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Abstract

Tube-shaped beads excavated from grave pits at the prehistoric Gerzeh cemetery, approximately 3300 BCE, represent the earliest known use of iron in Egypt. Using a combination of scanning electron microscopy and micro X-ray microcomputer tomography, we show that microstructural and chemical analysis of a Gerzeh iron bead is consistent with a cold-worked iron meteorite. Thin fragments of parallel bands of taenite within a meteoritic Widmanstätten pattern are present, with structural distortion caused by cold-working. The metal fragments retain their original chemistry of approximately 30 wt% nickel. The bulk of the bead is highly oxidized, with only approximately 2.4% of the total bead volume remaining as metal. Our results show that the first known example of the use of iron in Egypt was produced from a meteorite, its celestial origin having implications for both the perception of meteorite iron by ancient Egyptians and the development of metallurgical knowledge in the Nile Valley.