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The wonderful iron dagger of Tutankhamun: A Mystery revealed

The wonderful iron dagger of Tutankhamun: A Mystery revealed

“Next to the kilt, along the right thigh and, in my opinion, belonging to the same girdle as the kilt, there was a unique and extraordinary dagger, sheathed in a gold scarab.

Its hilt was of granulated gold, adorned at intervals with bands of colored rock crystal.

But the most amazing and the most exceptional feature of this beautiful weapon is that its blade was made of iron, still shiny and steel-like.”

This is how the Egyptologist Howard Carter, the discoverer of Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings in 1922, describes in his work The Tomb of Tutankhamun, his astonishment when he discovered the famous meteoric iron dagger among the bandages that covered the pharaoh’s mummy, that accompanied the sovereign as if it were one of his most prized possessions.

This exceptional weapon discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun (which was the companion of another similar one, but whose blade was forged in gold) measures almost 35 centimeters in length and its iron blade contains 11 percent nickel and 0.6 percent nickel cobalt, showing that the metal came from a meteorite.

In fact, the extraterrestrial origin of the metal with which the blade of this unique dagger was forged was confirmed in 2016 through a study of its chemical composition.

But this confirmation did not answer all the questions that have arisen around an object with such special characteristics: How it was forged and where.

Now, a new study carried out by a team of researchers from the Chiba Institute of Technology in Japan, led by Takafumi Matsui, in collaboration with Egyptian experts, has confirmed the extraterrestrial origin of Tutankhamun’s famous iron dagger and has found evidence that it was forged outside of Egypt, as had already been suggested.

According to the study, which has been published in the journal Meteorics & Planetary Science, analysis of the distribution of nickel on the dagger’s surface, which has been done by shooting non-destructive X-rays at the blade, has revealed that the metal was heated at low temperature, that is to say at more than 800 degrees and less than 950.

This has been proven from the existence of the so-called “Widmanstatten structures”, a type of elongated crystals, which form a cross-stitch-shaped pattern, which appear in the nickel present in meteoric iron when these temperatures are reached and that disappear when they reach or exceed 1,000 degrees.

The presence of this pattern also suggests that the meteorite iron with which the blade was forged belonged to a group of ferric meteorites known as octahedrites. The analysis has also documented the presence of sulphur, zinc and chlorine.

A gift for the pharaoh?

So if the blade was not forged in Egypt, where did it come from? Was it perhaps a diplomatic gift? And in this case, whose?

These unknowns are not easy to answer, but the researchers believe that the origin of the dagger can be traced through the study of the diplomatic correspondence of the time, the so-called “Amarna letters“, an archive of clay tablets discovered in the Amarna city, the capital founded by Pharaoh Akhenaten (1353-1336 BC).

This correspondence contains some missives sent by foreign vassal monarchs to Amenhotep III (1390-1353 BC) and to his son Akhenaten.

Research has provided an interesting fact in this regard. An iron dagger is mentioned in one of these letters that Amenhotep III, grandfather of Tutankhamun, received as a gift from King Tushratta of Mitanni.

This is valuable data since, according to the researchers, “the technology of iron processing and the use of lime plaster were already prevalent in the Mittanni region and the Hittite region at that time.

The Amarna letters could be proof writing that suggests that Tutankhamun’s iron dagger could have been brought from outside Egypt,” they comment in the study.

On the other hand, “the high quality of the knife indicates that the ability to work meteorite iron was already well established at that time,” the researchers conclude.

Detail of the iron blade of Tutankhamun’s dagger during its study
Details of the hilt and sheath of Tutankhamun’s iron dagger

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