One of the talks at the Meteoritical Society Conference this year was a bit different. Diane Johnson from the Open University used non-destructive techniques to define and analyse an ancient Egyptian iron bead (3300 BCE). The bead had been excavated from a tomb at Gerzeh in 1911 along with several others which, from their high nickel content, have been identified as material from an iron meteorite.
Items discovered in the tomb, including the beads can be seen here.
When the Gerzeh beads were found they were the earliest known example of worked iron. Since then other examples of ancient egyptian items made from meteoritic material have been found including a dagger in Tutankhamen’s tomb. However, no ancient Egyptian iron meteorite material has been found dating past 1320 BCE.
Dr Johnson was interested in conducting more work from a cultural viewpoint. Did the Egyptians know the material came from a meteorite? Did they know what meteorites were? If so, did they revere or treat the material in a special way? Was this why the material was included in tombs for the dead to take to the afterlife. Or did they regard the material with suspicion and see it as unlucky? Was this why they stopped using it?
It was interesting to hear a talk that included an anthropological viewpoint. Meteorites have been falling on the Earth for billions of years. Were people alive thousands of years ago as interested in meteorites then as we are now?