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May 7, 2024 54 mins

Before the dawn of the iron age, ancient humans had but one source of workable iron for their artifacts and weapons: meteorites. In this very-metal episode of Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Robert and Joe discuss various examples of meteoric metal artifacts, including several precious sky-weapons of antiquity. 

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Speaker 1 (00:03):
Welcome to Stuff to Blow Your Mind production of iHeartRadio.

Speaker 2 (00:13):
Hey you welcome to Stuff to Blow Your Mind. My
name is Robert Lamb.

Speaker 3 (00:17):
And I'm Joe McCormick. And today on Stuff to Blow
Your Mind, we wanted to kick off a series of
episodes on tools, blades, weapons, artifacts, ceremonial ornaments, and various
things things made by humans out of materials that came
from outer space, particularly stuff made from meteorite iron.

Speaker 2 (00:37):
Yeah. So, whether you've listened to our show before or not,
you're probably familiar with the three age system of classifying
ancient civilizations, defining them by their material and the technological
level of advancement for that given civilization. And this is
not without its complexity and even its controversy, as we'll
get into, but it divides things into the Stone Age,

the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. In this series
of episodes from Stuff to Blow Your Mind, we're going
to be dealing predominantly with the Age of Bronze, typified
by its bronze production and lasting very roughly. And these
dates are not solid for all places and civilizations. A
strong caveat there from somewhere around thirty three hundred to

twelve hundred BCE, So we're dealing with a very amorphous
period of time here, and the transference into the age
of iron is much the same. But before we jump
into the key example that we're going to be looking
at in this episode, I just wanted to share a
couple of quotes to perhaps help put this time frame
in perspective and even cast a different light on civilization

before the widespread production and use of iron. Both of
these are from books that deal more specifically with Chinese
technology and Chinese history, but I believe some of the
takeaways from both of these quotes are just appliable across
the board. So this first one is a quote from
John Key in his book A History of China. He writes, quote, Indeed,

bronze came to occupy much the same position in ancient
China as stone. In the contemporary civilization of Egypt or
later those of Iran, Persia and Greece. Enormous effort was
devoted to producing bronzewear. Highly sophisticated ideas were expressed through it.
Some of the earliest inscriptions were found on it, and
its durability has ensured that plentiful examples have survived. And

this other quote is from Joseph Needham, whose work we've
discussed in the show before, from Science and Society in
Ancient China quote, it looks as if the earliest kings
or feudal princes recognized bronze metallurgy to be the basis
of feudal power over the Neolithic peasantry because of the
superior arms which it rendered possible, and therefore they appropriated

that the technique of metalworking. So what I like about
these two quotes is I think they helped drive home
that bronze was not only a material for tools, but
a material through which culture was made manifest, as well
as a source of power, both in physical weaponry and
even just as an idea. And while these examples, again
are both from texts that focus exclusively on Chinese history,

I think you can sort of get a broader take
home from them, Like I said earlier, So on top
of that, I would say, also, I think it's essential
to keep in mind that the Bronze Age was far
from just a period between or a precursor to something
you know better or more advanced. It was a time
of great technological and cultural advancement. It was the age
of the wheel, of irrigation, of writing systems, enhanced weaponry,

and much more. And it's not merely the time before iron.
It is the time that gave birth to iron technology
as well well.

Speaker 3 (03:47):
And I think that that can really be driven home
in the fact that iron is not even necessarily for
all uses a superior metal to bronze. Bronze could be
considered materially superior in some ways. It's just that iron
is once you have the technology to smelt it and
then work it in the high temperatures you need, it

is easier to produce at mass scales and cheaper.

Speaker 2 (04:11):
Yeah, I mean, there's definitely from what I've read, there's
definitely a period of time in which your early smelted
iron tools, weapons, what have you are not going to
be as durable and as highly efficient as the high
end bronze weapons and tools of that same time period.

Speaker 3 (04:29):
But you can make more of them, right right.

Speaker 2 (04:32):
But eventually, of course, iron comes to.

Speaker 3 (04:34):
Dominate, especially in the form of steel.

Speaker 2 (04:36):
Yes, I know some will say steel isn't strong, flesh
is strong, YadA, YadA, YadA, but steel is pretty strong.

Speaker 3 (04:44):
Well, I do want to start within one of the
regional Bronze ages. To start off today's episode by looking
at a very intriguing and mysterious artifact from ancient Egypt.
This is a dagger from the stars found buried alongside
the pharaoh tutin Common. So the tomb of the eighteenth

dynasty Egyptian pharaoh tutin Common was uncovered by the British
archaeologist Howard Carter and his team in nineteen twenty two.
Tutin Common reigned from thirteen sixty one to thirteen fifty
two BCE, becoming king around the age of nine or so,
unruling until his early death around the age of eighteen.

Tutin Common is thought to have been a son of
the pharaoh Acinaten, though from what I understand this relationship
is not totally certain. There is a DNA relationship to
another mummy that has been found that is presumed to
be Akinatin, but it's not known for sure. Acinatein his
likely father, was notable for trying to replace the traditional

polytheistic religion of Egypt with a It's debatable how to
characterize this, but a monotheistic or monoltruistic or perhaps henotheistic
whatever you call it, focus on single God, an emphasis
of one god above all the others from the Egyptian pantheon,
and that is the solar deity Atan, which took the

form of the disk of the Sun. We've talked about
that sort of attempt to go one God early in
Egypt before, but this shift did not last long after
Achinatin's death, and one of Tutonkommon's main accomplishments as pharaoh
seems to have been the restoration of the old polytheistic cults.

Speaker 2 (06:27):
Yeah, the rejection of new coke and the re acceptance
of old coke.

Speaker 3 (06:32):
Play in the hits getting the old gang together. So
Tutancommon's tomb was considered a very special discovery in the
twentieth century because even though it had been partially looted
at least twice shortly after it was sealed, it was
still considered relatively intact compared to other tombs, so many
of the original grave goods were still in place. And

this was not really the case at all for most
of the other royal tombs of ancient Egypt. They were
mostly scoured by grave robbers thousands of years ago. This
is sometimes misstated as saying that that Tuten comments Tune
tomb had never been disturbed, and that's not true. It
was robbed long ago like all the rest of them,
it just didn't get robbed as much. And some have

speculated that Tuton Common's tomb was relatively well preserved because
the entrance got covered up by stuff and people pretty
quickly forgot where it was. And so when this tomb
was rediscovered in the twentieth century, it contained a wealth
of treasures and a beautiful, wonderful glimpse into the past.
So for a taste of the variety of objects found

in the tomb, I just wanted to read directly from
the diary entry of Howard Carter describing the day of
November twenty sixth, nineteen twenty two, when his team finally
cleared away the last of the rubble from the passageway
into the tomb and got the first look inside. So
Carter writes, quote, it was sometime before one could see
the hot air escaping caused the candle to flick, But

as soon as one's eyes became accustomed to the glimmer
of light, the interior of the chamber gradually loomed before one,
with its strange and wonderful medley of extraordinary and beautiful
objects heaped upon one another. There was naturally short suspense
for those present who could not see. When Lord Carnivon
said to me, can you see anything? I replied to him, yes,

it is wonderful. I then, with precaution, made the whole
sufficiently large for both of us to see. With the
light of an electric torch as well as an additional candle,
we looked in. Our sensations and astonishment are difficult to describe,
as the better light revealed to us the marvelous collection
of treasures. Two strange ebony black effigies of a king,

gold sandaled bearing staff and mace loomed out from the
cloak of darkness. Gilded couches in strange forms lion headed,
hathor headed, and beast infernal, exquisitely painted inlaid and ornamental caskets,
flo alabaster vases, some beautifully executed of lotus and papyrus,

device strange black shrines with a gilded monster snake appearing
from within, quite ordinary looking white chests, finely carved chairs,
a golden inlaid throne, a heap of large, curious white
oviform boxes beneath our very eyes, on the threshold, a
lovely lodiform wishing cup in translucent alabaster, stools of all

shapes and design of both common and rare materials, and lastly,
a confusion of overturned parts of chariots glinting with gold
peering from amongst which was a mannikin the first impression
of which suggested the property room of an opera of
a vanished civilization. Our sensations were bewildering and full of

strange emotion. We questioned one another as to the meaning
of it all. Was it a tomb or merely a cache?
A sealed doorway between the two sentinel statues proved there
was more beyond, and with the numerous cartouches bearing the
name of Touton common on most of the objects before us,
there was little doubt that there behind was the grave

of that pharaoh.

Speaker 2 (10:10):
Yeah, yeah, I like the atmosphere he captures here in
this description.

Speaker 3 (10:15):
One of my favorite things is the description of the
disassembled parts of the chariot, all there piled up in
the tomb. Anyway, documenting the contents of the tomb went
on for years after the initial discovery, and one of
the objects found later this was in nineteen twenty five.
This was buried right along with the pharaoh's body. One

of these artifacts. It was a beautiful dagger. In fact,
there were two daggers buried with tooton common, one made
of gold and another made of iron. And ironically it's
the iron dagger that I would like to focus on,
So Rob, I've got some pictures for you to look
at here, this sort of like with different sides of

theagger facing and then different types of illumination. But the
iron dagger is a little over a foot long, and
it was found not only within the king's tomb but
with his mummified remains inside the inner coffin, and in
fact not only in the inner coffin, but literally inside
the king's wrappings, so wrapped up with him up against

his thigh, the gold dagger was apparently on his abdomen.

Speaker 2 (11:24):
Yeah, it's a very splendid looking weapon, and there are
no shortage of images of this, you can easily look
up online.

Speaker 3 (11:31):
So the knife has a handle made out of gold
with a crystal knob on the end, sort of very
smooth and rounded off crystal knob, and a golden sheath
decorated with images of on one part a repeating feather pattern.
There are flowers I think maybe supposed to be Lilly's,
and there's also a jackal's head. And surprisingly, this dagger

made out of iron remained relatively rust free for all
these centuries. Though it does have blemishes, they're not rust Instead,
it has black spots in the middle that to me
almost look like lunar maria. They're these sort of you know, strange,
beautiful little black depressions that have almost geographical looking edges.

Speaker 2 (12:15):

Speaker 3 (12:15):
Yeah, So the stagger made of iron was instantly quite
interesting to experts because it was made of iron. Tutin
Common lived at a time when iron artifacts were quite
rare in Egypt, not completely non existent, but precious and few.
We associate iron today with raw utility. I think of

like just stacks of rebar and stuff, you know, Like
we think of its hardness and toughness and it's ready availability.
So of course iron and steel steel being a product
of iron, are thought of as useful for making durable
workaday tools, machine parts, in architecture, for making bridges and
framing buildings and so forth. But in Totincman's Egypt, the

evidence indicates that the rare iron artifacts that did exist
were treated instead as sacred, decorative and ceremonial items, more
like we treat gold and silver today, except perhaps even
more precious. Now, why would something as cheap, abundant and
mundane as iron be treated as precious sacred material. It

seems to be because at the time iron was anything
but abundant and mundane. The mundane iron that we think
of today is extracted from iron ore that we mine
out of the ground, and then we extract in pure
metallic form from its ore form in extremely hot furnaces.
And while there were plenty of iron ore deposits in

the deserts of Egypt, there was not a widespread industry
that was able to separate pure metallic iron from its
ore in the region until several hundred years later. I
was iron harder to work with and extract than other metals,
such as the copper tin alloy that forms the basis
of ancient bronze. I think that there's sort of a

more complicated answer and a sort of a simpler answer.
And the simpler answer is basically higher melting point, like
it takes more energy to extract iron from its ore,
and it takes more heat to make it malleable and
workable once it is extracted.

Speaker 2 (14:24):
Yeah, yeah, I remember we went into some of this
back when we did an episode on the One Ring
of the Lord of the Rings, and you know, talking
about what kind of metals would would melt or not
melt the constraints that are laid out in the text.

Speaker 3 (14:38):
However, there was one source of pure or to some
degree pure metallic iron available before the smelting process was developed,
and that source of metallic iron was meteorites, chunks of
iron that fell from space. So experts have, for a

law some times suggested that maybe King Tut's dagger, and
not just his dagger, but other iron artifacts that were
also found within the tomb, and other iron artifacts from
ancient Egypt from this period and before, were in fact
meteoric in origin, that they were hammered out of iron
that fell to Earth from the sky.

Speaker 2 (15:20):
So your exploitive headline here, of course, is ancient Egyptian
to use space weapons. And I've seen various indulgences of
that sort of thing. But I mean, yeah, you're not
too far off the mark with that that even if
you are implying things that are not true as well.
I've even seen alien weapons mentioned before.

Speaker 3 (15:41):
Now, before those of you get too excited, no this
is not ancient alien stuff. No, this would be. This
does not need to be a gift from aliens that
came from above. Because meteorites still land on Earth today.
They land naturally. People can find them.

Speaker 2 (15:54):
Right right, And that of course is especially true if
you if in one or two situations with meteorites, is
it dramatic in its entry or do you have an
environment in which objects like this are easy to find,
such as a desert. So you will find various desert
environments where there is a long tradition of gathering such

meteorites because they stand out more. But you know, even
if you see or think you see something fall, you
can also get into trouble trying to find what fell
from the sky. We've talked about the phenomena of star
jelly before. This is where someone sees a shooting star
or thinks the meteorite has fallen in their general vicinity,

and they go out into the woods and they start
poking around. Do they find something that they think looks
weird And it may be like just some sort of
slimy substance in the forest. It's a slimy substance that
was always there, or it is frequently there, but they
just never went out and poked it and looked for
it before. So ultimately you have to know what you're doing.
But a desert environment can be a real gift to

the meteorite hunter.

Speaker 3 (17:00):
That's right. So what is a meteorite, Well, a meteorite is,
in short, any solid natural object that falls from space
through our atmosphere and reaches the surface of the Earth intact.
And this usually means a chunk of a rocky asteroid.
It seems that's what it is in most cases, but
some cases could possibly mean pieces of comets or even

pieces of other planets. Sometimes there'll be an impact and
a piece of Mars or something else breaks off and
will end up falling to Earth somehow. Now, most meteorites
found on Earth are not primarily made of iron. There
are three main types of meteorites. You've got stony meteorites,

which are made mostly of silicon based rock. There are
iron meteorites, which are primarily made of solid metal, mostly
iron with some nickel and other trace metals. And then
there's a hybrid category, which are often considered quite beautiful,
maybe the most visually striking of all of them, the
stony iron meteorites, which are a pretty close to even

mix of iron metal and silicate rock. Now, iron meteorites
are not the most common types of meteorites to fall
to Earth. I've read estimates that they're only about like
five or six percent of meteorite falls. But they are
sometimes easier to find than stony meteorites. And this might
be in part due to their durability and the environment

and really stick around, but also probably in part because
they look weirder and more alien. And stony meteorites can
look a lot of different ways, but Rob, I just
attached a few examples for you to look at. A
lot of stony meteorites you could easily mistake for an
earth based rock, but iron meteorites more often, I guess
you could still mistake them for an earth based rock,

but more of them look like really strange.

Speaker 2 (18:49):
Yeah, they have a very novel appearance that even the
novice would would likely look at and think, well, that's interesting.
I should pick that up and maybe take this back
and show it to someone who knows what's up with rocks,
because yeah, they have this fascinating kind of you know,
like cool liquid kind of appearance, with all these dimples

and creases and so forth.

Speaker 3 (19:14):
Why is this a metal brain the size of a
bear in the middle of the desert? What is that?
Iron meteorites are thought to probably be the remaining cores
of asteroids that at some point asteroids or parts of
former planetesimals that at some point melted and then re solidified.

They're mostly made of iron, Like I said, they have
some nickel content, as well as other traces of minerals
and metals, some cobalt content, some phosphorus, some sulfur, and
so forth. They are often found on Earth covered in
a black or rusty crust of iron oxide that forms
as they travel through the atmosphere. And there are two

primary minerals found in iron meteorites. You've got camosite, which
has relatively less nickel, and tainite, which has relatively more.
Within iron meteorites, these two minerals, chemosite and taanite are
quite often found in an interesting interlocking crystal structure which
when you cut a cross section of one of these

meteorites and you treat it with a weak or diluted acid,
it reveals this repeating arrangement of lines, known as a
Vidminstottin pattern, And to try to describe this, it looks
kind of like a texture of infinite triangles within triangles,
or you might say like a fractal representation of a
capital letter A in the English alphabet.

Speaker 2 (20:41):
Yeah, it looks very very sci fi, very futuristic, kind
of like some sort of you know, a chrome etching
of the interior scaffolding of the death Star or something.

Speaker 3 (20:53):
To come back to our stuff on anomalous imagery, it's
one of those things that there are all kinds of
patterns like this in nature that make people say that's technology,
but that's just what these crystals do. And in fact,
the way this specifically look seems to be a result
of creating a two dimensional cross sectional representation of an

underlying three dimensional structure that's known as an octahedral. So
an octahedron is a polyhedron, a three dimensional structure with
eight faces. So you can picture like two four sided
pyramids joined at the square base, or if you're a
D and D player, you just picture a D eight die.

Speaker 2 (21:35):
Yeah, yeah, that's sematar damage.

Speaker 3 (21:36):
So the octahedral structure is created by the interaction of
these two different minerals chemisite and tanite, they form these
different bands and boundaries, and then when they come together
like that, and you cut through the middle of a
meteorite and you look at the pattern it makes, it's
this vidmin Stottin pattern. Now, we might come back and

talk more about iron meteorites themselves in the next episode.
But an interesting question is, so it was proposed long
ago that King Tut's dagger, as well as many of
these other iron artifacts, were made out of meteorite iron.
But is the dagger really meteorite iron? And if so,
how could we know? Well, there have been multiple investigations

of this over the years and they've come up with
For a while, they came up with conflicting results. There
was some controversy over this, were different results, different investigators
came to different conclusions. But it seems to be that
the more recent research points very strongly to a meteoric origin.
So I'll mention a couple of studies. One is by

Daniellocomelli at All that was published in the journal Metiorritics
and Planetary Science in the year twenty sixteen, and it's
called the Meteoritic Origin of Toutencommon's iron dagger blade. Now,
one thing that is an obstacle when you investigating this
sort of thing is method because modern science has lots

of very powerful tools of chemical analysis, but many of
them are destructive techniques, so you would have to destroy
some small part of the artifact in order to analyze it.
And for obvious historical preservation reasons, researchers wanted to avoid
having to destroy part of a priceless historical dagger in

order to figure out what it's made of. So this investigation,
which by the way, the team was made up of
both Italian and Egyptian researchers, they use non destructive methods,
so they analyze the blade with a non destructive imaging
technique called X ray fluorescence spectrometry to determine the composition

of the blade. So the way that works is you
bombard the blade with some radiation. They use like a
portable X ray scanner. You bombard it with some radiation
and then that radiation causes the atoms in the blade
to floor to give off light energy as they're you know,
as the radiation hits the electrons that are orbiting the

atoms and then causes some of them to fall down
to lower energy levels and that puts off radiation in return,
and by analyzing what gets reflected back, you can see
what types of elements that it's made of. And what
they found was that the composition of the blade was
iron with a high percentage of nickel and cobalt. So

I think they found that it was mostly iron, with
ten point eight percent by weight nickel and zero point
five to eight percent by weight cobalt, and these numbers
are are not to be found in earth based iron generally.
Studies have found that earth based iron extracted from before
like the eighteen hundreds, tends to always have less than

four percent nickel by weight.

Speaker 2 (24:50):
Yeah, yeah, I was reading some sources about this as well,
and yeah, a lot of it seems to come back
to the nickel, though.

Speaker 3 (24:56):
I've read some criticisms that you shouldn't go by the
nickel alone and that to really be sure you should
look at like some other comparison points as well, like
the ratio of nickel to cobalt. I think some other
things as well.

Speaker 2 (25:08):
Yeah, there was one paper I was looking at Albert
Jambond from twenty seventeen Bronze age iron meteoritic or not.
And this is the additional subheading subtitle a chemical strategy.
And in this one they pointed out like weathering is
also sometimes something that has to be taken into place
given the nickel levels that can be detected, and it

may have to do with like basically a weathering away
of some of the nickel content at least on the
testable portions of an artifact.

Speaker 3 (25:42):
But from what I could tell, most researchers are pretty
well convinced by this and other recent studies. There's another
one I'm gonna mention in a second saying that this
probably really is meteorite. So speaking to the BBC, the
lead author, Daniella Coomelli, who by the way, is that
she's an experimental physic assist affiliated with the Polytechnic University

of Milan, she sounds pretty confident. She says meteoric iron
is clearly indicated by the presence of this high percentage
of nickel, and in fact, the authors of this study
from twenty sixteen even matched the composition of the blade
of Tutencommon's dagger to that of a known meteorite in
the region, one which landed about two hundred and forty

kilometers west of the city of Alexandria. They also argue
that the blade shows what they call a high manufacturing quality,
which is not found in some of the other simple
artifacts made out of meteorite iron from this period in Egypt.
So it shows that someone at this time had the
ability to work with iron at a high level. But

this type of craftsmanship must have been rare.

Speaker 2 (26:50):
Yeah, yeah, rare craftsmanship besitting of a rare material. There's
one little bit I want to side here. This is
from the Brian M. Fagan book The Seventy Great Inventions
of the Ancient World. Paul T. Kratoc is the main
writer on a chapter in that that deals with with

iron and other metals, and Kratak mentions the dagger of Tutankammon,
and there's an excellent photo of it in that book.
But then he adds an additional detail from the following century.
So this is a different culture because as we've already
mentioned there there are other examples of meteoric iron being

used in very regal, very ornamental pieces like this and
this one, this particular one is referred to in a letter.
This is from twelve to fifty BCE. We have a
letter from the Hittite ruler Tatusilius the third to the
king of Assyria, and in this letter he apologizes for

not being able to supply iron and instead hopes that
the guilt to a single accompanying iron blade will be
acceptable Socratic rights quote. So in twelve fifty BC, a
single iron blade from the one available source of iron
was an appropriate placiatory gift to another monarch. So, I mean,

you can also see that in the fact that, yeah,
King tut is buried with one of these blades, you know,
within his wrappings. But you know, here's this other case
where it's like it just more evidence that like, these
things were so highly valued. These are the kind of
things that kings gave to each other, you know, these
are the kind of things that kings were buried with.

But Kradack also points out that mere centuries later, iron
making industry would end up stretching across Eurasia. So again,
iron ore is very common, but it is the last
metal of antiquity to be smelted, due in part to
the high melting point.

Speaker 3 (28:54):
Yeah, I'm almost trying to imagine. I mean, I guess
the change took place. I suppose over a long enough
period of time that you wouldn't have really had stuff
like this, I guess. But I'm imagining somebody clutching extremely valuable,
you know, precious iron artifacts of a ceremonial value, and
then suddenly, like the you know, the iron working and

the iron smelting comes into vogue, and now iron is
all over the place, and it's just it's not the
same anymore.

Speaker 2 (29:21):
Yeah, but they would still have the appeal of having
this source that is associated with the sky as having
come from heaven or from the cosmos and the gods
and so forth. And that is something that I've seen
reference in some other sources that I'll probably come back
to later on that certainly in the Chinese examples. You know,

the Chinese were the ancient Chinese were aware of meteorites,
that they knew about these various events, and they wrote
about them in their early literature, and therefore there was
likely this connection in place. So it was this precious
metal that was unlike the metal used for other tools
and so forth, unlike even other precious metals and other

stones and so forth that were used. But then there
was also the story behind it, the idea that it
has some sort of connection to the Cosmos.

Speaker 3 (30:17):
I want to get to something about that story within
an Egyptian context in just a minute. But first I
promised I was going to mention another study on the
meteor origin of the iron in the blade. So the
other study I wanted to point out was from twenty
twenty two. This is in the journal I think, same journal, Yeah,
same journal, Metiaritics and Planetary Science. And this is by

Takafumi Matsui at All and it's called the Manufacture and
Origin of the toot And Common Metiorritic Iron Dagger. And
this paper further supports the conclusion that the iron in
the King's dagger is from a meteorite, and not only that,
adds evidence about what kind of meteorite, And so the
author's right quote. Here we report non destructive two dimensional

chemical analysis of the tutencommon iron dagger conducted at the
Egyptian Museum of Cairo. Elemental mapping of nickel on the
dagger blade surface shows discontinuous banded arrangements in places with
cubic symmetry and a bandwidth of about one millimeters, suggesting
a vidmin stotton pattern. Remember that, yeah, ah, yeah, So

the intermediate nickel content with the presence of the vidmin
stotton pattern implies the source meteorite of the dagger blade
to be octahedrite. So again, that's the octahedron the d
eight die. Furthermore, they say that the quote randomly distributed
sulfur rich black spots are likely remnants of troylite inclusions

in iron meteorite. So remember those black spots I mentioned
on the dagger that I said looked like lunar maria,
You know, those strange kind of geographical looking depressions and
dark spots. These authors conclude that those are probably sulfur
rich troylite inclusions, little impurities in the original metal made

of mineral iron sulfide and so iron sulfide. By the way,
you ever boil a hard boiled egg too long and
it ends up with a green cake forming around the yolk,
that's iron sulfide. I think hydrogen sulfide in the egg
white reacts with with iron and the egg yolk and
make iron sulfide. So yeah, that's that's what the gross

green stuff is. It's not gonna hurts you. You can
still eat it.

Speaker 2 (32:36):
You're not a fan of green eggs.

Speaker 3 (32:39):
Well, no, I'm fine with all full green eggs. I
don't love the green the green case around the yolk.
I feel like you boiled that too long. That's a no, no, okay.

Speaker 2 (32:50):
I won't do any of the follow up questions about
whether you would need it with a goat and so forth.

Speaker 3 (32:54):
I need anything with a goat. You know. Goat's just
good company that makes even unpalatable food. Fine.

Speaker 2 (33:00):
Yes, they are quite amusing anyway.

Speaker 3 (33:02):
The authors of the paper argue that the vidmuns dot
and pattern and the troilite inclusions, the fact that those
were preserved, these things together indicate that the iron was
probably forged and worked at low temperatures of less than
nine hundred and fifty degrees celsius. They also even use
material analysis to not just say, like what physically the

stagger is, but to connect it to some historical documents.
I don't think they were the first people to make
this connection, but they used some material analysis to kind
of back it up. So the authors here argued that
this stagger was quite possibly a gift given to Tutankhommon's
likely grandfather. I'm Innhotep the third from the Kingdom of

Mitani in Anatolia. Because there is a tablet mentioning such
a gift among Egyptian records. There's a tablet that says,
you know, they're sending a gift to I'm Inhotep the
third and it's described as an iron dagger with a
golden hilt. And then the bit of material evidence that
backs this up is that there is lime plaster used

to glue jim stones to the gold hilt, and that
lime plaster glue is characteristic of Mittani craftsmanship rather than Egyptian,
which tended to use gypsum plaster instead. So this dagger,
wrapped up with the body of King Tut inside his
wrappings laying on his thigh, seems to have been made
out of metal that came from a meteorite. And it's

a good guess that this was a gift to King
Tut's grandfather from Anatolia.

Speaker 2 (34:41):
Wow, now some of you are probably wondering, well, which
god was in charge of all of this. So a
brief sidebar here on this in general, and for this
I turned once more to Geraldine Pinch's book and Egyptian mythology,
and essentially we should probably point out, yeah, that the
Egyptian god associated with metal working is the god Taw,

and not only is Ta associated with metalworking, he's also
held up as a kind of creator deity in some
of these traditions. Said to have designed and crafted the
world have to have smelt the new lands, and I
found this interesting. Made bodies for the kings of Egypt
out of electrum, copper, and iron bodies according to Pinch,

that were presumably made so that they could occupy those
bodies in the lands beyond death. So this would be
like your resurrected metal body for the next world. He
Ta here, though is often described as being beautiful of face.
His skin is often described as being blue, though I've
also seen it green in some depictions. He wears an

artisan's cap, and he's associated with dwarves, perhaps to the
fact that dwarves were often employed in gym working. And
this on its own is a pretty fast any topic,
the role of dwarfs in ancient Egypt. There are a
few different papers on this. Some of these individuals worked
in entertainment or as personal attendants. Others were animal tenders

and indeed jewelers, but also there were individuals of the
Old Kingdom who rose to high rank and status and
were buried as such, and we're able to tell they
had that status because of the way they were buried.
So it's often argued that cultural acceptance was pretty high
for them, and Ta was ultimately just one of multiple
gods held to have a dwarf in form of one

sort or another. And Ta also would later be equated
with Hephaestus by the Greeks, though of course Ephaestus was
not beautiful of face, I think in most traditions.

Speaker 3 (36:54):
So meteorites have of course been found by people since prehistory,
but how often did we actually understand what they were
and where they came from. Just one example of people
not generally accepting that meteorites came from outer space is
European scientists up until the early nineteenth century. There's a

good summary of this history of the debate about the
origin of meteorites in the book Cosmic Horizons, edited by
Steven Soder and Neil de Gras Tyson. I think it
was published in the year two thousand and The short
version of the story is that there have long been
reports from people seeing fireballs in the sky or hearing explosions,

then finding rocks that they believed had fallen from above.
But as of the late eighteenth century, most scientists of
the European Enlightenment doubted that stones actually fell from the sky,
or if they did believe it, they thought maybe that
the stones came from somewhere on Earth. They couldn't have
come from outer space. Maybe they were thrown from a

distant volcano, or maybe they were picked up and tossed
by a hurricane far away. Because at the time there
was a sort of a dogma. There was a convention
that space, apart from the planets and the comets, was empty.
You know, you got the Earth, you got the Sun,
the planets, the stars, the comets, but other than that,

it's just empty out there. There's not like stuff flying around. However,
a German physicist by the name of Ernst Kladney, who
lived seventeen fifty six to eighteen twenty seven, published a
book in the year seventeen ninety four arguing that these
reports were accurate and that rocks and pieces of iron
actually do sometimes fall from the sky, in some cases

creating fireballs and explosions as they are heated by friction
traveling through the atmosphere. Claudney was an interesting guy. He
was a lawyer by training, but he was also very
into music and acoustics, and he discovered a way of
visualizing sound wave by putting dust or powder on a

plate and then vibrating the plate by rubbing it with
a violin bow, and so the powder would range itself
into these patterns that were related to the sound waves produced.
Claudney went about collecting eyewitness reports of fireballs and meteorite
falls from the sky, and he tried to evaluate them
for credibility and see what could be learned from them,

and eventually he concluded that yes, rocks really do fall
from space. One thing he did was use descriptions of
fireballs to estimate the speed at which these rocks were
entering the Earth's atmosphere, and he realized they must be
going much faster than could be accounted for by the
Earth's gravity alone, so they're not simply falling, but they

must be flying through space at extreme velocities. And this
connected with the fact that when these alleged rocks were found,
they looked scorched all over. The friction of entering the
atmosphere at these high speeds melt to their outer shells,
and so he looked into it He published this book
in seventeen ninety four, and it was initially met with
skepticism by his peers by European scientists, but many scientists

updated their beliefs due to new emerging evidence. They sort
of got lucky with some things, some documented events that
really backed up his argument, including a widely reported meteor
fall near Siena, Italy, just a couple of months after
the book was published, another one in England which included
an eyewitness account of a farmer who claimed a black

rock hit the earth only thirty feet away from him
and caused an explosion in the mud that splattered all
over his body. And then there was another one in
Normandy in eighteen oh three, which was extensively documented by
the French physicist Jean Baptiste bo which included reports of
a fireball as well as an elliptical impact area that

had many weird stones within it. These reports were supplemented
by chemical and mineral analysis of some of these meteorite samples,
and it turned out that these samples were unlike any
rocks or metal ores known of on Earth. For example,
the rocks contained what they called at the time globules.
These are now known as chondrules, their little round grains

within the structure of the rock that begin as molten
droplets of minerals in space, and then a crete together
within asteroids. Also connecting to what we've already found, they
discovered that iron meteorite fragments contained levels of nickel that
had never been observed in Earth based iron. And then
finally another piece of evidence was the discovery of the

first asteroid, the Dwarf Planet series in eighteen oh one,
which suggested that space between the planets and the comets
was not empty. There were lots of rocky things floating
around out there, and some of them might occasionally land
on Earth, and that was in fact what meteorites were.
So it was more than one hundred years after Newton's

principia that the true origin of meteorites was widely accepted
among European scientists. But that brings me to an article
that I wanted to talk about to address the question
of what the ancient Egyptians knew. So I was reading
an article in the anthropology magazine Sapiens written by an
Egyptologist who named Victoria almansa Villatorro. This is from twenty

twenty three and if Almansa Villatoro's argument is correct, the
fact that meteorites come from space or from the sky
was known to the ancient Egyptians. Just one cool example
she mentions in the article is there's an interesting inscription
in hieroglyphics inside the pyramid of Unus at Sakara. Unus

was the last pharaoh of the Fifth dynasty during Egypt's
Old Kingdom, and he ruled in the middle of the
twenty fourth century BCE, so like forty four hundred years ago,
and the sentence from the pyramid text reads, Eunice the
king seizes the sky and splits its iron. Now, this

article in Sapiens is based somewhat on almans Of Villatorro's
academic publication in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology from twenty
nineteen called the Cultural Indexicality of the N forty one
sign for beat this. Oh, this's got some strange characters.
BJ three sort of is what it looks like the
metal of the sky and the sky of metal. Now,

this includes a lot of linguistic arguments that are way
over my head, but I was just going through to
get the main point and pull out some details. And
one of the things I wanted to get to. I
wanted to mention briefly just because I thought it was
interesting before getting to remain conclusions or about the religious
and ceremonial functions of iron Almansa. Villaturro mentions in the

paper that pre Iron Age iron artifacts are associated in
Egypt with an elaborate funerary ritual known as the opening
of the Mouth, which was a sort of ceremony performed
over a dead body. I think often of a king
or a ruler, but a ceremony over a body that
seems to be sort of activated the powers of life

beyond death. It's sort of like turning on after life
mode to give you the powers of like eating and
drinking and speaking in the afterlife. And I briefly got
very interested in this. So this was not in the paper,
but I went looking for a text of the spoken
part of the opening of the mouth ceremony. I think
there are a lot of different versions of this, but
the one I found in particular was a translation of

the ritual from the tomb chapel of rek Mira, which
involved like dedicating a statue of the dead, and the
text includes the following lines. There's a letter, a capital
letter in here which just refers to the name of
the dead. So when you hear in, you think of
the name of the dead. It goes, I have balanced

your mouth and bones for you.

Speaker 1 (44:57):

Speaker 3 (44:58):
I have opened your mouth for you.

Speaker 1 (45:00):

Speaker 3 (45:00):
I open your mouth for you with the new uplade.
I have opened your mouth for you with the new uplade.
The mesca hetch you blade of iron that opens the
mouths of gods. Horace is the opener of the mouth
of N. Horace. Horace has opened the mouth of N.
Horace has opened the mouth of N with that which
he opened the mouth of his father, with which he

opened the mouth of Osiris, with the iron that came
from Seth. The mesketch you blade of iron with which
the mouths of gods are opened. May you open the
mouth of N with it?

Speaker 2 (45:34):
Nice And we get that connection back to Osyrus, who
we talked about previously on the show. This is interesting too,
because then when I was researching Taw, who I talked
about earlier, the Egyptian god associated with craftsmanship. There was
also mention in Pinch's work about the opening of the
mouth ceremony and elsewhere in the book. She talks about

the Horus connection and so forth, but it's seems like
Todd did have some sort of connection to this as well,
and she mentions that it was used for mummies but
also for sculptures, and maybe given his craftsmanship angle, he's
more aligned with that end of it. I'm not entirely certain,
but yeah, imbuing life into the sculpture, embodying it somehow,

and like you said, perhaps turning on after life mode
for the mummified body of an important person.

Speaker 3 (46:28):
But also very interesting that implements specifically of iron are
associated with this ritual, that it has some kind of
mythical or ritual potency here. So all months of Villatorro
in this article gets into the fact that before the
widespread or large scale smelting of iron and iron working
within Egypt, there are still these iron artifacts that are

thought to be made primarily of iron sourced from meteorites,
and that they almost always again serve this more ceremonial
or decorative function. They are either objects of kind of
wealth and power and decoration. They symbolize status maybe or
that they have this religious significance. But anyway, I wanted

to come back to the core question of like what
is the evidence that the ancient Egyptians actually understood that
this meteoritic iron or meteorite iron came from the sky.
And so she writes, in the second millennium BCE, the
Egyptian word or phrase used to refer to iron was
a phrase that literally can mean the metal of the

sky or the iron of the sky, and there are
early known Egyptian associations between iron and the sky. So
you've got the pyramid pyramid text which are texts inscribed
on the inner walls of the pyramids where the Egyptian
kings and queens of the fifth to eighth dynasties of
the Old Kingdom were buried. This would cover a period

of forty one hundred forty four hundred years ago or so.
These texts included incantations that would be recited by priests
to guide the dead rulers into the afterlife. And the
pyramid texts describe a really interesting cosmology, really interesting picture
of how the universe was shaped. And in her work,

Almans of Villatro argues that the way they described the
sky should be pictured as a giant iron bowl with
water in it, and water can fall from the bowl.
I guess that's rain, but also chunks of the iron
bowl itself can fall to the earth, and these would
be iron meteorites. Now the author admits that it's not

obvious this is what's being described. You have to sort
of decode a linked system of metaphors within the glyphs
of the Egyptian language. She writes, quote, in the Pyramid texts,
the word for iron is written with a hieroglyph that
represents a hemispherical container of water. How the Egyptians perceived
the sky. Iron and sky are interchangeable in the texts,

which is why passages describe the dead sling the iron
and the king needing to break an iron barrier to
reach the sky. And then she documents how there are
also links between the concept of iron and the concept
of water, because remember, in many ancient cosmologies, people sort
of believe the sky was in some sense full of water,

and so maybe when it rains, that's water leaking out
of the waters above. And so Almans of Vulatora writes
that the goddess Newt personified the sky. But also at
this period there are religious texts explaining the belief that
in the afterlife a dead royal would return to the
waters of nuts Uterus, and so this sign used for

iron is also associated with the word for uterus and
the word for well, like water well. And so she
admits there might be legitimate reasons for doubting this interpretation
that these associations mean that the Egyptians knew that iron
meteorites came from the sky. And one is the simple

question of, like, how likely is it in a given
space and time period that someone would be able to,
like have the like witness a meteorite falling, which itself
is a fairly rare event, witness it falling, and then
have it be lucky enough that it lands very physically
close that you can close enough that you can go

find the physical meteorite and then associate it with the
falling you saw from above and put all that information
together and then also pass it on for it to
become general cultural knowledge. You know, that would take a
sort of like a lucky confluence of events that themselves
might be fairly rare, but you know, it happens often

enough that there are records of other times in places
where people did see something falling and then they claim
to have found a stone or something. So it's certainly
not impossible, And in the case of ancient Egypt, it
seems like there's this linguistic and literary evidence that would
help support that idea that people did have this cultural
knowledge making a link between iron and the sky and

the waters above.

Speaker 2 (51:21):
Yeah. Yeah, and again perhaps throwing in the idea of
the desert being an ideal place to spot them in
the dark stone standing out against of a lighter colored sand,
and so forth. May come back to meteorite hunting a
little bit in subsequent episodes to explore this aspect of

everything a bit more.

Speaker 3 (51:42):
Yeah. Yeah, Oh, one more thing she knows that I
think is interesting. This is not totally unique to the
Egyptian language. She also notes that there is a similar
sort of linguistic link in ancient Sumerian, which also characterizes
iron as sort of the metal of the sky.

Speaker 2 (51:59):
Excellent, excellent. Well, in the next episode, I think we're
going to get into some more examples. We're gonna we're
going to keep exploring the overall topic, but we'll also
get into some other specific examples from other cultures. Well,
we'll sort of ask some of the same questions of
Chinese traditions. You know, did they know that that this
iron came from above and what did that mean to

them and so forth. So, yeah, there are a lot
of additional interesting angles to explore. And there are some
other other examples and alleged examples of meteoric iron being
used in artifacts that are related to to cultures that
that I didn't even know how to tradition of using
such substances. So it'll be it'll be fascinating to continue.

Speaker 3 (52:44):
To explore this, no doubt. I'm excited.

Speaker 2 (52:47):
Yeah, So in the meantime, if you have thoughts on
this topic, if you if there are specific examples you
want to get in there early and say yes, make
sure you cover this, go ahead and hit us with it.
You know we're we're in we're still in research mode here.
We're still writing up the notes, so you know, there's
time to get it in there, and if not, it's
something we can discuss on our listener mail episodes. Our

listener Mail episodes published Mondays in the Stuff to Blow
Your Mind podcast feed. Our core episodes are on Tuesdays
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Speaker 3 (54:01):
Huge thanks as always to our excellent audio producer JJ Posway.
If you would like to get in touch with us
with feedback on this episode or any other, to suggest
a topic for the future, or just to say hi,
you can email us at contact at stuff to Blow
your Mind dot com.

Speaker 1 (54:23):
Stuff to Blow Your Mind is production of iHeartRadio. For
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