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Iron Beads from Space

September 4, 2013

Ancient Egyptians fashioned beads out of iron from meteorites.



Jewelry from space. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Meteoritic iron beads from Ancient Egypt (center). (Rob Eagle/UCL Petrie Museum)

Researchers have concluded that iron in beads from an ancient Egyptian tomb came from meteorites. A chemical analysis of the beads, which were discovered over 100 years ago, has revealed that they contained levels of cobalt, nickel and other elements not found in typical iron ore.

THILO REHREN (University College London, Qatar):

We could find roughly 100 or 200 parts per million of germanium in these beads, and that concentration you would never found in smeltered manmade iron.


That’s minerologist Thilo Rehren of University College London in Qatar. During their analysis, he and his team also discovered that the beads were formed by rolling thin sheets of iron. To prevent cracking, metalworkers would have had to heat it up while hammering it. The meteorites were likely brought to Egypt from the Sahara desert over 5,000 years ago, so this skill may have arisen thousands of years before iron smelting was invented. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.