Ancient Egypt researchers at Curtin University in Western Australia have uncovered the origin of so-called Libyan Desert Glass or Great Sand Sea Glass. Tiny fragments of the green-coloured, translucent material can be found all across western Egypt. Ancient Egyptians who came across the pretty mineral would embed it into their ornate jewellery. When British explorer and archaeologist Howard Carter discovered King Tutankhamen’s treasures in 1922, he came across a decorative breastplate featuring an entire scarab carved from this desert glass.
The incredible discovery sparked a hunt for the mystery mineral, which until today remained at the centre of intense debate.
A commonly accepted theory proposed the green-yellowish glass formed 29 million years ago when an asteroid exploded in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The resulting arblast would have washed over the Egyptian desert, dumping vast amounts of heat into the sand.
The sand would then liquify and harden into glass-like quartz minerals, which the Ancient Egyptians later discovered.
But Dr Aaron Cavosie from Curtin University believes the desert glass formed when a meteor struck the Egyptian desert at incredible speeds.
The researcher presented his counter-theory in the journal Geology, following an intensive study of zircon samples in the Libyan glass.
According to Dr Cavosie, the zircon minerals show signs another mineral, reidite, which only forms during full-on meteorite impacts.
He said: “It has been a topic of ongoing debate as to whether the glass formed during meteorite impact, or during an airburst, which happens when asteroids called Near Earth Objects explode and deposit energy in the Earth’s atmosphere.
“Both meteorite impacts and airbursts can cause melting, however, only meteorite impacts create shock waves that form high-pressure minerals, so finding evidence of former reidite confirms it was created as the result of a meteorite impact.”
Dr Cavosie argued the airblast theory became widely popular following the unexpected Chelyabinsk meteor strike over Russia’s Chelyabinsk Oblast in 2013.
The incident saw a 65.6ft (20m) meteor enter the atmosphere without notice and explode in the air, damaging more than 7,000 buildings in the process.
But the meteor’s airblast did not cause any surface materials to melt like the Egyptian meteor did.
Dr Cavosie said: “Previous models suggested that Libyan desert glass represented a large, 100-Mt class airburst, but our results show this is not the case.”
Quick facts about Ancient Egypt:
1. Queen Cleopatra was not Egyptian but rather came from a dynasty of Greek Macedonians, known as the Ptolemaic Dynasty.
2. Both men and women in Ancient Egypt wore makeup and female Pharaohs would even wear fake beards.
3. The history of Ancient Egypt is typically divided into the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom eras.
4. The Ancient Egyptians were one of the first civilisations to invent writing and a form of paper known as papyrus.
5. The Pharaohs kept their real hair hidden from the public and would wear elaborate headdresses to hide it.