Ancient Egypt artefact came from outer space

3rd Jun 2013

The core of one of Egypt's ancient artefacts hides an amazing secret. Its content fell from outer space.

The 5,000-year-old humble iron bead was crafted from a meteorite, according to new research.

The find sheds light on the importance the ancient Egyptians placed on meteorites.

Joyce Tyldesley, an Egyptologist at the University of Manchester, said: "The sky was very important to the ancient Egyptians. Something that falls from the sky is going to be considered as a gift from the gods."

The evidence comes from strings of iron beads which were excavated in 1911 at the Gerzeh cemetery, a burial site near Cairo, a great favourite among holidaymakers on city breaks and group tours.

Dating from 3350 to 3600 BC, they were first thought to be from a meteorite because of its nickel-rich iron composition.

This was challenged in the 1980s when academics said that much of the early global examples of iron use originally thought to be of meteorite-origin were actually early smelting attempts.

Scientists at the Open University in Milton Keynes settled the argument, using scanning electron microscopy and computed tomography to analyse one of the beads.

They found areas where the weathered surface had fallen away, providing "little windows" to the preserved metal underneath, reports Nature.

The nickel content was huge and it had an individualistic crystalline structure called a Widmanstätten pattern.

This is exclusively found in iron meteorites that cooled slowly inside their parent asteroids as the Solar System was forming.

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