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Although it is generally assumed that early iron objects were produced from meteoritic iron, such origin of the blade has long been the subject of debate, and previous analyses yielded controversial results. Now dramatic technological improvements have allowed the researchers to determine the composition of the blade. "Meteoric iron is clearly indicated by the presence of a high percentages of nickel," main author Daniela Comelli, at the department of Physics of Milan Polytechnic, told Discovery News. Indeed, iron meteorites are mostly made of iron and nickel, with minor quantities of cobalt, phosphorus , sulfur and carbon. While artifacts produced with iron ore quarrying display 4 percent of nickel at most, the iron blade of King Tut's dagger was found to contain nearly 11 percent of nickel.
Further confirmation of the blade's meteoric origin came from cobalt traces.
"The nickel and cobalt ratio in the dagger blade is consistent with that of iron meteorites that have preserved the primitive chondritic ratio during planetary differentiation in the early solar system," Comelli said.
"Only one, named Kharga, turned out to have nickel and cobalt contents which are possibly consistent with the composition of the blade," she added. The meteorite fragment was found in 2000 on a limestone plateau at Mersa Matruh, a seaport some 150 miles west of Alexandria.
The dagger sports an ornate gold handle with a crystal pommel but it's the iron blade that really makes it out of this world.
X-ray fluorescence spectrometry confirms the blade was fashioned from meteoric iron.
Before the advent of iron smelting, meteoric iron was the only source of iron metal apart from minor amounts of telluric iron. Meteoric iron was already used before the beginning of the iron age to make cultural objects, tools and weapons. In ancient Egypt an iron metal pearl was found in a graveyard near Gerzeh that contained 7.5% Ni. A dagger made from meteoric iron was found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. The Inuit used parts of the Cape York meteorite. Fragments from Gibeon were used for centuries by the Nama people. There are also reports of their use for manufacture of various items in Tibet (see Thokcha), including the Iron Man, a statue of Vaiśravaṇa carved from an iron meteorite. In 1000 CE, a Tibetan Buddhist statue, the Iron Man, was likely carved from an ataxite meteorite. It might even be made from a fragment of the Chinga meteorite. Even after the invention of smelting, meteoric iron was sometimes used where this technology was not available or metal was scarce. A piece of the Cranbourne meteorite was made into a horseshoe around 1854. Today meteoritic iron is used in niche jewellery and knife production, but most of it is used for research, educational or collecting purposes.