Origin of Ancient Egyptian Beads is Out of this World
A new study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science has revealed that Ancient Egyptian beads found in a 5,000-year-old tomb were made from iron meteorites that fell to Earth from outer space.
The nine tube-shaped beads strung together in a necklace, along with other precious beads made of carnelian, lapis lazuli, agate and gold, were recovered in 1911 during an excavation of an ancient burial ground dating back to 3,200 BC near the village of El-Gerzeh, located about 5,100 kilometres south of Cairo. They were found in the grave of a teenage boy along with other treasures.
When an analysis revealed that nine of the beads contained unusually high concentrations of nickel, a metal found in human-made iron, the unique jewellery item immediately attracted attention as they were crafted roughly 2,000 years before Egypt’s Iron Age.
Thilo Rehren, a professor at UCL Qatar, a Western Asian outpost of the University College London's Institute of Archaeology, conducted an analysis of the composition of the beads by scanning them with beams of neutrons and gamma rays. In addition to nickel, the results revealed high concentrations of cobalt, phosphorous and geranium; these elements were present at levels that only occur in iron meteorites.
Now that one mystery has been solved, the scientists are now faced with another one – how were they made?
The X-ray technology revealed that the beads had been hammered into thin sheets before being meticulously rolled into tubes. However, meteoritic iron is an extremely hard material found in lumps so how the ancient Egyptians were able to form it into thin beads is still unknown.
Normally working with solid iron requires a process involving the repeated heating of metals to red-hot temperatures and then hammering them into shape but this was an elaborate operation which is assumed to have only developed in the Iron Age 3,000 years ago - it seems that we may have another case of underestimating the skills and abilities of our ancient human ancestors.