Lot 28 (Garden and Natural History Live Auction, 12th March 2019)
Sold for £500
Natural History: A Gibeon meteorite slice
showing Widmanstatten pattern
17cm by 10cm, 0.8kg
Meteorites have long held a fascination from ancient times onwards.
Recent Research at the McMaster University in Canada and the Max Planck Institute in Germany concluded that Life on Earth began after meteorites splashed into warm little ponds and leached them with essential elements between 3.7 and 4.5 billion years ago.
Often known as shooting or falling stars, due to the fireball that occurs when the meteoroid passes through the atmosphere and often accompanied by a sonic boom, a meteorite is a solid piece of debris that originates in outer space and survives its passage through the atmosphere to reach the surface of a planet or moon. They have played a big part in our history - the first iron had not been found in the earth and smelted but had in fact come from out of this world. Meteorites were seen as precious, almost cult-like objects and considered of high value.
Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, made the connection between a streak in the sky and the rock in the ground when he made the first description of a meteorite fall in 645 BC.
One of the earliest known human finds of a meteorite in Europe seems to have been in the UK, where a stone meteorite was uncovered during an archaeological dig at Danebury Iron Age hillfort in the 1970s. The fact that it was found deposited part way down in an Iron Age pit (c.1200 BC) suggests it must have been deliberately placed there. Scientific documentation only began in the last few centuries, but two of the oldest recorded meteorite falls in Europe were in Elbogen (1400) and Ensisheim (1492) and the German physicist, Ernst Florens Chladni, was the first to publish the idea that meteorites were rocks from space in 1794 but met with resistance from the European scientific community.
Meteorites may have started life on earth, but one of the leading theories of mass extinction, the demise of the dinosaurs, also concludes that it coincided with a large meteorite impact - the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event which occurred 66 million years ago.
The oldest known iron artefacts - nine small beads hammered from meteoric iron - were found in northern Egypt and securely dated to 3200 BC, and were indeed made long before the Iron Age. Egyptian hieroglyphics even referred to iron as being ‘from the sky’ and Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun, who died in 1324 BC, was buried with an iron headrest, bracelet, and dagger from three different meteorites. Some Native Americans treated meteorites as ceremonial objects and the Indigenous peoples used iron-nickel meteorites as a source of iron metal.