In 1911, archaeologists dug up strings of iron beads at the Gerzeh cemetery, about 43 miles south of Cairo. The Gerzeh bead is the earliest discovered use of iron by the Egyptians, dating back from 3350 to 3600 BC. The bead was originally thought to be from a meteorite based on its composition of nickel-rich iron, but scientists challenged this theory back in the 1980s. However, the latest research places this theory back on top.
The scientists used a combination of electron microscope and X-ray CT scanner analyses to demonstrate that the nickel-rich chemical composition of the bead confirms its meteorite origins.
Philip Withers, a professor of materials science at University of Manchester, said meteorites have a unique microstructural and chemical fingerprint because they cooled incredibly slowly as they traveled through space. He said it was interesting to find that fingerprint in the Gerzeh bead.
“This research highlights the application of modern technology to ancient materials not only to understand meteorites better but also to help us understand what ancient cultures considered these materials to be and the importance they placed upon them,” said Open University Project Officer Diane Johnson, who led the study.
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