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Ancient Egypt, Meteorites & first understanding of Iron: A Science in Culture Innovation Award explores meteorite iron in ancient Egypt

8 August 2014

Meteorite iron

Meteorite iron

An innovative research project studying the influence of meteorite iron in ancient Egypt has been awarded a £62k AHRC Science in Culture Innovation Award.

The project is led by The Open University (OU) and builds on their previous research headed up by OU post-doctoral researcher Dr Diane Johnson which proved the use of meteorite iron in pre-historic Egyptian graves.

Dr Johnson, who will be the main researcher on the new project, said: “A major aim of this project is to explore how ancient Egyptians perceived iron, if they were familiar with it as meteorites that came from the sky, a place of the gods, it would presumably be given special status. Good sources of evidence for this are the chemistry and archaeological context of ancient artefacts and ancient literature.”

The project also explores materials that may appear visually similar to iron and could have therefore been perceived of in this same context, such as dark shiny heavily fossilised bones that maybe the origins of ancient references to gods having iron bones.

Co-investigator Professor Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University, who specialises in early Egyptian technology as well as in Egyptian animal cults and who has an interest in the fossils, adds: “This project offers an exciting opportunity to understand the early use of iron in Egypt and to relate it to aspects of religious belief including a group of iron-stained fossils which seem to have been thought of as those of a god”.

God Horus as part bird part human

God Horus as part bird part human

This research involves a combination of science and humanities to reveal insights that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to understand from one subject alone.

The results will have implications for ancient Egyptian theology, the development of early metal working techniques and enhance our understanding of Egyptian iron artefacts within museum collections.

The project also collaborates with partner, Egyptologist, Dr Joyce Tyldesley of Manchester University, planetary scientist, Prof Monica Grady of the OpenUniversity and plans to make use of numerous UK museum collections including The Manchester Museum, Bolton Museum, The British Museum, The Natural History Museum and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology UCL.

Related Links: Iron from the sky

Project site: AHRC Science in Culture site: Funding Opportunities