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'Space beads' push back origins of iron working

Ancient Egyptians heated and hammered meteorite metal into ornaments

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11:40am, August 22, 2013

METAL FROM THE SKY  Three ancient Egyptian beads made of iron from a meteorite sit between examples of other beads that they were strung with, including lapis lazuli (blue), carnelian (brownish red), agate (green and white) and gold.

Iron beads from jewelry discovered a century ago in an ancient Egyptian grave came from pieces of meteorites that were hammered and heated into ornaments, two new studies find.

Researchers say that techniques employed by Egyptian artisans around 5,200 years ago eventually proved essential for making objects out of iron extracted from ore, a practice that started roughly 1,500 years later in or near modern-day Turkey and 3,000 years later in Egypt.

Hammering relatively soft metals such as copper and gold into thin sheets, which were rolled up to form cylindrical beads, began about 10,000 years ago in Turkey. To do the same with iron lumps from meteorites required impressive blacksmithing skills, says archaeometallurgist Thilo Rehren, who directs a campus of University College London, based in Doha, Qatar.

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