Long before the Iron Age, when humans finally developed the means to smelt iron and create tools, they created weapons and jewellery from bronze. But scientists have now discovered that around 2,000 years before the start of the Iron Age, humans were able to create iron tools.
However, the Bronze Age iron artefacts were not forged from Earth-based iron ore. Instead, researchers say that these ancient artefacts were made from iron that came from space — meteorites that crashed on Earth thousands of years ago.
A new study, led by French scientist Albert Jambon from the Institute of Mineralogy, Materials Physics and Cosmochemistry, says that all Bronze Age iron artefacts were made from meteorite iron.
Jambon used a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer to conduct a non-invasive chemical analysis of a variety of Bronze Age artefacts. These included the dagger, bracelet, and headrest of Egyptian king Tutankhamun that date back to 1350 BCE; a pendant of 2300 BCE from Umm el-Marra; beads from Gerzeh, Egypt that date back to 3200 BCE; and other artefacts from the 1400 BCE Shang dynasty in China.
Jambon concluded that all the iron artefacts made before 1200 BCE were from iron that was found in meteorites. These space rocks are born from the destruction of stars and are primarily composed of iron with a high content of cobalt and nickel.
According to the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), it was likely easier for Bronze Age metal workers to create tools from meteorite iron as it does not have to undergo the smelting process that terrestrial iron ores must first undergo.
"Extraterrestrial iron does not need to be reduced in the furnaces of the Bronze Age. This explains why the iron objects were then all of meteoritic origin," CNRS said in a statement.
The new study has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.