ARCE Northern CA: Iron in the Sky: Words and Conceptions of Iron and Meteorites in Ancient Egypt

Presented by: Dr. Victoria Almansa-Villatoro

  • 3:00 PM PTNorthern California
  • In PersonRoom 126 Social Sciences Building (formerly Barrows Hall)
    University of California, Berkeley
  • + Add to Calendar

Lecture Information

This lecture explores the cultural implications of an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic sign, known as N41, used in an apparently random constellation of words related to women, water, and metals. Based on a re-examination of the sign’s contexts of appearance in the Pyramid Texts and other religious sources, it is determined that an ancient Egyptian cosmovision contemplated the sky as an iron container of water, pieces of which fell to the earth in the shape of meteors and were used to produce ritual objects. The fact that the N41 sign’s iconicity encapsulated such complex interconnectedness suggests that the relation between birth, afterlife, and iron existed even before the earliest religious texts in Egypt. The knowledge of the extraterrestrial provenance of iron was lost at some point in modern times when meteorites were classified along with fossils as “thunderstones” as late as the 18th century. However, the Egyptian knowledge, consistent with contemporary science, was most likely shared with other ancient civilizations that also connected iron and sky in texts. We will examine some examples of non-Egyptian iron-sky cultural parallels, particularly from the Ancient Near East, which can be explained as common analysis of natural observations, rather than knowledge transmission. 

Speaker Bio

Dr. Victoria Almansa-Villatoro obtained her PhD in Egyptology at Brown University in 2022. She is a Junior Research Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows (2022-2025) and specializes in the use of language and hieroglyphs’ iconicity to understand oral knowledge and ideology in Old Kingdom Egypt. Since 2019 she is a member of the AERA archaeological project in Giza, and assistant director to the Royal Necropolis and Pyramids of Nuri Expedition since 2021.