Out of this world
Archaeologists think that the technology of smelting iron from terrestrial iron ores was invented in the Near East around 1200 B.C.
But some ancient iron objects are much older than that — including the oldest iron objects known, a handful of iron beads found in a tomb at Gerzeh in northern Egypt that are dated to 3500 B.C. — more than 2,000 years before the dawn of the Iron Age. [Read more about the iron objects from outer space]
The analyzer is able to determine the chemical composition of an object with a non-destructive scan of the surface.
Jambon found that iron meteorites have a distinctive chemical signature, with high levels of nickel or cobalt.
His was able to show the XFR analyzer could easily distinguish “meteoric” iron from smelted iron, which has only traces of nickel or cobalt.
But Jambon found that the Gerzeh beads and all other ancient iron objects from the Bronze Age are all made with iron from meteorites – and that the iron-rich space rocks were probably the only source of the metal on earth until the start of the Iron Age around 1200 B.C.
Using a portable XRF analyzer, Jambon was able to show that it is made from iron from space that had fallen to earth as an iron meteorite.
The dating of the iron dagger to around 2500 BC puts it at a time when Alaca Höyük was a center of the early Bronze-Age Hatti people.
After about 1800 BC, Alaca Höyük became subject to the powerful Hittite Empire.
The iron dagger is part of a matching pair two ceremonial knives, along with a blade made from gold – at the time, iron was the much more valuable metal.
A study last year showed that Tutankhamun’s dagger is also made from meteoric iron, and Jambon was able to confirm that finding using the portable XRF scanner.
King Tut's space iron
Ceremonial axe head
Jambon found that it too was made with iron from a meteorite, like all the other Bronze Age iron objects he tested with the XFR analyzer.
SIG K - iron pendant
His research found that all the Bronze Age iron objects had been made from meteorites, and not from smelted iron.
SIG K - scanning
Iron objects dating between 1300 and 1000 BC could now be scanned with portable XRF analyzers, and their metallic make-up compared until the earliest non-meteoric iron is found,” he said
“The very first irons will be recognized from their chemical composition, which markedly differs from meteoritic iron,” Jambon said.