Researchers from The Open University (OU) and The University of Manchester have ascertained that ancient Egyptian communities used meteorites in their metal jewelry.
The bead which was analyzed was found in 1911 in a burial site at Gerzeh, located outside of Cairo. Eight other similar beads were found at this location.
Experts have dated the find as about 3,300 BC, reported Nature. It is the oldest known Egyptian handiwork made from iron, and was made thousands of years before Egypt’s Iron Age occurred.
Long in debate about the metal's origin, the scientists recently concluded that the bead used in the 5,000-year-old trinket came from outer space. Aside from meteorite theory, which is the original theory, another theory that emerged in the 1980s was the metal was formed as a byproduct from accidental early smelting.
Experts from the two universities compiled their expertise and resources to use electron microscopy and computed tomography to examine the beads. This collaboration helped them come to settle the long-time debate of the metal's origin. After an in-depth examination, the teams came to the conclusion the metal had a celestial origin.
While the scientists were not able to cut open the metal piece, there was enough weathering in order to get a glimpse inside to examine its makeup. What experts found was a high concentration of nickel, along with other properties that point to the types of properties found in meteorites.
"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 OU Project Officer Diane Johnson, lead author of the study in a news release.
The Smithsonian Institute describes how iron was a very coveted item in ancient Egyptian society.
Iron was associated with affluence and power in ancient Egypt. Its presence was considered as a bestowal from the gods. Usually only those in power and substantial wealth would have been in possession of it.
"The sky was very important to the ancient Egyptians," said Joyce Tyldesley, a Senior Lecturer in Egyptology at The University of Manchester, and a co-author of the paper. "Something that falls from the sky is going to be considered as a gift from the gods."
Full details of this study, entitled, "Analysis of a prehistoric Egyptian iron bead with implications for the use and perception of meteorite iron in ancient Egypt,"was published in the Meteoritics and Planetary Science journal in May 2013.