Experts trace Petrie Museum's Egyptian tomb beads to ancient outer space meteorites

By Culture24 Reporter | 19 August 2013

Hammered into thin sheets and rolled into tubes, a set of nine Egyptian beads at the Petrie Museum, dating from more than 5,000 years ago and strung into a necklace along with gold, gemstone and exotic materials, were presumed to have been shaped from iron ore.

A photo of three tiny silver and black meteorite pieces next to a hand in a white glove
© UCL Petrie Museum / Rob Eagle
But surprising new research, compiled by experts at UCL and proving that fourth century metalworkers could mould far harder and more brittle materials than their traditional medium of copper, suggests these tiny beads were made from meteorites – predating iron ore by two millennia.

“The shape of the beads was obtained by smithing and rolling, most likely involving multiple cycles of hammering – not by the traditional stone-working techniques such as carving or drilling which were used for the other beads found in the same tomb,” says Professor Thilo Rehren, the lead author of the study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

“The really exciting outcome of this research is that we were for the first time able to demonstrate conclusively that there are typical trace elements such as cobalt and germanium present in these beads, at levels that only occur in meteoritic iron.

“We are also excited to be able to see the internal structure of the beads, revealing how they were rolled and hammered into form.

“This is very different technology from the usual stone bead drilling, and shows quite an advanced understanding of how the metal smiths worked this rather difficult material.”

Non-invasive neutrons and gamma-rays were also used to detect nickel and phosphorous in the beads. They were excavated in a pre-dynastic cemetery near the village of el-Gerzeh, in Lower Egypt, in 1911.

More pictures:

A photo of three tiny meteorites next to two circular necklaces stringed from beads
© UCL Petrie Museum / Rob Eagle
A photo of three small silver meteorite rocks
© UCL Petrie Museum / Rob Eagle
A photo of three small dark silver meteorites
© UCL Petrie Museum / Rob Eagle
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