The manufacture and origin of the Tutankhamen meteoritic iron daggerOPEN ACCESS 

Takafumi Matsui, Ryota Moriwaki, Eissa Zidan, Tomoko Arai

First published: 11 February 2022


“The Iron Age was the time when people acquired iron processing technology and is generally thought to have begun after 1200 B.C. Some prehistoric iron artifacts made of iron meteorites are dated from the Bronze Age. A nicely preserved meteoritic iron dagger was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen (1361–1352 B.C.) of ancient Egypt. Yet, its manufacturing method and origin remain unclear. Here, we report nondestructive two-dimensional chemical analyses of the Tutankhamen iron dagger, conducted at the Egyptian Museum of Cairo. Elemental mapping of Ni on the dagger blade surface shows discontinuous banded arrangements in places with “cubic” symmetry and a bandwidth of about 1 mm, suggesting a Widmanstätten pattern. The intermediate Ni content (11.8 ± 0.5 wt%) with the presence of the Widmanstätten pattern implies the source meteorite of the dagger blade to be octahedrite. The randomly distributed sulfur-rich black spots are likely remnants of troilite (FeS) inclusions in iron meteorite. The preserved Widmanstätten pattern and remnant troilite inclusion show that the iron dagger was manufactured by low-temperature (<950 °C) forging. The gold hilt with a few percent of calcium lacking sulfur suggests the use of lime plaster instead of gypsum plaster as an adhesive material for decorations on the hilt. Since the use of lime plaster in Egypt started during the Ptolemaic period (305–30 B.C.), the Ca-bearing gold hilt hints at its foreign origin, possibly from Mitanni, Anatolia, as suggested by one of the Amarna letters saying that an iron dagger with gold hilt was gifted from the king of Mitanni to Amenhotep III, the grandfather of Tutankhamen.”