Historic Meteorite Finds

Last update: 21 July 2017

This gallery displays a selection of historic meteorites whose fall was not observed (so-called meteorite finds). It includes the famous Pallas iron & Willamette meteorite, cold finds made during the first "meteorite rush" in the U.S. Great Plains & during the second one in Antarctica, and archeological finds. Meteorwrongs, between hoaxes and erroneous chemical analyses, complete the collection. Accompanying these specimens are documents about meteorite hunt and trade, as well as about great meteors whose final products were never found.

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Aussig meteorwrong, Ploschkowitz, Winbeck estate, correspondence

2. The American Meteorite Museum
Meteor Crater, Arizona, USA
Mid-20th century

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

The Harvey H. Nininger Legacy

Text below in draft form.

In 1946, Nininger leased a building known as the 'observatory' on Highway 66 next to Meteor Crater, Arizona, to create his own private museum, the American Meteorite Museum, the first in the world dedicated to meteorites. If many visitors came in the first few years, the business went down in 1949 when the construction of a new highway made the museum more remote. Because of the unability to find a buyer for his meteorite collection and of the building lease, the museum remained opened until 1953. The same year, the museum moved to Sedona. The Arizona State University purchased most of the Nininger Collection in 1960, which led then to the end of the emblematic museum.

Figures: [1] Canyon Diablo shrapnel (H.H. Nininger / ASU) | [2] Spheroids (AML / Bern NHM) | [3] "Nininger Star"

1974 San Antonio fireball, correspondence about meteorite hunt by Monnig and Elbert King

3. The meteorite finds of The Great Plains
United States
Mid-20th century

Oriented Tulia (a) stone of 1.3kg (with regmaglypts on the posterior face) formerly from the Oscar E. Monnig collection later on housed at the Texas Christian University (TCU).

See also: The Meteoritical Society

The first meteorite "gold rush": The American Great Plains

The Great Plains is a North-South stripe of land covered in prairie, steppe and grassland, in both the United States (e.g., Kansas, Texas) and Canada (e.g., Saskatchewan), known for supporting extensive cattle ranching and dry farming. While bulky rocks are considered an annoyance to ploughing by farmers, Mrs. E. Kimberly, near the town of Haviland, Kansas, brought some of those strange stones to the attention of scientists who confirmed that they were of meteoritic origin (e.g., Kunz, 1890). The site became known as the "Meteorite Farm" but it was only in 1925 that H.H. Nininger identified a depression in the so-called Brenham pallasite strewn field as a meteorite crater, where many specimens showed a peculiar type of oxidation that Nininger coined "meteorodes" (Nininger, 19xx) [1]. In the 1940s, prospector H.O. Stockwell used a wheelbarrow metal detector of his invention to systematically search for buried meteorites (Read, 1965). His technique paid off and he recovered the - then believed to be - main mass in 1949 (~ 450 kg) [2] (In 2005 however, meteorite hunter S. Arnold found a larger specimen of 641 kg by using a similar approach; Bonhams, 2007). Nininger and Stockwell were the main meteorite hunters in the mid-20th century and discovered many new meteorites [3]. Eugene Cornelius, Stockwell's "digging man", was himself famous for his Wellman (c) finds [4]. Oscar E. Monnig was known for instance for his Dimmitt/Tulia stones [5]. Like Wellman and Dimmitt/Tulia, the famous Plainview meteorite strewnfield led to many new specimens throughout the 20th century [6] (Sipiera et al., 1983).

Figures: [1] Brenham meteorode (AML) | [2] Brenham shale fragment (H. O. Stockwell / F. Hawley / UoA) | [3] Index cards (WNSE) | [4] Wellman (c) stone (W.H. Carmichael / x. Adair / E. Cornelius) | [5] Tulia (a) stone (O.E. Monnig / TCU) | [6] Plainview correspondence (J. Dupont - E.A. King, 1980)

Winona, winonaite, University of Arizona Mineral Museum, Nininger, Heineman and Brady, prehistoric Indian cist

4. The Willamette meteorite
Oregon, USA
Rediscovered in 1902

Part slice of the Willamette meteorite, cut from a research specimen originally sent to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology by the AMNH. With AMNH photo & postcards.

See also: The American Museum of Natural History

Venerated by the Clackamas tribe, a treasure of the American Museum of Natural History

Summary coming later

Figures: [1] Part slice (AMNH / ETHZ)

5. The Braunfels meteorwrong
Rhine province, Germany
Supposedly fell on 19 March 1879

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) | [2] Reports "On fluid cavities in meteorites"

6. Casas Grandes iron & other Mexican irons
Late 18th to mid-19th century

Large Toluca individual of 414 grams deaccessioned from the Finnish Museum of Natural History and formerly from the Krantz dealership.

Meteoritic irons from Mexico
A suite from the Finnish Museum of Natural History

Summary coming later

Figures: [1] Casas Grandes part slice (HYK) | [2] Toluca iron (Krantz / HYK)

7. W. Haidinger's Rokitzan meteorwrong sample
Central Europe
Mid-19th century

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" (Buchner, 1863:200) [1-2]. 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 Hörnes (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 von Haidinger (1795-1871), an Austrian mineralogist [3], would begin his own research on the Rokitzan iron, first sending it to be cut and prepared for analysis [2a-b]. 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) [2c]. 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] Buchner, 1863 (Pharmaz. Gesell., St. Petersburg) | [2] Part slice w. manuscript & article (K. Wiesenfeld / F.A. Nickerl / H.J. Zeidler, Strahov Monastery / W. Haidinger, NHMW) | [3] Omnibus on Haidinger's research, 1859-1869 (American Institute of Mining)

Great Meteor 1783 Robinson mezzotint

8. The Pallas Iron
Found in 1749
Krasnoyarskiy kray, Russia

Krasnojarsk meteorite fragment deaccessioned from the Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj, Romania and originally from the University of Berlin.

Summary coming later

Figures: [1] Fragment (HUB / UBB)

Hieroglyphs meteorite egyptology, rocks from the sky, minerals from heaven