This Arrowhead Was Made From a Meteorite 3,000 Years Ago

Found in Switzerland, the 1.5-inch-long artifact was fashioned from meteoric iron during the Bronze Age

The arrowhead was originally discovered in the 19th century, then stashed away as part of a museum collection. Recently, researchers decided to take another look. Natural History Museum of Bern

About 150 years ago, archaeologists unearthed a small arrowhead in Switzerland. Now, new research has determined that the object—which dates to between 900 and 800 B.C.E.—was made of iron from a meteorite, according to a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

“Finds of meteoritic iron artifacts in Central and Western Europe are very rare,” write the researchers. The unusual discovery suggests that communities in these regions were trading meteoric iron by 800 B.C.E. and possibly even earlier.

Meteors are natural objects that enter Earth’s atmosphere from space, leaving beautiful streaks of light in their wake. When these space rocks survive the atmosphere and crash onto the planet, they are called meteorites. An estimated 48.5 tons of meteoritic material fall on Earth each day, though most of it is vaporized in the atmosphere, according to NASA.

Archaeologists first discovered the Bronze Age arrowhead near Lake Biel in Mörigen, Switzerland, around 1873 or 1874. Switzerland’s Bern Historical Museum later acquired it, per USA Today’s Saman Shafiq.

Recently, researchers decided to give the arrowhead another look. Taking care not to damage the 1.5-inch-long artifact, they analyzed its chemical makeup using noninvasive methods such as X-ray tomography and gamma spectrometry.

From the outside, it looked “like a typical arrowhead coated in rust,” as lead author Beda Hofmann, director and curator of meteorites and mineralogy at the Natural History Museum of Bern, tells Live Science’s Jennifer Nalewicki. Their research found that “there is still a lot of metal preserved.”

They suspected the arrowhead would match fragments of the 170,000-year-old Twannberg meteorite previously found at a nearby site. But they were surprised to discover that the arrowhead contained nearly twice as much nickel as the Twannberg fragments. Now, the researchers say it may have been made from a meteorite that fell in present-day Kaalijarv, Estonia, around 1500 B.C.E.

People likely gathered up bits and pieces of that meteorite, which later reached Switzerland through trade. (Hofmann tells CNN’s Jack Guy that trade throughout Europe during the Bronze Age is a “well-established fact.”) At some point, a worker with specialized skills turned one of those fragments into an arrowhead.

Archaeologists aren’t sure what the arrowhead would have been used for during the Bronze Age. Because it’s made from “very rare and special” material, “it is unlikely that it had been used for everyday hunting,” Hofmann tells USA Today. “I suspect it was some prestige object or it may have had some spiritual meaning, but this is pure guesswork.”

Researchers are now conducting additional analysis to learn more about the arrowhead and where it came from.

The object now joins a small list of known artifacts made from meteorites. All told, archaeologists have discovered just 55 of these objects at 22 sites in Europe, Asia and Africa, per a statement from the Natural History Museum of Bern, where the arrowhead will go on display as part of a Bronze Age exhibition next year.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.