A Bronze Age arrowhead unearthed in Switzerland is literally from out of this world.
Before it flew through the air on the tip of a shaft, it hurtled through space as part of a meteorite, according to a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
The discovery is very rare since Pre-Iron Age artifacts forged from space rocks are seldom found, researchers said.
“Only 54 objects are known from all Eurasia and Africa,” Beda Hofmann, one of the study’s authors, told McClatchy News in an email. “Nineteen of these alone were found in the grave of (Pharaoh Tutankhamun), indicating that such material was of very high value at the time.”
The rusted and scratched arrowhead was initially found in the 19th century. It was uncovered near a lake settlement on the outskirts of Bern dating to around 900 B.C.
But recently, it was reexamined during a search for meteoritic artifacts in Swiss archaeological collections.
Upon analysis, the flattened object, which has a mass of 2.9 grams, was determined to have been sourced from a large, iron meteorite.
Only three European meteorites matched the arrowhead’s chemical composition. Of them, the Kaalijarv meteorite, which smashed into Estonia around 1500 B.C., is most likely to have been the source.
Sometime after the meteorite made impact, a hunk of its extraterrestrial metal was then transported almost 1,000 miles from the crater site in Estonia to Switzerland.
“Trading in the Bronze Age over long distances is well established,” Hofmann said. The alien object likely moved “from one trading post to the next,” possibly along with amber, another valuable Estonian export.
When the arrowhead was forged, it was likely done so by layering sheets of the metal on top of each other, possibly through a hot or cold mechanical process.
Once it was acquired by people in the Swiss Alps, the artifact was not necessarily used to hunt animals or fight other humans.
“There was no practical advantage of using meteoritic iron as compared (to) bronze, especially because this was obviously a very rare object,” Hoffman said. “I think it is more likely that this arrowhead was not practically used, but some sort of collection item, maybe it was of spiritual value or a symbol of status.”
Further archaeological discoveries and analyses can help shed light on what purpose and value such objects once had, Hoffman said.