Though the arrowhead was discovered in the late 19th century, it wasn’t until recently that scientists were able to learn about its cosmic origins.
At a Bronze Age dwelling in Mörigen, Switzerland, in the late 1800s, archaeologists discovered a 3,000-year-old arrowhead. For over a century, the artifact has been part of the Bern Historical Museum’s collection — but a recent analysis of the arrowhead has revealed shocking new information about the material used to make it.
While it may look like an ordinary, rusted arrowhead, this 3,000-year-old artifact was actually crafted out from a meteorite that crashed to Earth 3,500 years ago.
In the past, research has shown that many cultures across Eurasia, the Middle East, and Africa utilized meteoritic iron for various tools and weapons, but few examples of this practice have been found across Europe. Or, at least, few have been identified.
But researchers had a hunch that there may, in fact, be numerous artifacts out there that were made of meteoritic iron that had not yet been identified as such, so they began their search by examining various archaeological collections at sites in Switzerland.
One such artifact they examined was the Bronze Age arrowhead at the Bern Historical Museum.
They found that this 3,000-year-old arrowhead contained aluminum-26 isotopes, which are not naturally found on Earth, along with an iron and nickel alloy that is common in meteorites.
The study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, outlined the various methods used to identify the arrowhead, including X-ray tomography, computerized imaging, and gamma spectrometry, a process which detects gamma rays emitted by radioactive materials. Through this latter method, the team learned that the meteorite had long been exposed to cosmic rays while it was in space.
In addition to identifying the aluminum-26 isotopes that make up the arrowhead, the analysis also revealed grind marks left over from when the meteorite was shaped into an arrowhead, and the remains of tar, which was likely used to attach the arrowhead to its shaft, according to a translated statement.
The team initially believed the arrowhead was linked to the nearby Twannberg meteorite — the largest ever found in Switzerland, which crashed to Earth around 170,000 years ago — but quickly realized that the nickel content in the arrowhead was nearly twice as high as in the Twannberg meteorite. Moreover, a high germanium content showed that the arrowhead was likely made of a type IAB meteorite, whereas the Twannberg meteorite was classified as a type IIG.
Rather, the team concluded that the most likely candidate for the arrowhead’s origin was a large IAB meteorite known as Kaalijarv, which crashed in Estonia around 1500 B.C.E. and created several craters in the Earth with diameters over 300 feet.
As further analyses are conducted in European archaeological collections, the team hopes to discover clues that could hopefully confirm the trail of the arrowhead from Estonia to Mörigen.
“It’s been well documented that trade was well established over large distances during the Bronze Age,” study lead author Beda Hofmann, head and curator of mineralogy and meteorites at the Natural History Museum of Bern, told Live Science. “These early people likely knew that when the impact happened there in 1500 [B.C.E.], the material was precious and had value to it.”
The arrowhead will be displayed at the Bern Historical Museum from February 1, 2024, to April 25, 2025.
After reading about this Bronze Age arrowhead, read about Ann Hodges, the only person to known to have been hit by a meteorite. Or, for more meteorite-based news, read about the unsolved mystery of the meteorite-based sickness in Peru.