Gold Dagger and Sheath of Tutankhamun
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. It is the latter specimen ceremonial Egyptian dagger which is shown here.
The handle is exquisitely decorated with gold granulation and glass inlays and is fitted with a knob of rock crystal. The gold dagger length 31.8 cm; blade 20.4 cm, width 3.4 cm; sheath length 20.6 cm, width 4.3 cm.
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. 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.
From the Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62), Valley of the Kings, West Thebes. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 61584A-B