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Ancient Egyptian jewelry came from outer space, say scientists

An analysis of beads discovered in a 5,000-year-old Egyptian tomb reveals their surprising origins, say archaeologists. 

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Unlike softer and more pliable metals like gold and copper, working with solid iron required the invention of blacksmithing, which involves repeatedly heating metals to red-hot temperatures and hammering them into shape.

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"It's a much more elaborate operation and one that we assumed was only invented and developed in the Iron Age, which started maybe 3,000 years ago — not 5,000 years ago," Rehren said.  

The researchers suggest the iron meteorites were heated and hammered into thin sheets, and then woven around wooden sticks to create 0.8-inch-long (2 centimeters), tube-shaped beads. Other stones found in the same tomb displayed more traditional stone-working techniques, such as carving and drilling.

"This shows that these people, at this early age, were capable of blacksmithing," Rehren said. "It shows a pretty advanced skill with this difficult material. It might not have been on large scales, but by the time of the Iron Age, they had about 2,000 years of experience working with meteoritic iron."

This is not the first time beads from this Egyptian tomb have been linked to the cosmos. Earlier this year, in May, researchers at the Open University and University of Manchester published a paper in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science about the celestial origins of the ancient beads.

Other researchers have identified different artifacts that also have space origins. Last year, German scientists discovered a Buddha statue that was carved from a meteorite between the eighth and 10th centuries.

The detailed findings of the new study were published online today (Aug. 19) in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Follow Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow. Follow LiveScience @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

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