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I Forge Iron

Analysis of Tutankhamun Dagger


JHCC

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I'm sure many folks here are aware of the iron dagger that was found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, the thirteenth (and antepenultimate) Pharaoh of the New Kingdom of Egypt. It has long been known that it was made from meteoritic iron, but a new analysis by three scientists of the Planetary Exploration Research Center and the Institute for Geo-Cosmology at the Chiba Institute of Technology in Japan and another scholar from the Conservation Center of the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza has yielded some very interesting results. I think folks here might be interested, especially those with an interest in historical metallurgy and bladesmithing.

I'm linking the Meterorics and Planetary Science journal article below, but in short, the team members concluded that Widmanstätten patterns confirm that the blade is made from an iron-nickel octahedrite meteorite, those patterns and the presence of iron sulfides indicate that it was forged at comparatively low temperatures (less than 1740°F/950°C), and a lime-based plaster adhesive was used to attach some of the decoration of the hilt and sheath. Considering that the Egyptians had neither iron-forging technology nor lime-based adhesives in Tutankhamun's lifetime, there is a very strong possibility that this dagger was forged outside of Egypt. Interestingly, the Amarna letters (a collection of 14th century BC diplomatic correspondence written in cuneiform tablets) mention the gift of an iron dagger from the king of Metanni (in what is now northern Syria and southern Anatolia) to Amenhotep III (Tutankhamun's grandfather) when the latter married the former's daughter. This could be the same dagger buried with Tutankhamun in KV55.

Enjoy:

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/maps.13787

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Also of note is the fact that neither this study nor the 2016 study cited by its authors contains any mention of any carbon present within the blade. The latter determined that the nickel content is 10.8 ± 0.3 wt%, and cobalt content is 0.58 ± 0.04 wt%; it doesn't mention other elements, as their main concern was whether or not the nickel to cobalt ratio was consistent with known meteorites. This newer study (which used a different testing protocol) give a more comprehensive composition of Fe: 87.6 ± 0.7 wt%, Ni: 11.8 ± 0.5 wt%, Co: 0.2 ± 0.1 wt% with traces of Mn and Cr. 

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The preservation of the Widmanstätten pattern through low temp forging was what I found interesting.  Most blades containing meteoritic iron do not preserve that pattern as they are forge welded at temps high enough to destroy it.  In one of my "Knives Points of Interest"  books that is a blade made from meteoritic iron with no forging involved, or heat treat for that matter as the Widmanstätten pattern is pristine.  Neat concept, lousy blade!

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  I like stuff like this but I find myself having to stop constantly to google people, places and things.  Very frustrating.  Some things I never do understand.  I should have paid more attention in school.  :)

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  • 4 weeks later...

I've had lots of interest in this dagger since I first heard of it.  Though, this is the first news I've heard of it in a few years.  A few years back, the general consensus was that it had been cast, rather than forged. (I assume since meteoric alloys would be so difficult to forge)  I don't subscribe to a particular theory, as I simply don't have enough info on the matter.  However, the theory that it was 'gifted' to Amenhotep III by the King of Metanni, is quite interesting.

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1 hour ago, ThomasPowers said:

And they were not casting iron, not even cast iron, at that time period!  Find out who was spreading false info and disregard anything else they say dealing with historical metallurgy!

I read a publication that suggested it had been cast, but for the life of me, I cannot remember where I read it.  I also heard it on the History Channel.  (go figure)

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Easiness to forge depends a LOT on the exact composition of the meteorite(s).  Some falls are pretty easy, some can be done with difficulty and others are right out!  IIRC there are lists out there on which falls are better for forging than others.

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  • 1 month later...
On 3/21/2022 at 7:12 PM, Steve Sells said:

speaking of false info, who said meteorite is hard to forge? like anything else if you know how its not bad, I have an article on it somewhere on this site

You're absolutely right, but this brings to mind an Egyptian bronzeworking apprentice in the shop, talking to his boss.  "Oh, that star stuff?  Sure you can play with it.  Might be useful if you can figure it out; I've never been able to get it to work. Just grab some off the pile of meteorites out back. and make sure Tuesday's supply of chariot ornaments is ready to ship before you start playing, okay?" :)

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