Egyptologist and Brown University PhD candidate Victoria Almansa-Villatoro, who recently published a fresh study in The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, has dug into the way ancient Egyptians saw the sky, coming to believe that they treated it like it was a massive iron bowl filled with an otherworldly ocean that the dead would sail across on their way to the afterlife.
The half-circle hieroglyph, or the N41 sign, she says, combined several meanings, being associated with iron, water, and women, and, interestingly, had something to do with meteors, although the ancient Egyptians naturally didn’t use the word proper.
“In the Pyramid Texts, the image of the sky as an iron container of water that was also the sky goddess Nut’s womb resulted in the sign being used for metals (such as 'iron'), womanhood (such as 'uterus'), or water (such as 'well')”, Almansa-Villatoro told SYFY WIRE.
Before the Iron Age, the metal was indeed viewed as mystical, the researcher concluded, having analysed the Pyramid Texts – historic 4,300-year-old carvings on the inner walls of the pyramids, which are also the oldest known religious writings to date.
The texts contain spells meant to guide dead kings and queens to the afterlife, Almansa-Villatoro recounted, drawing attention to how the celestial origins of iron are borne out in the texts:
“The Pyramid Texts continuously refer to the opening of the iron (calling it by its name, bjA), and its separation from the sky”, she said. “This is a clear metaphor for the opening of the Primeval Egg which the king needs to break in order to reverse the natural order birth-death and be reborn”, she says, adding that the sky was regarded as an iron container, apart from Nut’s womb and an egg.
Meteoritic iron was believed to be what so-called netjeru blades, which would “enable the dead” to see, were made of: a priest wearing the mask of the jackal-headed embalming god Anubis would touch the mouth and eyes of the mummy with them as part of a burial ritual.
According to the researcher, the fact that the Egyptians recognised the fact that “the sky is, at least partly, made of iron is a huge scientific achievement”, meaning that they knew that something above the earth was made of the mystical metal.
The finding also corresponds to the hypothesis that Egypt has been hit by at least one meteorite in the past 5,000 years – a potential source of celestial iron.