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Tut's gem hints at space impact


#1

Interesting article at BBC

Tut’s gem hints at space impact
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/5196362.stm

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.

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.

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 TV6 Productions, is
on BBC Two at 2100 BST on Thursday, 20 July


#2
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. 

So that sounds to me like someone figured out that one of Tut’s gems
was a nice piece of tectite. So? We use em today too, when we find
em. Cool material. I’m not so sure why this is some great and unusual
discovery worthy of all the fuss… interesting, sure. But somehow
more than a neat discovery? Why? How is this any different from the
existing ongoing discussions and uncertainty about the exact origins
of tectites?


#3

I thought tektite was an actual piece of meteor? What she’s talking
about is glass, made from the sand of the desert when the technology
of glass making didn’t exist.

Craig


#4

The mystery is that the ‘gem’ turned out to be glass…and not a
tectite. Actually there was a science program on last night about
this very subject.

The mystery was way a big area of the Sahara turned into greenish
glass without any evidence of an impact crater to generate the heat
needed. Interesting stuff.

Nicola in Dublin


#5
I thought tektite was an actual piece of meteor? 

No, a tektite is a piece of glass made from sand which fused during
a meteor impact.

Jerry in Kodiak


#6
What she's talking about is glass, made from the sand of the desert
when the technology of glass making didn't exist. 

Sigh…once again, positive proof that a little knowledge is a
dangerous thing… In this case, very little knowledge… lol :slight_smile:
Glass has been around forever. Lightning strikes and volcanic
eruption can make glass…Oh…and the Egyptians were quite adept
at making glass as they were surrounded by sand. Here’s a helpful
"history of glass", site to clear up any mystery:

http://www.glassonline.com/infoserv/history.html

Lisa, (110 degrees at my house today. Spent the morning wetting down
dogs goats parrots, chickens…and me. Gotta love that big
sprinkler!! Wowie!) Topanga, CA USA


#7
I thought tektite was an actual piece of meteor? What she's talking
about is glass, made from the sand of the desert when the
technology of glass making didn't exist 

Tektites and moldavites are glass, presumably created during the
intense heat of a very large meteorite impact. Some meteorites are
metal, mostly iron/nickel, some are stone and some are a combination.
Some have cavities filled with olivine, a.k.a peridot. When cut and
polished, they make gorgeous cabochons. But all of the tektites I’ve
seen are glass - chemically, optically and physically. Same with
moldavites. Most of them even have gas bubbles, just like manmade
glass.

James S. Duncan, G.G.
James in SoFL


#8

Pleaaase the technology of glass making didn’t exist give me a
break. (tell it to the 4000 year old bottles and the Phoenicians) and
yeah they couldn’t hard boil eggs in Europe in middle ages either
cause we never found a recipe for one.

Teri
twitching in Pittsburgh
Silver & Cameo Heritage Jewelry
www.corneliusspick.com


#9

Hello Nicola,

I also saw the programme on the BBC it was called “Horizon”, they did
not give a convincing explanation for the absence of a crater.

Sam


#10
The mystery was way a big area of the Sahara turned into greenish
glass without any evidence of an impact crater to generate the
heat needed. Interesting stuff. 

Tektites are known, in addition to their being glass, for
interesting melt patterns on their surface. That’s usually explained
by their having been ejected high into the atmosphere, or well above
it, by the impact, with the patterns seen being generated by the
hypersonic velocities at which it reentered the atmosphere. That
would allow a field of tektites to be located quite a long distance
away from the original impact site.

Also, it’s only in the last few years, that improved methods of
space based imaging have been able to find any number of interesting
features under the Saharan desert. The sands shift and quickly mask
surface details, making them not obvious to ground level observers.
Just because they haven’t found the source impact crater does not
mean it doesn’t exist. Just means they’ve not found it. This of
course makes a nice puzzle for the geologists, much like lots of
other puzzles they’re always attempting to solve. But taking any of
these puzzles and making them into an interesting TV show usually
requires a bit of hyping up, often making the puzzle seem
considerably more dramatic than it really is.


#11

I was just explaining what she was talking about I have no real
interest in glass or where/how it’s made. There must be something
interesting/unique about that piece of glass or they wouldn’t be
having episodes about it on the Discovery Channel.

Craig
www.creativecutgems.com


#12

Try the following string in Google, more than you wanted
to know:

“Sahara turned into greenish glass”

Dick Friesen


#13
I was just explaining what she was talking about I have no real
interest in glass or where/how it's made. There must be something
interesting/unique about that piece of glass or they wouldn't be
having episodes about it on the Discovery Channel. 

Agreed. From the original post, I assumed it to be tektite. But
reading up, following the suggested Google string Dick Friesen gave
in his post (use it without quotes), the second hit is an extensive
descriptive article that suggests these are not classic tektites.
Still, one assumes, related to some sort of meteoritic event, but
just exactly what, seems quite up in the air. It does indeed seem
interesting stuff. Now, I want a piece (grin).

Peter


#14

Hi Sam,

I also saw the programme on the BBC it was called "Horizon", they
did not give a convincing explanation for the absence of a crater. 

Typically, I missed the end of it. It looked like they were going
with a theory of an above ground explosion of some sort. It is
usually interesting to see what the various theories are about these
kind of things but as always with tv, its hyped up and told as a
dramatic story. Nothing wrong with that though, it has its place and
gets people to look at these kinds of programs instead of the latest
installment of Big Brother! :slight_smile:

Nicola.


#15

Lisa, I appreciate your reference to a site on the history of
glassmaking [http://www.glassonline.com/infoserv/history.html] but
there are a few inaccuracies, especially on its complex early
history.

  1. In 5000 BC, there were no “Phoenicians.” Phoenician history is
    limited to the centuries following the 12th century BC. There are no
    "native" sources for Phoenician history or literature. What history
    exists was written later, often by their enemies. The Phoenicians
    were heirs of the Syro-Canaanite civilization of the Late Bronze Age.
    For more, see J. Sasson (ed.), Civilizations of the Ancient Near East
    (Scribner; New York; 1995) pp. 1321-1333. In any case, the
    Phoenicians were not the ones who spread the art of glassmaking
    "along the coasts of the Mediterranean," at least, not until after
    1000 BC.

  2. The earliest glass-like artifacts were glazes put on dull-colored
    stones or on faience. Clear, translucent glass was made by the 16th
    century BC, but “widespread manufacture emerged only in the first
    millennium” (see Sasson, ibid., p. 1542). " Faience was probably
    invented in Iran or northern Mesopotamia around 4500 and then
    appeared shortly thereafter in Egypt" (ibid., p. 1548).

  3. For discussion of the earliest glass and faience artifacts in the
    Ancient Near East, see the exellent, classic volume by P. R. S.
    Moorey, Ancient Mesopotamian Materials and Industries–the
    Archaeological Evidence (Oxford: 1994) pp. 166-215.

To my knowledge, there are no 4000-year-old glass bottles (although
there are very rare vessels made of faience before 2000 BC). Most of
the small number of early glass artifacts (from the fourth and third
millennia BC) are little beads, in bad condition, and sometimes of
doubtful provenience - see Moorey’s volume.

All the best,
Judy Bjorkman


#16

If tektites are glass - chemically, optically and physically how
would you go about identifying a tektite or a Moldavite? (as opposed
to just calling it glass)

-Stanley

BTW- African Moldavite is beautiful when faceted.


#17
I also saw the programme on the BBC it was called "Horizon", they
did not give a convincing explanation for the absence of a crater. 

One of the Google hits showed a satellite shot of what they said was
the crater and a possible explanation of why it was missed,

reading up, following the suggested Google string Dick Friesen
gave in his post (use it without quotes), the second hit is an
extensive 

I thought I showed the string without quotes but they were there in
the post, I’ll try harder next time, sorry.

Dick Friesen


#18
If tektites are glass - chemically, optically and physically how
would you go about identifying a tektite or a Moldavite? (as
opposed to just calling it glass 

The same way I go about identifying rainbow obsidian or mahogany
obsidian. They’re both also glass, but they look completely
different. Tektites tend to be nearly opaque, black pieces of oblong
shape with a typical striated surface. The oblong shape suggests the
direction in which the tektite reentered (or entered) the earth’s
atmosphere. Moldavites tend to be transparent yellowish-green in
color (sort of an olive drab), and also have a striated surface. They
are always baroque in shape. Their transparency easily shows the gas
bubbles under magnification, when present.

It’s funny, but a customer brought in several pieces for an
insurance appraisal yesterday. Among the pieces was a pendant set
with a nice, green rough moldavite. The customer insisted it was a
tektite, but we listed it on the document correctly. Fortunately, she
came around to the fact that I can’t list it the way she wanted, only
as what it is.

James S. Duncan, G.G.
James in SoFL


#19

Um…Judy? I believe you are confusing me with someone elses post. I
never mentioned Phoenicians, only Egyptians. I also never mentioned
what year clear glass was invented, or any other glass for that
matter. my post was about natural occurences of glass. Lightning,
volcanos etc…So you are correct in that checking one’s facts prior
to writing is always a good idea.

  1. That said, apparently Phoenicians did have clear glass…please
    see:

http://tinyurl.com/kbmo8

and Phoenicians were around since approximately 3000 BC,
http://phoenicia.org/history.html so if you are insisting that
Phoenicians didn’t appear until 1100 something AD, it will be news to
them.

  1. You are right about the faience, however Egyptians had glazes in
    the 4th millennium : http://nefertiti.iwebland.com/pottery/ Also,
    “widespread manufacture” is a rather obfuscating term during this
    era, as true “manufacturing” wouldn’t have become “widespread” until
    civilizations grew enough for demand to develop. Apparently that was
    about 1500 BC see: http://www.bartleby.com/65/gl/glass.html That
    site for the Columbia Encyclopedia, also has more neat info on glass.

3 The oldest known glass vessels, or “bottles” if you will, are
dated to about 2000 BC (see last link:Bartleby, Columbia
Encyclopedia). SInce we live in 2006 AD, My math tells me that makes
those vessels/ bottles oh…about 4000 years old.

Cheers,

Lisa, (Degree in design, (ceramics) and minor in history from UCLA,
also a former glass blower at Santa Monica College :slight_smile: ) Topanga, CA
USA


#20

I didn’t see the show so I am really out of school. The early glasses
were Natrum glass a combination of Natrum a natural sodium salt and
sand. The egyptian deserts had lots of natrum which was also
responsible for natural mumification.

  A third industry greatly affected by the Phoenicians was the
  manufacture of glass. According to Pliny, the first discovery
  of the substance was made upon the Phoenician coast by a body
  of sailors whom he no doubt regarded as Phoenicians. These
  persons had brought a cargo of natrum, which is the
  subcarbonate of soda, to the Eastern Mediterranean in the
  vicinity of Acre, and had gone ashore at the mouth of the river
  Belus to cook their dinner. Having lighted a fire upon the
  sand, they looked about for some stones to prop up their
  cooking utensils, but finding none, or none convenient for the
  purpose, they bethought themselves of utilising for the
  occasion some of the blocks of natrum with which their ship was
  laden. These were placed close to the fire, and the heat was
  sufficient to melt a portion of one of them, which, mixing with
  the siliceous sand at its base, produced a stream of glass.
  There is nothing impossible or even very improbable in this
  story. 

As well as a possible tektite could it be a fugelite formed in a
lightning strike?

jesse