The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

King Tut had a dagger made from metal of ‘extraterrestrial origin’

The mummy of King Tutankhamun displayed in a climate-controlled glass case in his underground tomb in the Valley of the Kings, close to Luxor, in Egypt in 2015. (Khaled Desouki/AFP via Getty Images)

King Tutankhamun, the ancient Egyptian pharaoh, was entombed with a dagger made from metal mined from a meteorite, according to a new scientific study.

The iron dagger was discovered within Tutankhamun's sarcophagus, whose famous unearthing in Luxor in 1922 prompted a wave of global interest in the history and grandeur of one of the world's oldest civilizations. The young king died at age 19 in the 14th century B.C.

King Tut may have shared his tomb, possibly with his stepmother

While Bronze Age cultures extensively used copper, bronze, gold and other metals, the advent of iron-smithing hadn't yet happened. The researchers, who published their findings on Tuesday in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science, used state-of-the-art X-ray fluorescence spectrometry to analyze the composition of the blade.

Their analysis "strongly suggests" that the blade carried materials of "extraterrestrial origin" and "confirms that ancient Egyptians attributed great value to meteoritic iron for the production of precious objects" and had the ability to sculpt metals found in meteorites into sophisticated 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," the researchers write.

According to their report, ancient Egyptian descriptions of iron appeared around a century after Tutankhamun's death, referring to the term "iron of the sky."

A new discovery sheds light on ancient Egypt’s most successful female pharaoh

"Beyond the Mediterranean area, the fall of meteorites was perceived as a divine message in other ancient cultures," the researchers write. "It is generally accepted that other civilizations around the world, including the Inuit people; the ancient civilizations in Tibet, Syria and Mesopotamia; 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."

For understandable reasons, ancient peoples watched the stars in the heavens — and the objects that seemed to descend from there — with intense curiosity and awe.

“The sky was very important to the ancient Egyptians,” British Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley told Nature. “Something that falls from the sky is going to be considered as a gift from the gods.”

Metals extracted from space debris were used by myriad cultures across the centuries to create totems of power. Not long ago, the Smithsonian exhibited a 17th-century knife that was once in the possession of the Mughal emperor Jahangir. Recent analysis of the blade found that it, too, was crafted with ore from a meteorite.

In 2006, an Austrian astrochemist discovered that the glass affixed to a jewel also found in Tutankhamun's tomb was probably formed by the heat generated from a meteorite impacting the Earth.

Despite his seeming hoard of otherworldly artifacts, Tutankhamun himself was a small, tragic figure. A study of his remains found him to be rather ugly and disfigured; his myriad ailments and illnesses led to his death at such a young age.

More on WorldViews

The forgotten story of European refugee camps in the Middle East

A 12-year-old kid unearthed an ancient Egyptian relic in Israel

Was Moses real?

How ancient ruins are perfect propaganda in the Middle East