Iron was extracted from iron–nickel alloys, which comprise about 6% of all meteorites that fall on the Earth. That source can often be identified with certainty because of the unique crystalline features ("Widmanstatten figures") of that material, which are preserved when the metal is worked cold or at low temperature. Those artifacts include, for example, a bead from the 5th millennium BC found in Iran and spear tips and ornaments from Ancient Egypt and Sumer around 4000 BC. Meteoritic iron has been identified also in a Chinese axe head from the middle of the 2nd millennium BC.
These early uses appear to have been largely ceremonial or ornamental. Meteoritic iron is very rare, and the metal was probably very expensive, perhaps more expensive than gold. The early Hittites are known to have bartered iron (meteoritic or smelted) for silver, at a rate of 40 times the iron's weight, with Assyria.
Meteoric iron was also fashioned into tools in the Arctic, about the year 1000, when the Thule people of Greenland began making harpoons, knives, ulos and other edged tools from pieces of the Cape York meteorite. Typically pea-size bits of metal were cold-hammered into disks and fitted to a bone handle. These artifacts were also used as trade goods with other Arctic peoples: tools made from the Cape York meteorite have been found in archaeological sites more than 1,000 miles (1,600 km) distant. When the American polar explorer Robert Peary shipped the largest piece of the meteorite to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City in 1897, it still weighed over 33 tons. Another example of a late use of meteoritic iron is an adze from around 1000 AD found in Sweden.