Earliest known iron artefacts come from outer space

Researchers have shown that ancient Egyptian iron beads excavated in 1911 were hammered from pieces of meteorites, rather than iron ore. The objects, which trace their origins to outer space, also predate the emergence of iron smelting by two millennia.

Carefully hammered into thin sheets before being rolled into tubes, the nine beads – which are over 5000 years old - were originally strung into a necklace together with other exotic minerals such as gold and gemstones.

The team’s results show that in the fourth millennium BC metalworkers had already mastered the smithing of meteoritic iron, an iron-nickel alloy much harder and more brittle than the more commonly worked copper, developing techniques that went on to define the iron age.

By scanning the beads with beam of neutrons and gamma-rays, the team were able to reveal the unique texture and also high concentration of nickel, cobalt, phosphorous and germanium - that is, characteristics of meteoric iron.

Read more at UCL