Scientists have made an incredible discovery.
It has now been confirmed that ancient Egyptians used metal of extraterrestrial origin when
they produced some of their relics.
To the ancient Egyptians these precious objects were celestial gifts.
The evidence comes from strings of iron beads which were excavated in 1911 at the Gerzeh cemetery, a burial site
approximately 70km south of Cairo. Dating from 3350 to 3600 BC, thousands of years before Egypt's Iron Age, the bead analysed was originally assumed to
be from a meteorite owing to its composition of nickel-rich iron.
But this hypothesis was challenged in the 1980s when academics proposed that much of the early worldwide examples of iron use originally thought to be of
meteorite-origin were actually early smelting attempts.
Diane Johnson, a meteorite scientist at the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK, and her colleagues used scanning electron microscopy and computed tomography to
analyse one of the beads, which they borrowed from the Manchester Museum.
"This research highlights the application of modern technology to ancient materials not only to understand meteorites better but also to help us understand
what ancient cultures considered these materials to be and the importance they placed upon them," Diane Johnson said.
Meteorite iron had profound implications for the Ancient Egyptians, both in their perception of the iron in the context of its celestial origin and in early
"Today, we see iron first and foremost as a practical, rather dull metal.
To the ancient Egyptians, however, it was a rare and beautiful material which, as it fell from the sky, surely had some magical/religious properties.
They therefore used this remarkable metal to create small objects of beauty and religious significance which were so important to
them that they chose to include them in their graves," said Dr Joyce Tyldesley, a Senior Lecturer in Egyptology at The University of Manchester.
Gerzeh bead. Credit: Image courtesy of Open University
The first evidence for iron smelting in ancient Egypt appears in the archaeological record in the sixth century BC. Only a handful of iron artefacts have
been discovered in the region from before then: all come from high-status graves such as that of the pharaoh Tutankhamun.
"Iron was very strongly associated with royalty and power," says Johnson.
The heart of the scribe Ani is weighed by Anubis, the jackal-headed god of embalming, c 1275 BC, one of the challenges that a person's
spirit faced on the journey to the afterlife in ancient Egypt.'
Photograph: British Museum/PA
"The sky was very important to the ancient Egyptians," says Joyce Tyldesley, an Egyptologist at the University of Manchester, UK, and a co-author of the paper.
"Something that falls from the sky is going to be considered as a gift from the gods."
Objects made of such divine material were believed to guarantee their deceased owner priority passage into the afterlife.