Analysis of a prehistoric Egyptian iron bead with implications for the use and perception of meteorite iron in ancient Egypt

Johnson, Diane; Tyldesley, Joyce; Lowe, Tristan; Withers, Philip. J. and Grady, Monica M. (2013). Analysis of a prehistoric Egyptian iron bead with implications for the use and perception of meteorite iron in ancient Egypt. Meteoritics & Planetary Science, 48(6) pp. 997–1006.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/maps.12120

URL: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/maps.12...

Abstract

Tube-shaped beads excavated from grave pits at the prehistoric Gerzeh cemetery, approximately 3300 BCE, represent the earliest known use of iron in Egypt. Using a combination of scanning electron microscopy and micro X-ray microcomputer tomography, we show that microstructural and chemical analysis of a Gerzeh iron bead is consistent with a cold-worked iron meteorite. Thin fragments of parallel bands of taenite within a meteoritic Widmanstatten pattern are present, with structural distortion caused by coldworking. The metal fragments retain their original chemistry of approximately 30 wt% nickel. The bulk of the bead is highly oxidized, with only approximately 2.4% of the total bead volume remaining as metal. Our results show that the first known example of the use of iron in Egypt was produced from a meteorite, its celestial origin having implications for both the perception of meteorite iron by ancient Egyptians and the development of metallurgical knowledge in the Nile Valley.

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