Skip to main content

Ancient Egyptian Glass

Tut's gem hints at space impact
Tutankhamun's Pectoral with desert glass scarab, Egyptian Museum (TV6/BBC)
Thing of beauty: Tutankhamun's Pectoral with desert glass scarab

In 1996 in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Italian mineralogist Vincenzo de Michele spotted an unusual yellow-green gem in the middle of one of Tutankhamun's necklaces.

The jewel was tested and found to be glass, but intriguingly it is older than the earliest Egyptian civilisation.

Working with Egyptian geologist Aly Barakat, they traced its origins to unexplained chunks of glass found scattered in the sand in a remote region of the Sahara Desert.

But the glass is itself a scientific enigma. How did it get to be there and who or what made it?

Thursday's BBC Horizon programme reports an extraordinary new theory linking Tutankhamun's gem with a meteor.

Sky of fire

An Austrian astrochemist Christian Koeberl had established that the glass had been formed at a temperature so hot that there could be only one known cause: a meteorite impacting with Earth. And yet there were no signs of an impact crater, even in satellite images.

American geophysicist John Wasson is another scientist interested in the origins of the glass. He suggested a solution that came directly from the forests of Siberia.

"When the thought came to me that it required a hot sky, I thought immediately of the Tunguska event," he tells Horizon.

In 1908, a massive explosion flattened 80 million trees in Tunguska, Siberia.

Although there was no sign of a meteorite impact, scientists now think an extraterrestrial object of some kind must have exploded above Tunguska. Wasson wondered if a similar aerial burst could have produced enough heat to turn the ground to glass in the Egyptian desert.

Jupiter clue

The first atomic bomb detonation, at the Trinity site in New Mexico in 1945, created a thin layer of glass on the sand. But the area of glass in the Egyptian desert is vastly bigger.

Whatever happened in Egypt must have been much more powerful than an atomic bomb.

Dr Mark Boslough, Great Sand Sea (BBC)
Boslough's specialism is modelling large impacts

A natural airburst of that magnitude was unheard of until, in 1994, scientists watched as comet Shoemaker-Levy collided with Jupiter. It exploded in the Jovian atmosphere, and the Hubble telescope recorded the largest incandescent fireball ever witnessed rising over Jupiter's horizon.

Mark Boslough, who specialises in modelling large impacts on supercomputers, created a simulation of a similar impact on Earth.

The simulation revealed that an impactor could indeed generate a blistering atmospheric fireball, creating surface temperatures of 1,800C, and leaving behind a field of glass.

"What I want to emphasise is that it is hugely bigger in energy than the atomic tests," says Boslough. "Ten thousand times more powerful."

Defence lessons

The more fragile the incoming object, the more likely these airborne explosions are to happen.

In Southeast Asia, John Wasson has unearthed the remains of an event 800,000 years ago that was even more powerful and damaging than the one in the Egyptian desert; one which produced multiple fireballs and left glass over three hundred thousand square miles, with no sign of a crater.

"Within this region, certainly all of the humans would have been killed. There would be no hope for anything to survive," he says.

Dr Aly Barakat with desert glass in hand (TV6/BBC)
Barakat holds up one of the many, huge chunks of glass in the desert
According to Boslough and Wasson, events similar to Tunguska could happen as frequently as every 100 years, and the effect of even a small airburst would be comparable to many Hiroshima bombs.

Attempting to blow up an incoming asteroid, Hollywood style, could well make things worse by increasing the number of devastating airbursts.

"There are hundreds of times more of these smaller asteroids than there are the big ones the astronomers track," says Mark Boslough. "There will be another impact on the earth. It's just a matter of when."

Horizon: Tutunkhamen's Fireball, made by production company TV6 is on BBC Two at 2100 BST on Thursday, 20 July

Popular posts from this blog

STATEMENT BY THEFAYTH ABOUT THE BISEXUAL COMMUNITY

STATEMENT BY THEFAYTH ABOUT THE BISEXUAL COMMUNITY

By thefayth, BiNet USA President
With additional edits/support from Juba Kalamka, BiNet USA VP

Bisexual communities have been notified of my intent to remove my networks, support and help from those who center white supremacy or practice trans exclusionary radical feminism. Simply put, I do not believe bisexual exclusionary communities (or beci's) to represent the bisexual community.

When I emailed, messaged and tweeted at "Jayne Shea" and messaged her last Tuesday, I did so because I'd seen Seattle continuing to thrive with TERF's, or people who exclude trans people.

It occurred to me, that the same group reported to BiNet USA for allowing cis only women was possibly closely associated with Jayne Shea; this has now been confirmed. And now the rest is history, Black-bisexual-intersex-trans history as I, thefayth, recently became more public in my transition from assumed cis female to known intersex trans multi-gender…

No, I didn’t attempt to steal the bisexual pride flag

No, I didn’t attempt to steal the bisexual pride flag
(but people I knew said I did, so did "the news")
By the artist formerly known as Faith Cheltenham, and the activist formerly known as thefayth

With my stepping away from bisexual community; I am returning home to those who love me; not something always found in bisexual, or LGBTQIA communities. The true upheaval for me personally is most profound in that I turn away from the concept of giving, entirely. thefayth is no more as I must admit I have no faith in humans, if I ever did. Further, I decline to serve with my body, my mind or spirit to provide such faith to humans without benefit to me first and always.

My bigger shame? Direct donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to advocacy between 2004-2017 focused on bi communities worldwide, while also working for free at same time; I should have picked one or the other!

My shame is particular, in that I feel, I may have been treated better if I’d been giving only to peopl…

The Khalil Lawal Story

Press Release
June 29, 2018
(provided to thefayth at Netroots Nation)

Point of Contact: Crystal Evans
Crystalevans1010@gmail.com
202.643.4911


DEATH OF KHALIL LAWAL BY PHILLY COP JAMES POWELL 

PHOTO OF KHALIL FROM www.socialistalternativephl.org
On January 29th, 2018, after accidentally hitting a pedestrian, Khalil Lawal was approached by Philadelphia Police Officer James Powell—who was off duty at the time—and shot 15 times mere seconds after the encounter. James Powell shot Khalil first at point blank range and then several more times as Khalil was already laid on the ground.

Khalil was unarmed and had not been committing any crimes when Powell approached him from behind with his gun already in hand. Khalil was shot directly in his left eye, his temple, his neck, chest and legs but succumbed to his injuries almost 2 hours after the incident.

In April, the Lawal family discovered that the Philadelphia Police Dept. still had not taken a statement from Powell—about 3 months following the s…