Dagger of Tutankhamun

The iron dagger of Tutankhamun is closely correlates with meteoric composition, including homogeneity. Originally discovered in 1925 within the burial wrappings of the king by archaeologist Howard Carter, the iron dagger is of meteorite origin.

Tutankhamun’s mummy was provided with two daggers encased in gold sheaths, one with an iron blade and the other with a blade of hardened gold. The handle is exquisitely decorated with gold granulation and glass inlays and is fitted with a knob of rock crystal.

Dagger of Tutankhamun
Dagger of Tutankhamun

A century ago this month, Howard Carter opened the tomb of the boy king Tutankhamun. Within, he found ornate jewelry, beautiful furniture, fine clothing – and that famous gold face mask.

Everything was in keeping with a royal burial from the most prosperous period in ancient Egyptian history. Or almost everything, because hidden within the mummy’s bindings, Carter discovered a dagger that seemed out of place.

Dagger from the heavens

The problem wasn’t with its golden sheath. It was with its blade of gleaming iron – a metal the Egyptians didn’t learn to smelt until centuries after Tutankhamun’s death.

Carter had a simple explanation. He assumed the dagger was imported, perhaps from the ancient Hittite Empire in Anatolia, where there was an early iron industry.

Not until 2016 was it confirmed that the iron originated from much further afield, with the discovery it contains the high levels of nickel associated with meteoric iron.

For the Egyptians who wrapped the dagger close to their king’s body, it was a gift from the gods. What makes this finding significant is the way it was made – through an X-ray analysis performed without damaging the dagger.

Illustration of King Tutankhamun
Illustration of King Tutankhamun. A print from Kings and Queens of Ancient Egypt, portraits by Winifred Brunton (South African, 1880-1959), Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1926.

It is indicative of a new approach to Egyptology that emphasizes preservation over destruction. Whether it is studying mummies without unwrapping them or generating virtual landscapes as they existed millennia ago, we can now make discoveries Carter could have barely dreamed about while leaving artifacts intact for future generations.

New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, reign of Tutankhamun, ca. 1332-1323 BC. From the Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62), Valley of the Kings, West Thebes.