Abdelrazek Elnaggar from the Conservation Department of the Faculty of Archaeology at Fayoum University in Egypt, gives us an update on the latest discovery made by an international research team studying the composition of King Tutankhamun’s dagger.
The history of King Tutankhamun (18th dynasty, 14th C. BCE) has fascinated scientists and the general public since the discovery of his spectacular tomb in 1922 by archaeologist Howard Carter In 1925.
Among the iron objects discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb, which also include 16 miniature iron blades, a miniature head rest and a bracelet with the Udjat eye of iron (a symbol of protection), the dagger is the one that has most attracted interest from archaeologists and historians, mainly in relation to the origin of the metal and to the employed working technology. Carter found two daggers in the wrapping of the mummy: one on the right thigh with a blade of iron and the other on the abdomen with a blade of gold. The former (Carter no. 256K, JE 61585) is the object of our study. The dagger has a finely manufactured blade, made of non-rusted, apparently homogeneous metal. Since its discovery, the meteoritic origin of the iron dagger blade has been the subject of debate.
Despite the significant presence of iron ores in ancient Egypt, the utilitarian use of iron in the Nile Valley occurred later than in neighboring countries, with the earliest references to iron smelting dating to the 1st millennium BCE.
We show that the composition of the blade (Fe plus 10.8 wt% Ni and 0.58 wt% Co), accurately determined through portable x-ray fluorescence spectrometry, strongly supports its meteoritic origin. This discovery highlights some innovative features of the use and trade of iron in the Late Bronze Age. The study confirms that ancient Egyptians attributed great value to meteoritic iron for the production of precious objects, and the high manufacturing quality of Tutankhamun’s dagger blade is evidence of significant mastery of ironworking already in Tutankhamun’s time.
The discovery was documented by an international research team from Politecnico di Milano, Fayoum University (Egypt), Università di Pisa, Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Italian National Research Council, Politecnico di Torino, XGLab Italian Company.