The meteoritic origin of Tutankhamun’s iron dagger blade
, Massimo D’ORAZIO
, Luigi FOLCO
, Mahmud EL-HALWAGY
, Roberto ALBERTI
, Valentina CAPOGROSSO
, Abdelrazek ELNAGGAR
, Austin NEVIN
, Franco PORCELLI
, Mohamed G. RASHED
, and Gianluca
Dipartimento di Fisica, Politecnico di Milano, Piazza Leonardo da Vinci 32, I-20133 Milano, Italy
Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra, Universit
a di Pisa, Via S. Maria 53, I-56126 Pisa, Italy
The Egyptian Museum of Cairo, Tahrir Square, Meret Basha, Qasr an Nile Cairo Governorate 11516, Egypt
XGLab S.R.L., Via F. D’Ovidio 3, I-20131 Milano, Italy
Restoration Department, Faculty of Archaeology, Fayoum University, P.O. Box 63511, Fayoum, Egypt
Istituto di Fotonica e Nanotecnologie –Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR-IFN), Piazza Leonardo da Vinci 32, I-20133
Dipartimento di Scienza Applicata e Tecnologia, Politecnico di Torino, Corso Duca degli Abruzzi 24, I-10129 Torino, Italy
Corresponding author. E-mail: email@example.com
(Received 18 December 2015; revision accepted 29 March 2016)
Abstract–Scholars have long discussed the introduction and spread of iron metallurgy in
different civilizations. The sporadic use of iron has been reported in the Eastern
Mediterranean area from the late Neolithic period to the Bronze Age. Despite the rare
existence of smelted iron, it is generally assumed that early iron objects were produced from
meteoritic iron. Nevertheless, the methods of working the metal, its use, and diffusion are
contentious issues compromised by lack of detailed analysis. Since its discovery in 1925, the
meteoritic origin of the iron dagger blade from the sarcophagus of the ancient Egyptian
King Tutankhamun (14th C. BCE) has been the subject of debate and previous analyses
yielded controversial results. We show that the composition of the blade (Fe plus 10.8 wt%
Ni and 0.58 wt% Co), accurately determined through portable x-ray ﬂuorescence
spectrometry, strongly supports its meteoritic origin. In agreement with recent results of
metallographic analysis of ancient iron artifacts from Gerzeh, our study conﬁrms that
ancient Egyptians attributed great value to meteoritic iron for the production of precious
objects. Moreover, the high manufacturing quality of Tutankhamun’s dagger blade, in
comparison with other simple-shaped meteoritic iron artifacts, suggests a signiﬁcant mastery
of ironworking in Tutankhamun’s time.
The working of metal has played such a crucial role
in the evolution of human civilization that historians
conventionally divide ancient eras into “metal” ages,
taking into account the use of copper, bronze, and iron
in sequence. However, it is clear that sharp breaks in
these periods are conventional. In particular, the start
of the iron age has long been discussed.
Ancient Egypt had great mineral resources. The
wide desert areas, in particular the Eastern desert, are
rich in mines and quarries, which have been exploited
since ancient times (Ogden 2000; Klemm and Klemm
2008; Lucas and Harris 2012). Copper, bronze, and
gold have been used since the 4th millennium BCE
(Ogden 2000). In contrast, despite the signiﬁcant
presence of iron ores in ancient Egypt (Ogden 2000;
Lucas and Harris 2012), the utilitarian use of iron in the
Nile Valley occurred later than in neighboring countries,
with the earliest references to iron smelting dating to
the 1st millennium BCE (Tylecote 1992; Waldbaum
1999; Ogden 2000).
Meteoritics & Planetary Science 1–9 (2016)
1©The Meteoritical Society, 2016.
The sporadic use of iron during the Bronze Age has
been reported in Egypt and the Mediterranean (Photos
1989; Tylecote 1992; Waldbaum 1999; Ogden 2000).
A handful of iron objects likely dates to the Old
Kingdom (3rd millennium BCE) onward (Waldbaum
1999; Ogden 2000), with the most ancient iron ones
dated to about 3200 BCE (Stevenson 2009). It is
generally assumed that early iron objects were produced
from meteoritic material, despite the rare existence of
smelted iron fortuitously obtained as a by-product of
copper and bronze smelting (Bjorkman 1973; Photos
1989; Tylecote 1992; Bard 1999; Waldbaum 1999; Ogden
2000). During the Bronze Age, iron was deﬁnitely rare,
its value was greater than that of gold (Burney 2004),
and it was primarily used for the production of
ornamental, ritual, and ceremonial objects (Bjorkman
1973; Tylecote 1992; Waldbaum 1999). This suggests
that either early iron artifacts were unsuitable for
utilitarian and military purposes or working techniques
for producing the metal in large quantities had not yet
been mastered (Waldbaum 1999). By the end of the
2nd millennium BCE, iron had come into common use
in most of the eastern Mediterranean, although the
rates at which it was substituted for bronze vary from
region to region (Tylecote 1992; Waldbaum 1999;
Over the past 50 years, the interest in the use of
meteoritic iron and in the introduction and spread of
iron smelting technology in the Mediterranean area
has increased steadily (Bjorkman 1973; Photos 1989;
Tylecote 1992). Different historical and philological
studies have addressed these topics (Piaskowski 1982;
Photos 1989). Compositional and structural analyses
of ancient iron ﬁndings have been performed and
reported (Bjorkman 1973; Photos 1989; Waldbaum
1999), but despite few cases (Johnson et al. 2013;
Rehren et al. 2013), the common lack of detailed
information on analytical methods and of robust data
hinders their utility in answering broader questions
(Photos 1989; Waldbaum 1999). Investigations are
further hampered by the difﬁculty in obtaining
permissions to analyze rare and precious artifacts with
either destructive or nondestructive techniques (Photos
Beyond the Mediterranean area, the fall of meteorites
was perceived as a divine message in other ancient
cultures. It is generally accepted that other civilizations
around the world, including the Inuit people; the ancient
civilizations in Tibet, Syria and Mesopotamia (Buchwald
2005; Buchner et al. 2012); and the prehistoric Hopewell
people living in Eastern North America from 400 BCE to
400 CE, used meteoritic iron for the production of small
tools and ceremonial objects (Prufer 1962). Nonetheless,
only few detailed scientiﬁc analyses have clearly reported
the identiﬁcation of meteoritic iron in ancient artifacts.
These include several iron tools made by the Inuit people
in Greenland, recognized as being made of small
fragments of the Cape York iron meteorite shower
(Buchwald 1992); the ancient “iron man” Buddhist
sculpture, likely carved from a fragment of the Chinga
meteorite (Buchner et al. 2012); two funerary iron
bracelets and an axe excavated in two different Polish
archaeological sites (Kotowiecki 2004); and, less recently,
a few masses of meteoritic iron from the Hopewell culture
Of the rare surviving examples of iron objects from
ancient Egyptian culture, the most famous is the dagger
from the tomb of the ancient Egyptian King
Tutankhamun. The history of King Tutankhamun (18th
dynasty, 14th C. BCE) has fascinated scientists and the
general public since the discovery of his spectacular
tomb in 1922 by archaeologist Howard Carter (Carter
and Mace 1923-1927-1933). In 1925, Carter found two
daggers in the wrapping of the mummy: one on the
right thigh with a blade of iron (Fig. 1) and the other
on the abdomen with a blade of gold (Carter and Mace
1923-1927-1933). The former (Carter no. 256K, JE
61585) is the object of our study. The dagger has a
ﬁnely manufactured blade, made of nonrusted,
apparently homogeneous metal (Fig. 2). Its handle is
made of ﬁne gold, is decorated with cloisonn
granulation work, and ends with a pommel of rock
crystal (Feldman 2006; Zaki 2008). Its gold sheath is
decorated with a ﬂoral lily motif on one side and with a
feathers pattern on the other side, terminating with a
Among the iron objects discovered in
Tutankhamun’s tomb, which also include 16 miniature
iron blades, a miniature head rest, and a bracelet with
the Udjat eye of iron,
the dagger is the one that has
most attracted interest from archaeologists and
historians, mainly in relation to the origin of the metal
and to the employed working technology (Bjorkman
1973; Photos 1989; Tylecote 1992; Waldbaum 1999;
Johnson et al. 2013). As already observed by Carter, the
iron objects from Tutankhamun’s tomb highlight some
innovative features of the use and trade of iron in the
Late Bronze Age (Carter and Mace 1923-1927-1933).
Interestingly, diplomatic documents from the Egyptian
royal archives from the 14th C. BCE (the Amarna
letters) mention royal gifts made of iron in the period
immediately before the Tutankhamun’s reign. In
particular, it is reported that Tushratta, King of
Mitanni, sent precious iron objects to Amenhotep III,
Carter card: http://www.grifﬁth.ox.ac.uk/gri/carter/256k-c256k-1.html.
Tutankhamun: Anatomy of an Excavation. http://www.
2 D. Comelli et al.
who may have been the grandfather of Tutankhamun.
Daggers with iron blades and a gilded iron hand
bracelet are mentioned in the list (McNutt 1990;
Morkot 2010; Lucas and Harris 2012; Rainey 2014).
Results of previous analyses of Tutankhamun’s iron
funerary objects have proved controversial. Bjorkman
(1973) referred to a meteoritic origin of the iron dagger
on the basis of its high nickel content determined
through an analytical study performed in 1970;
however, to the best of our knowledge, this study has
not been published and the analytical techniques used at
that time were not speciﬁed. In 1994, analysis of the
dagger’s iron blade by X-ray ﬂuorescence (XRF)
spectrometry revealed a Ni content of 2.8 wt%, which
was considered inconsistent with meteoritic iron by the
authors (Helmi and Barakat 1995).
Iron meteorites are mostly made of Fe and Ni, with
minor quantities of Co, P, S, and C, and trace amounts of
other siderophile and chalcophile elements (Haak and
McCoy 2003). Their chemical compositions are typically
determined by means of sensitive, yet destructive,
analytical methods, including instrumental neutron
activation analysis (Wasson and Sedwick 1969) and
inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (D’Orazio
and Folco 2003). XRF measurements, carried out in the
laboratory and, more recently, with the aid of portable or
handheld devices, have been widely used for the bulk
Fig. 1. The mummy of King Tutankhamun. Black and white
picture of Tutankhamun mummy showing the iron dagger
(34.2 cm long) placed on the right thigh (arrowed). Copyright
Grifﬁth Institute, University of Oxford.
Fig. 2. The iron dagger of King Tutankhamun. Color picture
of the iron dagger (Carter no. 256K, JE 61585) with its gold
sheath. The full length of the dagger is 34.2 cm.
The meteoritic origin of Tutankhamun’s iron dagger 3
nondestructive analysis of meteorites since the late 1960s
and early 1970s (Reed 1972; Zurﬂuh et al. 2011; Gemelli
et al. 2015).
In this work, we have determined the bulk
composition of the Tutankhamun’s iron dagger
blade using state-of-the-art, nondestructive XRF
analysis. In the last 20 years, a dramatic improvement
in solid-state detectors technology has allowed new
analytical applications. Modern energy dispersive XRF
spectrometers exhibit typical energy resolutions below
140 eV @Mn Kaline (West et al. 2013), allowing the
deconvolution of close peaks (Redus and Huber 2012),
as required for correctly estimating minor amounts of
cobalt in meteoritic irons.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
XRF measurements were performed on
Tutankhamun’s dagger, 11 meteorites of well-known
composition, and 11 certiﬁed steel reference materials.
The full list of analyzed samples is provided in Table 1.
The number of point analyses for each sample is also
reported. The location of the two point analyses on
Tutankhamun’s iron dagger blade is reported in
supporting information (Fig. S1).
Portable XRF Spectrometry
The XRF spectrometer (ELIO, XGLab srl, Italy) is
based on a 25 mm
active area silicon drift detector and
on a 50 kV-4W X-ray tube generator, which employs a
Rh anode. The excitation X-ray beam is collimated to a
~1.2 mm spot diameter on the sample surface. The
typical energy resolution of the spectrometer is below
135 eV, which is helpful in detecting the asymmetry of
the Fe Kbpeak due to the presence of an underlying
low-intensity Co Kapeak, as is often the case in iron
Analysis of the dagger blade was carried out at the
Egyptian Museum of Cairo. The XRF head was
mounted on a stable tripod equipped with a lateral side
arm (60 cm long).
Table 1. Samples analyzed by XRF spectroscopy.
Co wt% References
Campo del Cielo 21 6.73 0.46 6.82 0.35 0.52 0.03 Wasson and Kallemeyn (2002)
Canyon Diablo 32 6.93 0.47 7.09 0.34 0.55 0.04 Wasson and Kallemeyn (2002)
Chinga 20 16.5 0.58 15.71 0.33 0.57 0.04 Buchner et al. (2012)
Dronino 12 9.81 0.55 9.83 0.30 0.57 0.04 Russell et al. (2004)
Gebel Kamil 17 20.60 0.76 20.68 0.46 0.70 0.05 D’Orazio et al. (2011)
Gibeon 16 7.99 0.39 7.90 0.33 0.43 0.03 Wasson and Richardson (2001)
Hoba 1 16.30 0.78 17.08 0.36 0.69 0.05 Campbell and Humayun (2005)
North Chile 1 5.65 0.454 6.16 0.36 0.51 0.03 Wasson et al. (1989)
NWA 5289 12 9.02 0.40 9.94 0.30 0.41 0.03 Weisberg (2008)
Tambo Quemado 10 10.15 0.56 9.44 0.31 0.50 0.03 D’Orazio and Folco (2003)
Tres Castillos 7 9.23 0.51 8.57 0.32 0.47 0.03 Wasson et al. (1998)
ARMI AISI 303 1 9.5 0.20 8.65 0.32 0.10 0.03 Reference values from ARMI certiﬁcate
NIST SRM 1262b 1 0.60 0.30 1.72 0.48 0.36 0.03 Reference values from NIST certiﬁcate
NIST SRM 1158 1 36.10 0.01 40.57 1.15 0.05 0.04 Reference values from NIST certiﬁcate
SS-CRM 461/1 4 6.12 n.d. 6.13 0.36 0.04 0.04 BAS Bureau of Analysed Samples Ltd.*
SS-CRM 462/1 4 12.85 n.d. 12.04 0.30 0.04 0.04 BAS Bureau of Analysed Samples Ltd.*
SS-CRM 463/1 4 10.20 0.12 10.20 0.30 0.07 0.04 BAS Bureau of Analysed Samples Ltd.*
SS-CRM 464/1 4 20.05 0.05 20.78 0.46 0.01 0.04 BAS Bureau of Analysed Samples Ltd.*
SS-CRM 465/1 4 9.24 0.05 9.20 0.31 0.04 0.04 BAS Bureau of Analysed Samples Ltd.*
SS-CRM 466/2 4 10.20 0.02 10.02 0.30 0.01 0.04 BAS Bureau of Analysed Samples Ltd.*
SS-CRM 467/1 4 9.21 n.d. 9.10 0.31 0.02 0.04 BAS Bureau of Analysed Samples Ltd.*
SS-CRM 468/1 4 8.90 0.02 8.89 0.31 0.02 0.04 BAS Bureau of Analysed Samples Ltd.*
2 10.85 0.30 0.58 0.04
The list includes 22 reference samples (11 meteorites of well-known composition and 11 certiﬁed steel reference materials) and Tutankhamun’s
iron dagger blade. In the list, we have reported: the number of analysis points; Ni and Co reference concentrations of samples used for XRF
calibration; Ni and Co concentrations estimated following linear calibration of XRF data provided within a 95% conﬁdence interval. * http//
4 D. Comelli et al.
Analysis of meteorites of well-known composition
and of certiﬁed steel reference materials was carried out
in the XGLab laboratory. The XRF head was mounted
on a benchtop stand.
For all measurements, the following experimental
conditions were used: working distance ~1.4 cm, tube
voltage =50 kV, tube anode current =80 lA,
acquisition time =120 s.
XRF Data Analysis
The parameters of a model of the shape of the Fe
Kbpeak detected by the employed XRF spectrometer
were retrieved by using XRF data of a Co-poor steel
sample (NIST SRM 1158; Table 1). For this purpose,
the Fe Kbpeak was modeled as the sum of a
Gaussian and a complementary error function (Jorch
and Campbell 1977) (Fig. 3b, red line). In XRF data
of samples with detectable Co concentrations, a clear
asymmetry of the Fe Kbpeak is visible, induced by
the superposition of the close Co Kapeak. In order
to highlight this asymmetry in the XRF dagger
spectrum, the right part of the Fe Kbpeak has been
ﬁtted with the same model (Fig. 3b, black line).
Estimate of Ni and Co wt% in analysis points of
Tutankhamun’s dagger has been performed with the
following two step-procedure:
1. XRF spectra of all samples were processed to
quantify the integrated area (expressed as emission
counts per sec) of the detected XRF peaks. We used
the PyMca software (Sol
e et al. 2007), based on a
nonlinear least-squares ﬁtting procedure which
optimizes zero, gain, noise, and Fano factors for the
entire ﬁtting region and for all XRF peaks
simultaneously. The background was estimated with
the strip background model.
2. Fitted values of the integrated area of Ni (Kaand
Kb) and Co (Ka) XRF peaks of reference samples
(meteorites of well-known composition and certiﬁed
steel reference materials) were used for assessing the
Ni and Co linearity calibration curves. We
employed a robust linear regression model, little
affected by outliers, which models the relationship
between the wt% composition of the considered
element (Ni or Co) and the median value of the
related integrated peak area within each sample.
Compositional and class information of a set of 76
iron meteorites with composition similar to
Tutankhamun’s blade (see Fig. 6) has been provided
through access to the Meteorite Information Database
(MetBase 7.3; J€
orn Koblitz 2015).
XRF measurements carried out at the Egyptian
Museum of Cairo on two areas of the surface of the
dagger blade demonstrate that Fe and Ni are the main
bulk constituents (Fig. 3a). The presence of minor
concentrations of Co leads to a clear asymmetry in the
Fe Kbemission peak (Fig. 3b).
Fig. 3. XRF spectrum of Tutankhamun’s dagger blade. a)
Median XRF spectrum of Tutankhamun’s dagger blade (black
line). Vertical error bars depict the interquartile range of the
XRF emitted counts. b) Median XRF spectra of the dagger
(black squares) and of the Co-poor (0.01 wt%) NIST SRM
1158 steel reference sample (red circles). Each spectrum was
ﬁtted with a Gaussian curve peaked at the Fe Kbline
(continuous black and red line), which reveals the asymmetry
of the Fe Kbemission peak in the spectrum of the dagger,
namely a shoulder in correspondence of the Co Kaline.
The meteoritic origin of Tutankhamun’s iron dagger 5
Quantitative determination of the Ni and Co
contents in the dagger was carried out by the external
calibration method using XRF data from 11 steel metal
standards and 11 iron meteorites of well-known
composition (Table 1, Figs. 4 and 5). This allowed the
determination of 10.8 0.3 wt% Ni and 0.58 0.04
wt% Co, within a 95% conﬁdence interval (Table 1).
The blade’s high Ni content, along with the minor
amount of Co and a Ni/Co ratio of ~20, strongly
suggests an extraterrestrial origin.
1. The Ni content in the bulk metal of most iron
meteorites ranges from 5 wt% to 35 wt%, whereas
it never exceeds 4 wt% in historical iron artifacts
from terrestrial ores produced before the 19th C
2. The Ni/Co ratio in the dagger blade is consistent with
that of iron meteorites (average Ni/Co = 18 2)
(Mittlefehldt et al. 1998), which have preserved the
primitive chondritic ratio ( 21) (Tagle and Berlin
2008) during planetary differentiation in the early
Remarkably, a representative set of 76 iron
meteorites with a moderately high Ni content (10–12
wt%), i.e., with composition similar to Tutankhamun’s
blade, have average Co content of 0.57 wt% (0.08;
1r) (Fig. 6).
On the sole basis of the Ni and Co contents
determined in this work, the meteorite used to fashion
the dagger blade cannot be classiﬁed into a speciﬁc
chemical or structural group. Nevertheless, considering
the set of 76 iron meteorites mentioned above (Fig. 6),
we observe that (1) 25% are ungrouped irons, 22%
belong to the IAB complex, 20% to the IID chemical
group, 18% to IIIAB, 15% to IIC, IIF, IIIE, IVA; (2)
more than 50% have ﬁne (mm scale) or very ﬁne (lm
scale) homogeneous structures (e.g., iron meteorites
belonging to the ataxite, and ﬁne, ﬁnest and plessitic
octahedrite structural groups; Fig. 6). Smithing iron
meteorites with such homogenous and ﬁne structures
are expected to produce a homogeneous structureless
iron artifact like the iron blade of Tutankhamun’s
dagger. Future microstructural analysis of the dagger, if
allowed, would provide signiﬁcant information on the
employed manufacturing method.
In order to investigate if known iron meteorites
within the ancient Egyptian trade sphere could be
linked to the studied blade, we sorted all the known
iron meteorites found in the region from the MetBase.
Within an area 2000 km in radius arbitrarily centered in
Fig. 4. Ni linearity calibration curve. Calibration curve plot of
Ni content (wt%) as a function of the sum of the integrated
area of Ni Kaand Kbpeaks (expressed as emission counts per
sec). Meteorites and steel reference samples of known
composition are shown (black ﬁlled squares and blue ﬁlled
diamonds, respectively). For each sample, the median values
of the emission counts are reported, with horizontal error bars
depicting the related interquartile range. The retrieved linear
= 0.99) (black continuous line) within a 95%
CI (gray continuous lines) is shown. The estimated Ni
concentration in Tutankhamun’s iron dagger is indicated by
the red star. In the inset, a zoomed portion of the graph is
Fig. 5. Co linearity calibration curve. Calibration curve plot
of Co content (wt%) as a function of the integrated area of
Co Kapeak (expressed as emission counts per sec). Meteorites
and steel reference samples of known composition are shown
(black ﬁlled squares and blue ﬁlled diamonds, respectively).
For each sample, the median values of the emission counts are
reported, with horizontal error bars depicting the related
interquartile range. The retrieved linear regression (R
(black continuous line) within a 95% CI (gray continuous
lines) is shown. The estimated Co concentration in
Tutankhamun’s iron dagger blade is indicated by the red ﬁlled
6 D. Comelli et al.
the Red Sea, Egypt (i.e., extending from central-eastern
Sahara to the Arabic Peninsula, Mesopotamia, Iran,
and Eastern Mediterranean area), 20 iron meteorite
ﬁnds are present in the database. Only one, group IVA,
the ﬁne octahedrite, named Kharga (Egypt, 31°07057″N,
25°02050″E, found 2000, May 8, 1 kg; Grossman and
Zipfel 2001), has Ni and Co contents (11.77 wt% and
0.437 wt%, respectively) within 10% of the composition
of the studied blade (Fig. 6).
Recently it has been reported that the most ancient
Egyptian iron artifacts, i.e., nine small beads, excavated
from a tomb in Gerzeh (Egypt) and dated about 3200
BCE (Stevenson 2009), are made of meteoritic iron,
carefully hammered into thin sheets (Johnson et al.
2013; Rehren et al. 2013). Our ﬁnding conﬁrms that
excavations of important burials, including that of King
Tutankhamun, have uncovered pre-Iron Age artifacts of
meteoritic origin (Johnson et al. 2013).
As the only two valuable iron artifacts from ancient
Egypt so far accurately analyzed are of meteoritic
origin, we suggest that ancient Egyptian attributed great
value to meteoritic iron for the production of ﬁne
ornamental or ceremonial objects up until the 14th C.
BCE. Smelting of iron, if any, has likely produced low-
quality iron to be forged into precious objects. In this
context, the high manufacturing quality of
Tutankhamun’s dagger blade is evidence of early
successful iron smithing in the 14th C. BCE. Indeed,
only further in situ, nondestructive compositional
analysis of other time-constrained ancient iron artifacts
present in world collections, which include the other
iron objects discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb, will
provide signiﬁcant insights into the use of meteoritic
iron and into the reconstruction of the evolution of the
metal working technologies in the Mediterranean.
Finally, our ﬁnding provides important insight into
the use of the term “iron”, quoted in relationship with
the sky in Mesopotamian, Hittite, and Egyptian
ancient texts (Bjorkman 1973; Waldbaum 1999): beside
the hieroglyphic “ ,” which already existed before
the XIX dynasty with a broad meaning (as “mineral,
metal, iron”) (Erman and Grapow 1982; Hannig 2003,
2006), a new composite term “ ,” literally
translated as “iron of the sky,” came into use in the
19th dynasty (13th C. BCE) to describe all types of
iron (Bell and Alpher 1969; Erman and Grapow 1982).
In the same period, we can note a text at Karnak
probably describing a meteorite
(Kitchen 1975). The
introduction of the new composite term suggests that
the ancient Egyptians, in the wake of other ancient
Fig. 6. Co versus Ni diagram for Tutankhamun’s iron dagger blade (black star) and for iron meteorites with a moderately high
Ni content (10–12 wt%), i.e., with composition similar to the Tutankhamun’s blade, sorted by chemical and structural groups.
Database Research Unit ISMA-CNR “Egyptian Curses” (PRIN 2009
“The Seven Plagues”): http://webgis.iia.cnr.it/eGIStto/.
The meteoritic origin of Tutankhamun’s iron dagger 7
people of the Mediterranean area, were aware that
these rare chunks of iron fell from the sky already in
the 13th C. BCE, anticipating Western culture by more
than two millennia.
Acknowledgments—We thank Prof. Marco Virgilio
Boniardi for providing the reference steel samples, Alan E.
Rubin and Timothy J. McCoy for their valuable revisions,
and Kevin Righter for the editorial handling. Part of this
study has been ﬁnancially supported by the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the
Egyptian ministry of Scientiﬁc Research—Progetti di
Grande Rilevanza, Protocollo Esecutivo ITALIA-
EGITTO, PGR 00101 and PGR 00107.
Editorial Handling—Dr. Kevin Righter
Bard K. A. 1999. Encyclopedia of the archaeology of ancient
Egypt. London: Routledge.
Bell L. and Alpher B. 1969. The Egyptian hieroglyphic group.
Bjorkman J. K. 1973. Meteors and meteorites in the ancient
Near East. Meteoritics 8:91–130.
Buchner E., Schmieder M., Kurat G., Brandsta
Kramar U., Ntaﬂos T., and Kro
¨chert J. 2012. Buddha
from space—An ancient object of art made of a China
iron meteorite fragment. Meteoritics & Planetary Science
Buchwald V. F. 1992. On the use of iron by the Eskimos in
Greenland. Materials Characterization 29:139–176.
Buchwald V. F. 2005. Iron and steel in ancient times.
Copenhagen: Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes
Burney C. 2004. Historical dictionary of the Hittites. Lanham,
Maryland: Scarecrow Press Inc..
Campbell A. J. and Humayun M. 2005. Compositions of
group IVB iron meteorites and their parent melt.
Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 69:4733–4744.
Carter H. and Mace A. C. 1923-1927-1933. The Tomb of
Tut*Ankh*amen. London: Cassell and Company Ltd.
D’Orazio M. and Folco L. 2003. Chemical analysis of iron
meteorites by inductively coupled plasma-mass
spectrometry. Geostandards Newsletters 27:215–225.
D’Orazio M., Folco L., Zeoli A., and Cordier C. 2011. Gebel
Kamil: The iron meteorite that formed the Kamil crater
(Egypt). Meteoritics & Planetary Science 46:1179–1196.
Erman A. and Grapow H. 1982. W€
orterbuch der aegyptischen
Sprache. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag.
Feldman M. H. 2006. Diplomacy by design: Luxury arts and
an “International Style” in the Ancient Near East, 1400–
1200 BCE. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Gemelli M., D’Orazio M., and Folco L. 2015. Chemical
analysis of iron meteorites by hand-held X-ray ﬂuorescence.
Geostandards and Geoanalytical Research 39:55–69.
Grossman J. N. and Zipfel J. 2001. The Meteoritical Bulletin,
No. 85. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 36:A293–A322.
Haak H. and McCoy T. J. 2003. Iron and stony-iron
meteorites. In Meteorites, comets and planets, edited by
Davis A. M., Holland H. D., and Turekian K. K. Treatise
on Geochemistry, vol. 1. Oxford: Elsevier-Pergamon. pp.
Hannig R. 2003.
orterbuch. Altes Reich und
Erste Zwischenzeit. Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern.
Hannig R. 2006.
orterbuch. Mittleres Reich und
Zweite Zwischenzeit. Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von
Helmi F. and Barakat K. 1995. Proceedings of the First
International Conference on Ancient Egyptian Mining &
Metallurgy and Conservation of Metallic Artifacts, edited
by Esmael F. A. and al-Aʻl
ar M. Cairo: Egyptian
Antiquities Organizational Press. pp. 287–289.
Johnson D., Tyldesley J., Lowe T., Withers P. J., and Grady
M. M. 2013. Analysis of a prehistoric Egyptian iron bead
with implications for the use and perception of meteorite
iron in ancient Egypt. Meteoritics and Planetary Science
Jorch H. H. and Campbell J. L. 1977. On the analytic ﬁtting
of full energy peaks from Ge(Li) and Si(Li) photon
detectors. Nuclear Instruments and Methods 143:551–559.
Kitchen K. A. 1975. Ramesside inscriptions translated and
annotated, Translations, vol. I. Oxford: Wiley.
Klemm R. and Klemm D. D. 2008. Stones and quarries in
ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press.
Kotowiecki A. 2004. Artifacts in Polish collections made of
meteoritic iron. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 39:151–
Lucas A. and Harris J. 2012. Ancient Egyptian materials and
industries. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications Inc..
McNutt P. M. 1990. The forging of Israel: Iron technology,
symbolism and tradition in ancient society. Shefﬁeld, UK:
Shefﬁeld Academic Press.
Mittlefehldt D. W., McCoy T. J., Goodrich C. A., and
Kracher A. 1998. Non-chondritic meteorites from
asteroidal bodies. Reviews in Mineralogy 36:D1–D195.
Morkot R. 2010. The A to Z of ancient Egyptian warfare.
Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press.
Ogden J. 2000. Metals. In Ancient Egyptian materials and
technology, edited by Nicholson P. T. and Shaw I.
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, chap. 6.
Photos E. 1989. The question of meteoritic versus smelted
nickel-rich iron: Archaeological evidence and experimental
results. World Archaeology 20:403–421.
Piaskowski J. 1982. A study of the origin of the ancient high-
nickel iron generally regarded as meteoritic. In Early
Pyrotechnology: the evolution of the ﬁrst Fire-using
Industries, edited by Wertime T. A. and Wertime S. F.
Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institute. pp. 237–423.
Prufer O. H. 1962. Prehistoric Hopewell meteorite collecting:
Context and implications. Ohio Journal of Science 61:341–
Rainey A. F. 2014. The El-Amarna correspondence. Leiden:
Brill Academic Publishers.
Redus R. and Huber A. 2012. Figure of merit for spectrometers
for EDXRF. X Ray Spectrometry 41:401–409.
Reed S. J. B. 1972. Determination of Ni, Ga, and Ge in iron
meteorites by X-ray ﬂuorescence analysis. Meteoritics
Rehren T., Belgya T., Jambon A., Ka
´li G., Kasztovszky Z.,
Kis Z., Kova
´cs I., Maro
´ti B., Martino
Miniaci G., Pigott V. C., Radivojevic
´M., Rosta L.,
´si L., and Szokefalvi-Nagy Z. 2013. 5,000 years
old Egyptian iron beads made from hammered meteoritic
iron. Journal of Archaeological Science 40:4785–4792.
8 D. Comelli et al.
Russell S. S., Folco L., Grady M. M., Zolensky M. E.,
Jones R., Righter K., Zipfel J., and Grossman J. N.
2004. The Meteoritical Bulletin, No. 88. 2004 July.
Meteoritics & Planetary Science 39:A215–A272.
e V. A., Papillon E., Cotte M., Walter P. H., and Susini J.
2007. A multiplatform code for the analysis of energy-
dispersive X-ray ﬂuorescence spectra. Journal of
Spectrochimica Acta B 62:63–68.
Stevenson A. 2009. The predynastic Egyptian cemetery of el-
Gerzeh. Social identities and mortuary practices. Leuven:
Tagle R. and Berlin J. A. 2008. Database of chondrite
analyses including platinum group elements, Ni Co, Au,
and Cr: Implications for the identiﬁcation of chondritic
projectiles. Meteoritics Planetary Science 43:541–559.
Tylecote F. 1992. A history of metallurgy. London: The
Institute of Materials.
Waldbaum J. 1999. The coming of iron in the eastern
Mediterranean. In The archaeometallurgy of the Asian old
world, edited by Pigott V C. Philadelphia: Museum
University of Pennsylvania, chap. 2 or pp. 27–58.
Wasson J. T. and Kallemeyn G. K. 2002. The IAB iron-
meteorite complex: A group, ﬁve subgroups, numerous
grouplets, closely related, mainly formed by crystal
segregation in rapidly cooling melts. Geochimica
Cosmochimica Acta 66:2445–2473.
Wasson J. T. and Richardson J. W. 2001. Fractionation
trends among IVA iron meteorites: Contrasts with IIIAB
trends. Geochimica Cosmochimica Acta 65:951–970.
Wasson J. T. and Sedwick S. P. 1969. Possible source of
meteoritic materials from Hopewell Indian burial mounds.
Wasson J. T., Ouyang X., Wang J., and Jerde E. 1989.
Chemical classiﬁcation of iron meteorites: XI. Multi-
element studies of 38 new irons and the high abundance of
ungrouped irons from Antarctica. Geochimica
Cosmochimica Acta 53:735–744.
Wasson J. T., Choi B. G., Jerde E. A., and Ulff-Møller F.
1998. Chemical classiﬁcation of iron meteorites: XII. New
members of the magmatic groups. Geochimica
Cosmochimica Acta 62:715–724.
Weisberg M. K. 2008. Meteoritical Bulletin, No. 94.
Meteoritics & Planetary Science 43:1551–1588.
West M., Ellis A. T., Potts P. J., Streli C., Vanhoof C.,
Wegrzynek D., and Wobrauschek P. 2013. Atomic
spectrometry update—X-ray ﬂuorescence spectrometry.
Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry 28:1544–1590.
Zaki M. 2008. Legacy of Tutankhamun: Art and history.
Chicago, llinois: American University in Cairo Press.
Zurﬂuh F. J., Hofmann B. A., Gnos E., and Eggenberger U.
2011. Evaluation of the utility of handheld XRF in
meteoritics. X-Ray Spectrometry 40:449–463.
Additional supporting information may be found in
the online version of this article:
Fig. S1. Location of spot analyses on the iron
dagger blade: Close-up color image of the iron dagger
(Carter no. 256K, JE 61585) with location of the two
spot analyses (red circles) ~1.2 mm in diameter
performed by XRF spectrometry.
The meteoritic origin of Tutankhamun’s iron dagger 9