Does the composition of meteoritic metal change with forging? An experimental studyOPEN ACCESS 

Mendy M. Ouzillou, Christopher D. K. Herd

MAPS, Version of Record online: 18 March 2024


“The use of meteoritic iron in the manufacture of human artifacts since the Bronze Age has been well documented, including the iron blade of Tutankhamun’s dagger. Whereas the preservation of textures and mineral inclusions suggest relatively low temperature (<950°C) working of meteoritic metal used in artifacts, higher temperature working—that is, forging—could have occurred, based on studies of Bronze Age slag. The extent to which the forging of meteoritic iron might change the bulk composition, especially the trace elements used for classification of iron meteorites, is largely unknown. Using electron microbeam methods (SEM and EPMA), and trace element analysis (ICP-MS), we analyze metal obtained at different stages during the modern forging of a set of knife blades from fragments of the Gebel Kamil meteorite, and assess the degree to which bulk element composition, mineral inclusions, and textures are modified. We find that while forging does destroy the original texture and removes mineral inclusions, it does not significantly modify the trace elements typically used in iron meteorite classification, at least for the relatively Ni-rich composition represented by Gebel Kamil. While we acknowledge that the modern method by which the knife blades were forged from Gebel Kamil would not have occurred in the Bronze Age, our results represent an upper temperature limit relative to the inferred conditions used in ancient forging. The identification of the meteorite (if still in existence) that was used for artifacts is feasible, based on our results and current literature on ancient meteoritic artifacts.”