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Prehistoric Egyptian jewelry made from a meteorite, say researchers

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Egyptian Iron materials
Egyptian Iron materials

Researchers have discovered than an ancient Egyptian bead was made out of iron taken from a meteorite. In a paper published in Meteoritics & Planetary Science, they write that the piece of jewelry dates back to roughly 3,300 BC. It was one of nine such artifacts found in 1911 — at a cemetery roughly 70 kilometers south of Cairo — and its origin has been a point of contention for some time. Its very existence seemed to contradict the known record of iron smelting in the region, which hasn't been seen until thousands of years later during the sixth century BC. A meteorite would have made sense as an alternate origin — and analysis in 1928 revealed that the iron in the beads had a high amount of nickel, a finding consistent with material from a meteorite. However, in the past few decades others had argued that smelting could have occurred accidentally, explaining the anomaly.

In this case, the researchers decided to analyze the bead using a scanning electron microscope from the Manchester Museum. They discovered the iron used in the bead was almost 30 percent nickel — lining up with the 1928 theory. Additionally, they discovered that the metal featured a crystalline pattern called a "Widmanstätten pattern," a characteristic of material from certain types of meteorites. The researches were even able to built a three-dimensional model of the bead's structure using computerized tomography, allowing them to learn that the bead had been constructed from a piece of iron that had ben flattened, and then bent into a tube.

While the mystery of the beads has been resolved, the researchers would like to examine additional Egyptian artifacts — particularly given the preponderance of iron relics at the burial sites of Egypt's ancient elite.