Believe it or not, the first pieces of iron found on Earth actually fell from the sky! It all began when British archaeologist Howard Carter found the infamous King Tutankhamun’s tomb and noticed the iron dagger. Researchers after Howard Carter eventually found increasing evidence that the metal found not only in King Tut’s dagger but also almost in all metal articles from the Bronze Age was iron that had fallen from the sky.
Iron fell from the sky; its source was unknown. Consequently, the people thought that it was an exotic alloy that was sent by a supreme entity, which was beyond their understanding. Ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians (Sumerians) called it biz-n-pt and an-bar, respectively, both of which translated to metal from the heaven. The meteoric iron had a high nickel content, was supple, and was easily malleable without being broken. By that time, this iron was already known as the metal of the gods, and its composition, malleability, and extremely limited supply made it far more valuable than gold or precious gemstones.
Humans, who were only acquainted with iron from the sky, discovered the metal underneath the Earth’s surface only after a couple thousands of years later. The tribesmen of the Near East found the metal—that looked similar to the metal from the sky—underground. However, the underground iron was mixed with different minerals and stones, packaged as a lump of iron ore. Extracting the iron ore was not as easy as one might expect; the people could do only so much with their primitive tools. According to the book, The Forge and the Crucible, published in 1956, extracting the ore from underneath the surface meant tempting the spirit world. This belief led the miners to perform rituals before starting the extraction process, so as not to infuriate the supreme, higher powers.
However, separating the iron from the ore was a different kind of herculean task altogether. After the discovery of underground iron around 2500 BC, it took the people of the ancient world 700 years more, to figure out how to separate the iron from its ore. This was when the Iron Age began, as it took over the Bronze Age.