Historic Meteorite Finds

Last update: 5 September 2016

This gallery displays a selection of historic meteorites whose fall was not observed (so-called meteorite finds). It includes three sections: (i) historical finds made between the 19th and 20th centuries, with focus on the finds made in the U.S. Great Plains; (ii) from sacred stones to the Pallas Iron, including archeological finds such as the type meteorite of the Winonaites; and (iii) meteorwrongs, between hoaxes and erroneous chemical analyses.

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Historical Finds (19th - 20th Centuries)

Wellman (c)
Ordinary chondrite (H4)
Found in 1964
Terry County, Texas, USA

Wellman (c) meteorite of 174 grams formerly from the Eugene Cornelius collection, found in 1950 by W. H. Carmichael.

Wellman (c) was first recognized as a meteorite in 1964 by Glenn I. Huss of the American Meteorite Laboratory (AML). Specimens were however already collected years before [1]. Eugene Cornelius found many specimens [1], some of which he supplied to the AML (ref. needed). Wellman (c) stones are recognizable for their characteristic brownish lustrous patina (i.e. weathered fusion crust).

Eugene Cornelius was H. O. Stockwell's "digging man" at Odessa and Canyon Diablo. Stockwell would hunt with his detector and flag his targets so that Cornelius could come the following days to dig them up. Cornelius had a favorite hunting ground near Wellman, Texas where he personally located some meteorite specimens and purchased some others from the local land owners [1]. This hunting and working with Stockwell allowed Cornelius to build a small collection of other specimens during that time (S. Arnold, MetList, 2006).

Figures: [1] Stone (W.H. Carmichael / x. Adair / E. Cornelius)

Found in 1931
Saskatchewan, Canada

Springwater meteorite slab of 74 grams deaccessioned from Lafayette College and formerly from the Harvey H. Nininger collection.

Harvey H. Nininger received a 18 kg meteorite in August 1931 said to have been found in a field near the town of Springwater, Canada (Nininger, 1932). Nininger immediately saw that it was of the rare pallasite type, a metallic matrix of "fresh-appearing honey-yellow olivine". In comparison to the Brenham pallasite already well known of Nininger, the Springwater meteorite was found to have a smaller scale structure and a larger proportion of olivine [1]. The internal structure was seen to be of the Krasnojarsk type. By the writing of the 1932 article, two other specimens had been found. More have been found in recent years.

Figures: [1] Slab (H.H. Nininger / Lafayette College)

Canyon Diablo
Iron (IAB-MG)
Found in 1891
Arizona, USA

Canyon Diablo meteorite "odd-shaped" individual from the Nininger Collection and deaccessioned from the Arizona State University (37 grams).

Summary coming later.

Figures: [1] Odd-shaped individual (H.H. Nininger / ASU) | [2] Spheroids (AML / Bern NHM)

Recognized in 1890
Kiowa County, Kansas, USA

"Stockwell oxide, outlier from Haviland" deaccessioned from the University of Arizona (5 grams). This fragment may originate from the famous 1949 Stockwell find.

The "Meteorite Farm" & The World's largest Pallasite meteorite

The Brenham meteorites - of the rare pallasite type - were known of Native Americans for time immemorial. Rediscovered by local farmers in the 19th century, the rocks were only considered an annoyance to ploughing. It is only Mrs. E. Kimberly, of the Kimberly farm near the town of Haviland, Kansas, who brought them to the attention of scientists (F. W. Cragin, F. H. Snow). A first analysis was made in 1890 at the University of Kansas, which confirmed their extraterrestrial origin. Subsequently the site was visited by many, including R. Hay and G. F. Kunz. The site was early on referred to as the "Meteorite Farm" due to the many specimens that were found. The largest 19th century find weighed 212 kg and was known as the "moon meteorite" by the farmers (Kunz, 1890). But it is only in 1925, during a first visit to the site, that H. H. Nininger identified a depression ("buffalo wallow") near the eastern border of the strewn field as a meteorite crater. An excavation led to numerous fragments, the largest weighing 39 kg. Almost half of the recovered specimens showed a peculiar type of oxidation, coined "meteorodes" by Nininger. Nininger's hypothesis was that these Meteorodes resulted from the fragmentation of the main mass when impacting the ground. A detailed description of the Haviland crater excavation is given by Nininger & Figgins (1933). In the 1940s, prospector H. O. Stockwell used a wheelbarrow metal detector of his invention to systematically search for deep-buried meteorites (Read, 1965). His technique paid off and he recovered the - then believed to be - main mass in 1949 (~ 450 kg) [1-2]. In 2005 however, meteorite hunter S. Arnold found a larger specimen of 641 kg (Bonhams, 2007).

Figures: [1] Shale polished fragment (H. O. Stockwell / F. Hawley / UoA) | [2] Postcards

WANTED: Meteorode from Nininger/AML collection; Brenham meteorite with Kunz label

From Sacred Stones to the Pallas Iron

Found in 1749
Krasnoyarskiy kray, Russia

Krasnojarsk meteorite fragment deaccessioned from the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia (6.1 grams).

Summary coming later.

Figures: [1] Fragment (HUB / UBB) | [2] Fragment (WNSE / ANSP)

Found in 1928
Coconino County, Arizona, USA

Winona meteorite fragment of 1.7 grams deaccessioned from the University of Arizona Mineral Museum and originally donated to the UAMM collection by Nininger.

The Winona of the Winonaites, found in a prehistoric Indian cist

Broken parts of a meteorite were found in September 1928 by A. J. Townsend of Flagstaff near some prehistoric ruins 8 km northeast of Winona. Specimens were brought to the attention of Prof. B. Cummings of the Archaeological Department of the University of Arizona and to L. F. Brady. Brady visited the site a few days later to make careful measurements and excavations. The meteorite was found enclosed in a cist [1], possibly a shrine built to contain an object of superstitious reverence. The argument advanced by Brady was that the cist being devoid of soil, the meteorite had been carefully buried, perhaps at the spot where it had been seen to fall. The total weight of c. 24 kg, together with the cist, went into possession of the Museum of Northern Arizona, at Flagstaff. Following Brady, the Winona meteorite was the third one found indicating an interest in such objects by prehistoric inhabitants of the southwestern part of the United States. The other two are the Navajo Iron found in 1921 [2] and another iron found in 1922 in the Sun Temple at Mesa Verde. Specimens of the Winona meteorite resemble the "typical limonitic gossan", i.e., the oxidized, weathered, decomposed rock usually formed at the exposed part of an ore deposit (Heineman and Brady, 1929). The Winona meteorite is the type specimen of the winonaite group of primitive achondrites.

Figures: [1] Fragment (H.H. Nininger / UAMM) | [2] 1921 Navajo iron postcard (FNHM)


Supposedly fell on 30 September 1899
Czech Republic

Small rock specimens, supposedly from the 1899 Aussig meteorite fall that does not exist, and later on hypothetically related to the Ploschkowitz meteorite fall of 1723.

From the imaginary Aussig fall to the real Ploschkowitz fall to common stones

The story is told in a series of 5 letters (translated from German) [1]: (1) Walter Zeitschel (21 August 1976) gives some information to Heinz Winbeck about his 8 small specimens: "There is no Aussig fall. Did you obtain your Aussig!! pieces from an Austrian mineral collector or handler, if so, please let me know by whom? Was it Mr. Moehler from Graz? From there come these pieces, with this designation. Those are in fact pieces of the meteorite shower of Ploschkowitz / USSR. This fall occurred on 22.6.1723. It is an olivine-hypersthene chondrite. 33 stones were found at the time. Ploschkowitz is located south of Aussig. The total weight is not known." (2) Winbeck contacts J. Classen (8 March 1979) to enquire about the specimens: "Do you know more about the Ploschkowitz fall? I have since several years ago 8 small stones with a total weight of less than 5 gr acquired by Mr Moehler from Graz with the label 'Aussig fallen on 30 Sep 1899...'. Mr. Zeitschel in Hanau told me that this fall does not exist, that the stones rather came from Ploschkowitz (In Hey Catalogue, incidentally, there is no 'Aussig' recorded). How come this designation and before all this fall date is not identical to the one of Ploschkowitz?" (3) Classen (20 March 1979) confirms that a Aussig fall does not exist before adding: "It is not good when the associated labels are incorrect. It is clear in this case there is something wrong. I have sorted out all my dubious cases and separated them from my main collection. I cannot tell you more about your stones without seeing them..." (4) Winbeck (29 March 1979) discusses, among other things, of Classen's possible visit. No reference to the specimens is made. (5) Some years later, Dieter Heinlein writes to Winbeck (5 April 1982): "I have studied the catalogue. I am fascinated by the small pieces of Ploschkowitz. Would you be willing to trade half-a-gram of it? If so, I would be delighted. And - what would you want in exchange?" A 1975 invoice from Moehler of Graz indicates a 35 Deutsche Mark price for "10 St. Meteoriten (=Steinregen)/ Aussig". Those were proved to be of non-meteoritic origin (pers. comm., M. Jost, 2015).

Figures: [1] Fragments and letters (D. Moehler / H. Winbeck)

Meteorwrong (quartzite?)
Supposedly fell on 19 March 1879
Rhine province, Germany

Two microscope slides made by Heinrich Hensoldt (or the Hensoldt factory) and offered by the W. Watson & Son retailer from London.

The detailed tale of a 19th Century meteorite fall that never was

"On the 19th of March, 1879, early in the morning, a shepherd, occupied with the erection of a pen in a field near Braunfels, a small town in the Rhine Province, Germany, was startled by a peculiar noise in the air above him, which he describes as a series of detonations, following each other in rapid succession; the whole being accompanied by a violent hissing. According to his narration, the whole phenomenon, which did not occupy more than about three seconds, bore a great resemblance to a clap of thunder, followed by a flash of lightning. There was, however, a clear, though not quite cloudless sky, and not the least indication of a thunderstorm observable. Immediately afterwards, or at the same time, he noticed, in an adjoining field, fragments of earth and stone flying up as if the soil were being penetrated by some body displaying great force in its downward course. The penetrating substance, which was found broken, or rather cracked, in several places, was subsequently discovered about 25 inches under the surface. It was an elongated, roundish mass, whose greatest diameter was about 11 inches... All the pieces found were obtained by my father, Mr. M. Hensoldt, of Wetzlar, who has still the greatest part of them in his possession...“ - Hensoldt (1882:1)

... which are available for sale or trade [1]. However it was rapidly remarked that the material was very similar to common quartzite (De Souza Guimaraens, 1882). Hensoldt presented a rebuttal insisting that the material was truly a meteorite (Hensoldt, 1882).

Heinrich Hensoldt (1856 – c. 1918), son of microscope slide maker Moritz Hensoldt (1821-1903), assumed many, often dubious, characters and made a life and business from exaggerated claims, invented stories and other lies (Stevenson and Gill, 2013).

Figures: [1] Microscope slides (H. Hensoldt / W. Watson & Son)

Meteorwrong (slag?)
Found around 1840
Bohemia, Czech Republic

Haidinger's 19th century research sample of the Rokitzan meteorwrong. This specimen is accompanied by an original manuscript with cutting instructions.

From a published classified meteorite to some historical terrestrial slag

In 1862, Frantisek Antonin Nickerl (1813-1871), a Professor of Natural History at the National Museum in Prague, introduced a new meteoric iron (Nickerl, 1862). The chemical analysis (Iron: 89.00; Nickel: 8.84; Sulfur: 1.03; Graphite: 0.87) was performed by J. Stolba (1839-1910), a young chemist at the Polytechnic Institute of Prague. One year later, Dr. Otto Buchner published this new meteorite under the synonym "Rokycan" in Vienna's very first meteorite catalog (Buchner, 1863). The four-pound Rokitzan iron was owned by the collection of the Strahov Monastery in Prague, curated by the honorable Herr Prelate of the Premonstratenser - Hieronymus Joseph Zeidler (1790-1870). When Moritz Hornes (1815-1858), curator of Vienna's Royal Mineral Cabinet, became aware of this new meteoric iron, he invited Herr Prelate to allow a cut to be given to the Royal Mineral Cabinet for closer examination. From here, Wilhelm Haidinger (1795-1871), an Austrian mineralogist, would begin his own research on the Rokitzan iron, first sending it to be cut and prepared for analysis [1-2]. Haidinger had one of his close colleagues, Franz Hauer (1822-1899), perform the chemical analysis on a deep core sample of Rokitzan. The results, which contradicted Stolba's analysis, proved that Rokitzan was, in fact, not a meteorite (Iron: 96.00; Coal: 2.4; Quartz: 1.1; Dolomite: trace) (Haidinger, 1864) [3]. Noteworthy, Haidinger had learned that Nickerl had acquired the iron from Karl Wiesenfeld, a professor at the Polytechnic Institute. Wiesenfeld had received the mass some 20 years earlier from an elderly man from Rokitzan who had discovered the iron in a meadow near a forest, where no other similar material or slag was present. After obtaining the iron from Wiesenfeld, Nickerl sold the iron as a meteorite in 1854 to Herr Prelate of the Strahov Monastery. Haidinger soon published his findings and discredited both Stolba's analysis and Rokitzan's status as a meteorite (Haidinger, 1864).

Figures: [1] Part slice (Strahov Monastery / NHMW / W. Haidinger) | [2] Manuscript (Haidinger, 1863) | [3] Reference (Haidinger, 1864)