Bronze Age cultures used ‘extraterrestrial materials’ to craft weapons and tools

The iron used in artifacts from the Bronze Age has shown to have been obtained from meteoric remains, according to a mineralogist at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in France.

Although meteorites have already been recognized as a source of this metal, the scientific community had not been able to determine whether they accounted for most or only a few iron artifacts from the Bronze Age.

Now scientists believe they know the answer.

Mineralogist Albert Jambon has been able to establish the unique meteoric origin of these unusual artifacts and how this practice was abandoned during the Iron Age.

His work was recently published in the December 2017 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Thousands of years ago, ancient cultures in Anatolia, the Caucasus and even Egypt made objects out of iron.

These items were extremely rare and always very appreciated.

Iron ore abounds on the surface of the Earth.

So, what made these artifacts so valuable?

The initial investigation showed that some artifacts were made of meteorite iron, which led scientists to wonder how many others were crafted by Bronze Age populations.

Albert Jambon collected the available data and performed his own non-destructive chemical analysis of samples using a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer.

King Tut’s meteoric dagger. Image Credit: Daniela Cornelli

His collection of iron artifacts included Gerzeh beads (Egypt, -3200 BC); a dagger from Alaca Höyük (Turkey, -2500 BCE); a pendant from Umm el-Marra (Syria, -2300 BCE); an ax of Ugarit (Syria, -1400 BCE) and several others items of the civilization of the Shang Dynasty (China, -1400 BCE); and the dagger, the bracelet and the headrest of Tutankhamun (Egypt, -1350 BC).

Jambon’s research revealed that one of these Bronze Age artifacts was made of meteoric iron.

When large celestial bodies, like our planet form, almost all of the nickel moves to the molten iron core.

Therefore, it is extremely rare to find on the surface.

However, some meteorites are created when the celestial bodies are broken.

If these meteorites are composed of a central material, they mostly contain iron with high levels of nickel and cobalt.

This characteristic allows scientists to identify the source of iron.

The meteoric iron is also in the metallic state, ready to use, which explains why it was used in all the iron artifacts of the Bronze Age.

In contrast, the iron compounds in terrestrial minerals must first undergo the reduction process, which removes the bound oxygen to produce the desired metal.

This is the basis of furnace smelting, an advance that marked the beginning of the Iron Age.

With the foundry, the Iron Age cultures were able to forget the rare ‘extraterrestrial metal’ and to widely use terrestrial iron minerals, which were much more abundant and easy to obtain.

Albert Jambon’s findings refute certain theories that nickel-laden iron alloys were obtained from terrestrial minerals.

Source: Bronze Age iron: Meteoritic or not? A chemical strategy

Featured image credit: AFP