The Mystery of the 2,000-Year-Old Iron Beads

In 1945, an excavation of a Native American mound in Illinois revealed around a thousand shell and pearl beads, and 22 beads iron beads. Where did those come from? The people that lived there 2,000 years ago, as the artifacts were dated, did not have a culture of metallurgy. They came from a meteorite, one the rare meteors that contain iron. Only three such meteorites have ever been found in North America.

A piece of one of those three meteorites, the Anoka meteorite, was first discovered in 1961, next to the Mississippi River in what is now Anoka, Minnesota. Its surface didn’t show evidence of people trying to remove bits and pieces of it, and its chemical makeup was just different enough from the beads to convince scientists it wasn’t the source. Another chunk of the Anoka turned up in 1983. A new analysis of that piece, which was found just across the river from the original, showed the researchers, from the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., the same internal structure observed in the Havana Hopewell beads. Mass spectroscopy then confirmed that the two pieces of iron have the same chemical composition as well. One mystery might have been solved, but another popped right back in its place.

Read the story of the beads that ended up 450 miles from their source at Atlas Obscura.

(Image credit: Rdikeman)


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