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Out of this world: Ancient Egyptians wore meteorite jewelry

Iron beads found in a necklace in an Egyptian tomb were forged from meteorite iron, two thousand years before the Iron Age began, say an international team of researchers. 

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These ancient Egyptian iron beads from the UCL Petrie Museum were forged from meteorite iron carefully hammered into thin sheets before being rolled into tubes. The beads, which were made into jewelry, are over 5,000 years old.

Courtesy of UCL Petrie Museum/Rob Eagle

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Human fascination with outer space goes as far back as the human race itself.

Our ancestors had darker skies and less air pollution than we do, so they saw much more than we can. It's no surprise that the ancients navigated by constellations, or that they noticed when stars appeared to fall from the skies – what we now call meteor showers, though the term "shooting star" will probably never go away entirely. 

When meteors fell without burning up in the atmosphere, the resulting meteorites – the rocks dropped from space – attracted attention, and in fact were used in "humankind’s oldest known iron artefacts," according to a new study from the University College London.

Meteorite iron was held in the same esteem as gold and precious gems, the researchers suggest.

"Iron beads were strung into a necklace together with other exotic minerals such as lapis lazuli, gold and carnelian, revealing the status of meteoritic iron as a special material on a par with precious metal and gem stones," say the researchers in their article, published today in the Journal of Archaeological Science. 

An international team of experts used neutron and X-ray methods to confirm that three small beads used in jewelry in 3200 BC were made from iron derived from meteors, or "meteoritic iron."

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