Rocks from Heaven
April 5, 2009 9:23 PM   Subscribe

Rocks from Heaven “…A party of the inhabitants of the town of Casas Grandes, as a matter of curious speculation, commenced excavating in the old ruins there. One more fortunate than the others drifted into a large room, in the middle of which there appeared to be a kind of tomb made of adobe-brick. Curiosity led this bold knight of the crowbar to renew his excavations, he found a large mass of meteoric iron in the middle of the tomb, carefully and curiously wrapped with a kind of coarse linen.”

You can buy them online. If you think you've found one, you can check with experts to get it verified.
posted by various (21 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Fun post, thanks! I'm going to look for meteorites next time I'm at the bus stop, and send 'em all to the Smithsonian!
posted by not_on_display at 10:18 PM on April 5, 2009

I remember seeing a huge wrench in a museum which was forged from meteoric iron, but I'll be damned if I remember where. Was that in the Smithsonian? (Or the NY Museum of Natural History? Somewhere else?)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:46 PM on April 5, 2009

My 7th-grade science teacher had a sign up in his classroom that read "we are all made of stardust."

I try to remember this sign when I consider the rarity of such objects as meteorites. When it comes to people, though, I often feel either stardust is way too common, or people are just a bit of a waste of stardust.

For example: stardust seems too precious to have to establish call centers, is what I'm saying.
posted by Graygorey at 10:56 PM on April 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

Why would 'stardust' be precious? What your teacher's sign was talking about was elements ejected during nova, which everything on earth is made of.
posted by delmoi at 11:11 PM on April 5, 2009

Any type of dust is too precious to make call centers of.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 1:16 AM on April 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

Everyone knows that call centers are crystals of pure despair.
posted by No-sword at 3:26 AM on April 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

How would an ancient people know that meteorites had "fallen from heaven"? You see a streak in the sky and later a rock on the ground, but what connects one to the other? Unless it happened to land near witnesses, which seems pretty unlikely. I mean, it hardly even happens now when there are 6e9 people on Earth.

Or perhaps they meant it non-literally and it only happened to be exactly true. Like, if we found a huge diamond or gold nugget, we'd be pretty impressed and might call it "heavenly" or "direct from God" or whatever. If they found a huge lump of (magnetic?) iron, they might say the same.
posted by DU at 4:22 AM on April 6, 2009

That is a great blog...thank you!
posted by gigbutt at 4:35 AM on April 6, 2009

People with stone-aged technology obsessed over rocks, news at 11.

I don't mean to sound too snarky, I liked the post and the story, but is is any wonder that people who's lives revolved around the various properties of stones would take such special care of an extremely hard and heavy rock that has mysterious qualities, especially if they happened to have witnessed it fall? Shit, MeFi obsesses over the latest aps, just imagine if the hottest new iTech of the day was that Running Bear had figured out that that shiny black rock down by the creek flakes well, and then you find a frickin' meteorite.

Your favorite atlatl sucks!

For example: stardust seems too precious to have to establish call centers, is what I'm saying.

Yeah, that totally had to have been an angry and vengeful intelligent creator.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:54 AM on April 6, 2009

How would an ancient people know that meteorites had "fallen from heaven"? You see a streak in the sky and later a rock on the ground, but what connects one to the other?

For that matter, how did modern people make that connection? I mean, it's not much more common now than it was in ancient times to actually see one of these suckers hit the ground. Somebody, at some point, connected streak-in-the-sky with big-chunk-of-iron. Who was it, and when?
posted by Bummus at 6:51 AM on April 6, 2009

Somebody, at some point, connected streak-in-the-sky with big-chunk-of-iron. Who was it, and when?

Well, Ann Elizabeth Hodges for one.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:48 AM on April 6, 2009

I love the concept of people treating meteorites as actual beings that need to be buried. Destroyed gods, maybe. It's a bit hard to believe, honestly. There's lots of cases of pre-historic peoples taking meteoric iron and using it for tools, too.

How do you find a meteorite and realize it came from the sky? It's not common, but rocks fall near people with some regularity. Then you go walk out to where it hit and you see a hole in the ground, maybe some smouldering trees, and the rock is still warm. Not hard to make the connection.

I'm failing to find a reference to a meteorite that hit in Northern Europe somewhere in the 1000-1500 AD timeframe. Interesting story about it landing near a village, and the people taking the iron and incorporating it into their daily lives. And all on the cusp of written historical record. Ring a bell? I first read about it as an aside in A Traveler's Guide to Mars.
posted by Nelson at 7:52 AM on April 6, 2009


The Elbogen meteorite? Fell on Elbogen, Bohemia in 1400. Made into, among other things, a wicked knife.

Other cool historical falls:
The Cape York meteorites, centuries-old source of iron ore for nearby Greenland Inuit tribes (before Robert Peary carted them away to a museum and tough luck for you, Inuit).

The L'Aigle fall in 1803, which, to Bummus's question, convinced the European scientific estabishment of the extraterrestrial-origin theory and founded meteoritics.
posted by ormondsacker at 8:52 AM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's not a meteorite; it's iron slag.

This is the most common sentence uttered by the geologist at the museum where I work. We have free mineral ID every Wednesday afternoon (we call it dream crushing hour) and meteorites, along with gold, dinosaur bones and diamonds are the most common things people bring in. Yes, iron slag, pyrite, mica, weirdly shaped rocks and broken Coke bottles abound in these here hills. People are fascinated by the idea of finding a meteorite.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:46 AM on April 6, 2009

It's not a meteorite; it's iron slag.

Oh, Jordy Verrill, you lunkhead!
posted by Pollomacho at 9:50 AM on April 6, 2009

It's not a meteorite; it's iron slag.

Well that would be relatively easy to verify, wouldn't it? Iron is typically produced by reacting iron-bearing ores with charcoal and heat, so that the carbon binds to and helps remove the impurities; there ought to be a lot of the charcoal-derived carbon. If you looked at the C14 ratio, I'd have to imagine you could discriminate pretty easily between that and something that's completely extraterrestrial in origin, with zero or nearly-zero plant-derived carbon. Right?

Obviously you wouldn't want to carbon-date every piece of slag dragged in by Joe Random Geologist, but if there's an actual question over whether something is in fact a giant meteorite or simply slag, that seems like it would be a pretty definitive way of testing it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:34 AM on April 6, 2009

No, I joke. Should have italicized that sentence. I'm sure the one in Casas Grandes is a real meteorite - because I doubt there were large scale industrial foundries and railroads there before it got interred, for one thing - it's just the ones that people find in their backyard or the woods that are usually iron slag.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:52 AM on April 6, 2009

We have free mineral ID every Wednesday afternoon...

That's awesome. My 8 year old would love this. He's constantly asking me about rocks and all I have is half-remembered conversations with someone who took Geo 101. Oh and Bill Nye.
posted by DU at 11:17 AM on April 6, 2009

This reminds me of the Willamette Meteorite, at the American Museum of Natural History. Before being stolen, and subsequently bought by the museum, the meteorite was revered by the Clackamas Tribe in Oregon, who called it "Tomonowos," which translates to something like "visitor from the moon."

From the USGenNet site: "In court in 1903, Old Soosap (an elderly Wasco Indian) and Sol Clark (another Wasco who lived among the whites in Clackamas County) reported conversations they once had with a long-deceased chief, Wochimo, and others of the Clackamas tribe. Their story said that Tomonowos, the Heavenly Visitor, had dropped from the sky in a time beyond memory. At certain seasons, at night, young men would be spiritually initiated beside the meteorite. Rain-water that filled the depressions became powerful; the Clackamas would ritually wash their faces or dip their arrows into this holy water."

The museum now allows tribe members to visit Tomonowos during an annual ceremonial visit.

I also wonder how the Clackamas knew the meteorite came from space? It's pretty unique looking, and apparently also gives off a ringing sound when struck, but couldn't you just as easily assume it came from volcanic activity or something?
posted by IcyJuly at 11:45 AM on April 6, 2009

this is great! thanks!

i just read the ann hodges, struck by a meteor, story linked by pollomacho and immediately thought, "she can't be the only person struck by rocks falling out of the sky!"

here's some more: from; from
posted by artof.mulata at 12:24 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by Lighioana at 9:54 AM on April 7, 2009

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