Tut's scarab 'brooch': Ancient Origins May 2019

Pectoral counterweight of Tutankhamen.
Image  C. Desroches-Noblecourt 1963 Tutankhamen.

The following article supports my negligible regard for the quality of news research shown over at Ancient Origins.  If the story seems familiar, it is because it is.  

It has made headlines on at least two occasions in the past 20 years, plus two documentaries were aired in the US and Britain in 2006. See references below.

I wrote a thesis on Bronze Age eastern Mediterranean vitreous materials a few years ago so this sort of lazy reporting irritates me.  Plus it is about an object from Tut's tomb (enter thesis number two).  My corrections and comments are italicised.

‘Tutankhamun’s Scarab Brooch Confirmed as Born From a Direct Comet Hit’ (it is a pectoral, a big pendant, or a counterweight for one, pharaohs did not pin brooches on their blouses).

The fascinating story of the origins of a component in Tutankhamun’s scarab brooch (pectoral) has been furthered this week.  It has been established that some of the material found in that brooch (aaargh) was result of a phenomenal event that occurred 28 million years ago. The consequence of an incomprehensibly ancient comet (cmon, dinosaurs are waaay older) that had come hurtling through the cosmos towards the earth created a component which was subsequently used as the centerpiece of King Tut’s brooch (I’ll stop now). But there has been some debate as to how exactly this event created the glass. Now scientists from Australia (A. Cavosie) and Austria (C. Koeberl, but they never cite him) think they (might) have the evidence that provides an end to the argument.

Small but Significant
The findings at the tomb of Tutankhamun were numerous and a small artifact (are you kidding me?  It is 14.9 x 14.5 cm, that is big for a pendant) such as a brooch might be over-shadowed by the weightier items (it is photographed in every damn book on Tut, and is in fact too flash to be overlooked or overshadowed).  But often times unassuming (famous) items have a deeper story than is at first evident.  This impressively preserved brooch!! has such a deep history it could not be imagined (by you perhaps) and it came to light only through thorough research from multiple disciplines (over the past 25 years). 

The brooch contains a striking yellow-brown scarab composed of a yellow silica glass stone (too many nouns ... glass contains large ratios of silica, e.g. sand or quartz ... say glass ffs ... I've never heard of ʽglass stone’ .... these errors stem from the copy paste media releases in 2013 about the Kramers et al research paper)... (Glass that was) procured from (heating) the sand of the Sahara (to very high temperatures) and then (this was) shaped and polished by some ancient Egyptian artisan. It is this scarab that has perhaps the most interesting history of all (anyone would think they were going to talk about it, but no).

Unlocking the Sands of Time
Chemical analysis revealed that the silica glass (again all glass is silica) from this desert (not the scarab, which has not been tested, the scarab glass was identified by optical measurement in 1998) was originally formed 28 million years ago, when a comet entered the earth's atmosphere above Egypt.  The sand beneath it was heated to a temperature of about 2,000 degrees Celsius and resulted in the formation of a huge amount of the yellow silica glass (ffs all glass is etc) which lies scattered over a 6,000-square kilometer area in the Sahara Desert (Western or Libyan Desert, Egypt).

In 2017, this silica glass (grrr) was one of the clues that led Professor Jan Kramers of the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, and colleagues to a remarkable discovery (wrong year: Kramers et al was published in 2013. ’Unique chemistry of a diamond-bearing pebble from the Libyan Desert Glass strewnfield, SW Egypt: Evidence for a shocked comet fragment’ ... the title says it all)

The other (remove ‘other’ because this was their study) key find was a small black diamond-bearing pebble, which the researchers named ‘Hypatia’, that had been found by an Egyptian geologist several years earlier (Aly Barakat in 1996).  This gave the clues needed to detect the cataclysmic event and the resulting composition of the desert (composition of the desert??? ... the event btw has been studied repeatedly since the 1970s). The detection of tiny diamonds within the stone which are the result of extreme pressure usually deep within the earth’s crust showed it to be remarkable. This pebble was found on the surface and so the diamonds formed were the result of a massive shock – an impact of some kind. The study team’s conclusions were that the pebble represented the very first known specimen of a comet nucleus (rather than an ordinary meteorite) and provided the first clear proof of a comet striking Earth millions of years ago (I want a citation for ‘the first known specimen of a comet nucleus’).


I am stopping at approximately the point where my knowledge of astronomical theory is not helpful to identifying errors or hyperbole, there follows another few paragraphs of interpreting the science of the two articles via garbled press reports.  

My only observation would be, read the actual reports, (or pro reviews of same, see e.g. Hypatia’s Story below) as the accuracy of this article is pretty shoddy for my area, therefore the rest is suspect, oh and Professor Jan Kramers is male, he is referred to as female in this.

This pithy news item was authored by Joanna Gillan and April Holloway at Ancient Origins, and basically illustrates how casual their approach to their news stories is, even when they are not banging on about bigfoot, or little green men building the pyramids.  Their writing style is lurid and misrepresents the original paper.  They also clearly did not understand the topic.

Andrea Sinclair

P.S. The current spate of reports claiming that the daggers of Tutankhamen also had this meteoric glass are incorrect, the coloured glass used as inlays to decorate the two gold ceremonial daggers from the tomb is Egyptian technology, aka furnace produced industrial glass (article in Cairo Scene 16/05/19, for example).

Highlights from Western Desert meteoric glass research
M.R. Kleindienst et al 2006. ‘Archaeological Investigations in Dakhleh Oasis,Western Desert, Egypt: Did a mereorite strike Dakhleh during the Middle Stone Age occupations?’  Archaeology of Northeastern Africa, Studies in African Archaeology 9.

World Archaeology 2006. ‘In search of Desert Glass’: https://www.world-archaeology.com/world/africa/egypt/in-search-of-desert-glass.

National Geographic Channel: 2006. ‘Ancient Asteroid! About the connection of the counterweight to a meteor impact and the yellow desert glass’, featuring Christian Koeberl.

BBC 2006. (also a documentary) ‘Tut's gem hints at space impact’: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/5196362.stm

G.R. Osinski et al 2008. ‘The Dakhleh Glass: Product of an impact airburst or cratering even in the Western Desert of Egypt?’ Meteorics and Planetary Science.  

T. Aboud 2009. ‘Tut’s Desert Glass: has the enigma of its origin finally been solved?’ Science Direct.

J. Kramers et al. 2013. ‘Unique chemistry of a diamond-bearing pebble from the Libyan Desert Glass strewnfield, SW Egypt: Evidence for a shocked comet fragment.’ Science Direct. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0012821X13004998

S.A. Hamouda and F.M. El Sharif 2013. ‘New Interpretation for Desert Glass Formation.’ IJASS 1(4)

C. Stead 2013. ‘Hypatia’s Story: The Comet that struck Earth’.

D. Bressan Forbes 2018. ‘Gemstone found in king Tut’s tomb formed when a celestial body collided with earth’: https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidbressan/2018/11/04/gemstone-found-in-king-tuts-tomb-formed-when-a-celestial-body-collided-with-earth/#7f2fe5bdedc6

A.J. Cavosie and C. Koeberi 2019. ‘Overestimation of threat from 100 Mt–class airbursts? High-pressure evidence from zircon in Libyan Desert Glass.’ Geology.

Curtin University press release 2019: https://news.curtin.edu.au/media-releases/curtin-planetary-scientist-unravels-mystery-of-egyptian-desert-glass/


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