
King Tut’s Daggers: One of Gold and the other Meteorite Iron
Crown prince at the tender age of 9, King Tutankhamun (ruled 1332-1323 BC), died just a decade after ascending the throne, from a cause still being debated. His reign was relatively unremarkable, but he achieved historical significance for his grand burial tomb in the Valley of the Kings, which was uncovered in 1922.
King Tut’s tomb was found to contain 5,398 artifacts for his journey into the afterlife, including royal headgear, elaborate jewelry , musical instruments, and board games ! He also took two beautiful daggers with him, one made of gold, and the other of iron. It is the iron dagger that has attracted so much attention.
The New Study Reveals the Dagger was Not Egyptian Made
What puzzled archaeologists for a long time was that King Tut died during the Bronze Age. However, the iron dagger clearly showed evidence of advanced metallurgy , as it required knowledge of working with a metal that requires temperatures over 1,500 degrees Celsius (2732 degrees Fahrenheit) to forge.
Meteorite iron made sense over inaccessible iron deposits, keeping in mind that a 2017 study by Albert Jambon showed that all iron used during the Bronze Age was meteoric, but did King Tut’s generation of metal workers understand how to work with this material from the heavens?
Remarkably, the new study shows that the meteoric blade of King Tut’s dagger was not forged in Egypt. The study researchers subjected the blade to rigorous chemical analyses, which revealed that the techniques used in its construction were not known in Egypt at the time. This supports an earlier hypothesis that suggested that the blade was a gift to King Tut’s grandfather from abroad.
IFL Science reports that Japanese scientists from the Chiba University of Technology travelled to the Egyptian Archaeological Museum in Cairo, Egypt, in 2020, to fire x-rays at the ancient blade to get a better idea of the concentration of the various elements it contained.
Amongst other elements, the dominant one was iron sulfide, but most spectacularly it was a cross-hatched texture known as the Widmanstätten pattern and remnant troilite inclusion that revealed that the iron dagger was manufactured by low-temperature forging.
The iron dagger’s gold hilt contained a few percent of calcium lacking sulfur suggests the use of lime plaster instead of gypsum plaster as an adhesive material for decorations on the hilt. The use of lime plaster in Egypt started much later during the Ptolemaic period (305–30 BC).
Turning to Corroborative Sources From Ancient Anatolia
The earliest known dagger made of meteoritic iron was first excavated at Alaca Hüyük in ancient Anatolia, Turkey , according to the study.
This dagger dated to the Bronze Age, 2300 BC to be precise, and was also found in the context of a burial. This suggests that the technology to work meteoritic iron to make these complex objects is at least 4,300 years old, and clearly known to the Anatolian region.
The scientists then turned to the Amarna letters for corroborative purposes. The Amarna letters are a series of diplomatic correspondence on clay tablets between the Egyptian administration and its neighbors. They were successful in this quest, writing that:
“… hints at its foreign origin, possibly from Mitanni, Anatolia, as suggested by one of the Amarna letters saying that an iron dagger with gold hilt was gifted from the king of Mitanni to Amenhotep III, the grandfather of Tutankhamun.”
“At that time in Egypt, iron was considered an element that on rare occasions fell from the skies and was about 80 times more valuable than gold,” said Takafumi Matsui, president of the Chiba Institute of Technology, who specializes in comparative planetology and led the research team.
“Tutankhamun likely inherited the iron dagger from his grandfather and it was placed in his grave when he died at a young age.”
According to Dr. Diane Johnson, the only other iron objects wrapped with King Tut’s mummy included a miniature headrest, and an amulet, both made with relatively crude methods.
King Tut’s iron dagger blade is the only one of these objects made with finesse and sophistication, suggesting that it was probably imported, perhaps as the aforementioned royal gift from a neighboring territory. This ties up with known historical data from the time that points to Egypt’s knowledge and skill of iron production being extremely limited.