Egyptian (Meteorite) Bead


SEM views

Object movie

Inverted radiographRMS-SEM1-Bead.html
Iron oxides - alterationRMS-SEM1-Bead2.html

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1 cm across

In 1911, a prehistoric cemetery dating to approximately 3300 BC at the site of Gerzeh (approximately 40 miles south of Cairo) was excavated by Gerald Averay Wainwright. It had over 280 prehistoric burials, some containing rare and precious materials. Two of these burials were found to contain beads manufactured from iron meteorites. On excavation these beads were considered to be the earliest example of the use of iron by mankind.

In early Egypt, iron was considered extremely rare, so its use would probably be reserved for special purposes. The bead displayed here was found in tomb 67, where a total of seven iron beads were discovered. The tomb was one of the earliest to be created on the site, maybe the first one, and this is a possible reason why it contained rare materials (which also included carnelian, copper, gold and ivory).

Credits: The Manchester Museum

Thread 1RMS-SEM1-Bead3.html
Thread 2RMS-SEM1-Bead4.html
Sand grainsRMS-SEM1-Bead5.html

Analysis performed soon after excavation found the iron bead to be rich in nickel which was taken as an indicator for its origin as a meteorite and not a smelted product. But subsequently artefacts and other archaeological evidence were revealed in some parts of the ancient world to be indicative that steel was occasionally produced. This led to a need for a better understanding of the origin of the Gerzeh iron beads, but after having spent over 5000 years buried in a tomb their condition was poor and highly oxidised so analysis was problematic. These are also very rare and valuable objects and so could not be subjected to destructive preparation or destructive analysis techniques, hence optical and electron microscopy were ideal analytical methods to help characterise the beads. Some of these findings are shown here along with an x-ray CT study of the bead to help define the internal structure and compositional variation.

Small fragments of metallic iron were identified for the first time by SEM with chemistry and distribution consistent with that of an iron meteorite. The CT study also revealed that the thread originally used to string the beads was still present inside this tube shaped bead and clearly visible on the CT virtual slices. Some of these small fibres are exposed at one end of the bead which were imaged by SEM, cellular structures were identified and found to have morphology of the flax plant.

Publication describing the Gerzeh bead (May 2013)

Analysis of a prehistoric Egyptian iron bead with implications for the use and perception of meteorite iron in ancient Egypt


Diane Johnson,

Joyce Tyldesley,

Tristan Lowe,

Philip J. Withers

and Monica M. Grady

click here

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