Myth is littered with legendary swords. Durandal. Kusanagi. Legbiter.
Excalibur. Joyeuse. Different factors make these weapons extraordinary, but if
we had to choose, we'd definitely go for a sword made of meteoric iron.
It's not as unusual an idea as it sounds. Throughout history,
blades have been forged from chunks of metal fallen from the skies -- often
smelted together with terrestrial metals, then acid-etched, creating a
patterned surface reminiscent of Damascus steel. This
pattern is due to the nickel content in meteoric iron, which gives it a more
silvery colour and sheen than terrestrial iron; folded together, they create an
effect known as pattern welding.
In fact, the oldest surviving human-made iron artefacts -- 5,000-year-old beads from Gerzeh, Egypt -- were made from hammered meteoric iron.
Today, modern blacksmiths are still following the tradition:
a blacksmith from historical re-enactment group ASBL Lucilinburhuc
created a sword incorporating a chunk of ataxite
-- a type of meteorite with an unusually high proportion of nickel, at least 18
The sword was a commission from a client, who
gave the meteorite to the blacksmith to make the sword. The process is a long
and involved one -- the sword took around three months to make. You can watch
20-minute short film about the sword's creation on the ASBL Lucilinburhuc YouTube page.
Emperor Jahangir's meteorite blade
Emperor Jahangir, fourth of the Mughal Empire, across what
is now the Indian subcontinent, ruled from 1605 until his death in 1627. He
considered his leadership a gift and trust from God, and tribute in the form of
precious things as signs that he was doing his job well.
When a meteorite fell to Earth in April 1621 in Punjab, the
local tax collector ordered the scorched Earth excavated. "The deeper they
dug, the hotter it was," a diary from the day reads. "Finally they
reached a spot where a piece of hot iron appeared. It was so hot; it was as if
it had been taken out of a furnace. After a while it cooled off, the tax
collector took it home, sealed it in a purse, and sent it to court."
This, too, Emperor Jahangir took as a gift from
God; and he ordered his smiths to forge it into two swords and a dagger. They
mixed the molten meteorite with iron and produced the swords and the pictured dagger, which Jahangir said "cut beautifully, as well as the very best
Notes & Records of the Royal Society/The State Hermitage Museum/Konstantin Sinyavsky
James Sowerby's meteorite sword for the Tsar of Russia
Artist and natural historian James Sowerby had a very
important impact on the early study of meteorites, and he housed a collection
of them in his own personal museum, open to the public, at the back of his
house in Lambeth.
Following the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte, a state visit of
the Allied Sovereigns to England celebrated the subsequent peace. It was on
this occasion in June 1914 that Sowerby planned to present the Emperor of
Russia, Alexander I, with a sword forged from the Cape of Good Hope meteorite.
An inscription on the curved blade reads:
"This iron, having fallen from the Heavens, was, upon
his visit to England, presented to His Majesty Alexander, Emperor of all the
Russias, who had successfully joined in battle to spread the Blessing of Peace
throughout Europe, By James Sowerby F.L.S. G.S. Honorary Member of the Physical
Society of Göttingen &c, June 1814."
However, in between the time it took for the
sword to be forged, and obtaining permission to deliver the gift, Sowerby ran
out of time -- and the sword was dispatched to Russia in the hands of
Alexander's state secretary. Yet the emperor was not to receive the sword until
1819. It's a fascinating story -- you can read it in full here.
Indonesian meteorite kris
Kris daggers are known for their distinctively snakelike,
sinuous curves -- but some blades made in Indonesia are special for a different
reason. In around 1750, a meteorite fell near the temples of Prambanan,
breaking into pieces on impact. One of these pieces was brought to the palace
in Surakarta, Java, where it remains to this day, regarded as sacred.
Others, however, were used by master swordsmiths in the
forging of weapons. They believed that the blades that integrated meteoric iron
would have magical or talismanic properties because of the celestial origin of
the metal. Mixed with terrestrial iron and acid-etched, the blades presented a
damascene pattern known as pamor. The pamor kris was a high-status object, fit
for princes and kings.
Interestingly, there is very little evidence that the kris
was used as a weapon; instead, its role seemed to be predominantly ceremonial.
Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET
Sokka's meteorite sword
"Man at Arms'" master swordsmith Tony Swatton creates many beautiful
swords from various TV shows, video games and other pop culture media. In this video, he forges a
sword from "Avatar: The Last Airbender"-- Water Tribe warrior Sokka's blade. In
the story, Sokka has no bending powers -- but evolved into a great warrior
using a sword forged from a meteorite. Using an iron-nickel meteorite from Campo del Cielo,
Argentina -- a chunk worth about $1,652 -- mixed with steel, he created a
stunning blade -- not black, like Sokka's, but gorgeously etched with iron
Terry Pratchett's meteorite sword
When the late Terry Pratchett was knighted in 2010, he
decided that -- as a knight -- he needed a proper sword. But he also
believed it would not be truly his own unless he himself provided the metal;
so, finding a field with iron deposits near his home in Wiltshire, the UK, he
set about excavating ore -- around 81 kilograms -- then smelted it on the
grounds at his house, using a makeshift kiln made from clay and hay.
For good measure, he added "several pieces of
meteorites -- thunderbolt iron, you see -- highly magical, you've got to chuck
that stuff in whether you believe in it or not."
He took the iron bars to a local blacksmith, who forged the
sword for him, finishing it with silverwork.
"Most of my life I've been producing stuff which is
intangible and so it's amazing the achievement you feel when you have made
something which is really real," he said.