Historic Tektites & Other Glasses

Last update: 30 April 2016

Tektites (from the Greek τεκτός, molten) have always been objects of fascination. First collected as talismans during prehistoric times, they remained mysterious objects until the late 1960s. Charles Darwin believed tektites were volcanic ejecta (obsidianites) while Harvey H. Nininger thought they were fragments of the moon ejected by meteoritic impacts (lunites). Other possible origins included: rainstorms, lightning (fulgurites), asteroids or comets (meteorites), prehistoric slag and silica gel, to only cite a few. The lunar hypothesis was favoured during the 20th century until lunar rock recoveries (Apollo 11, 1969) disproved the theory. It is now well accepted that tektites are the product of meteoritic impact processes and are therefore a subtype of impactites (which was the hypothesis originally suggested by Spencer in 1933). This gallery presents a selection of historic tektites and other glasses part of The Tricottet Collection. Most of the specimens were deaccessioned from museums or from renowned private collections. The origin of some specimens remains unknown. The review by McCall (2001) was used as basis for our analysis on the history of tektite collecting and tektite research.

Figures: Great Circle hypothesis | Lunite hypothesis | Critical 1969

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Bediasite, Georgiaite
North American Strewn Field
Maybe linked to the Chesapeake Bay Crater

WANTED: Historic bediasites and georgiaites

Australasian Strewn Field
Crater link unknown

Bikolite found in Coco Grove, Bikol by D. van Eek, donated to H. O. Beyer in 1940 and described in Beyer (1961-1962) (141 grams).

This is Beyer (1955) who first reported tektites found in the Philippines, in 1926, at an archeological site in Rizal Province on Luzon Island. Philippinites from that area are called rizalites. Other specimens found in the Bikol area are called bikolites [1]. Philippinites are also part of the Southeast Asian tektite group, subdivision of the Australasian Strewn Field. As other Southeast Asian tektites, philippinites are typically severely pitted, etched and grooved due to corrosion by water and acids.

Born in America, Henry Otley Beyer (1883-1966) [2] spent most of his adult life in the Philippines. While best known for his work on anthropology (considered the dean of Philippine anthropology), Beyer was also an avid investigator and collector of tektites. His life-long work on tektites is compiled in a large two-part monograph entitled "Philippine Tektites", which includes most of his past papers [3]. Beyer was described as an assiduous scholar and encyclopedist as well as a hard beaten scientific field worker and collector. Amonst others, Beyer appeared to have good relations with George Baker (1908-1975). Before WWII, his collection was kept in several houses. Lootings and fires destroyed parts of the collection. As of 1965, the Beyer collection was housed at the Museum and Institute of Archeology and Ethnology. The National Library of Australia purchased in 1972 papers from the Beyer estate (incl. correspondence, photographs, maps, etc.). The entire collection of tektites was purchased by D. Luong from Beyer's son. The Tricottet Collection obtained one specimen from Luong [1] and the rest of the collection was purchased by A. Whymark in the 2010s.

Figures: [1] Bikolite (D. van Eek / H.O. Beyer) | [2] Beyer's portrait (Philippines International, 1965) | [3] Beyer's monograph (Beyer, 1962)

Ivory Coast Strewn Field
Ivory Coast
Linked to Bosumtwi Crater, Ghana

A recent rediscovery, brought to light in 2014 by French dealer A. Carion. This round ivoirite was formerly part of the collection of Madeleine Bouguarel, a collector of minerals and other oddities, who long lived on a cotton plantation near Daoukro in western Ivory Coast (6.2 grams).

Summary coming later.

Figures: Ivoirite (M. Bouguarel, full story by A. Carion in meteorite-times) | Field notes (J.M. Saul, 1965) | Field documents (J.M. Saul,1965) | Reference (Saul, 1969)

WANTED: Historic ivoirite from the 1965 MIT/J. M. Saul expedition.

Australasian Strewn Field
Cambodia, Laos, Malay Peninsula, South China, Thailand, Vietnam
Crater link unknown

Indochinite from Vietnam from the Nininger collection and deaccessioned from the Arizona State University (18 grams).

Tektites from Indochina have first been described by Lacroix (1929; 1932) while the term indochinite was first quoted by Suess (1932) (Lacroix, 1935:152). They are part of the Southeast Asian tektite group, which is a subdivision of the even larger Australasian Strewn Field. Indochinites from Malay and from Thailand are also known under the terms malaysianites and thailandites, respectively. Large layered masses, first reported by Lacroix (1935), are known as Muong Nong-type tektites. Indochinites are typically severely pitted, etched and grooved due to corrosion by water and acids in these regions of heavy rainfall and thick vegetation. It is worth noting that, as in other tektite-rich regions, the little black stones were already known from the indigenes and used as amulets (Lacroix, 1935:157).

Figures: Vietnam pear-drop (Nininger / ASU) | Vietnam tear-drops (Nininger / ASU) | Label (Nininger)

WANTED: Historic malaysianites, thailandites, javanites and billitonites

Australasian Strewn Field
Crater link unknown

Six australites representing various splash forms: 1 - button, 2 - lens, 3 - oval, 4 - boat, 5 - canoe, 6 - teardrop (total weight 3.2 grams).

Australites were first described by Darwin (1844) but were already known of Aboriginal people who produced artifacts from them. As the name indicates, these tektites are found in Australia, mostly in Western Australia, but are part of the far larger Australasian Strewn Field. Common forms of australites include splash forms (primary shaping) and ablated forms such as flanged buttons and cores (secondary shaping). Tertiary shaping due to terrestrial degradation is rarer than for other tektites due to favorable climatic conditions.

Figures: Splash forms (Unk. Coll.) | Flanged button (SAM) | Label (SAM) | Core (SAM) | Buttons (K.F. Couch / J.M. Saul)

Central European Strewn Field
Linked to Ries crater, Germany

Suevite block from the Ries Crater Museum, cut from a piece of the historic Church of St. George in Nordlingen, Germany (45 x 45 mm).

Summary on moldavites coming later

The Ries Structure, a large circular depression in Germany, interpreted as a 14 Ma impact crater and believed to be the source of moldavites, is composed of the greenish-grey impact breccia suevite. The Bavarian city of Nördlinger is situated within the Ries crater where suevite was once used as building stone [1]. Cohen (1963) was the first to suggest a link between the Ries Structure and the moldavites. Another type of impactite is found at the Ries structure, called Bunte Brecci. Both terms (suevite and Bunte Brecci) have been coined at the Ries structure but have now been extended worldwide (McCall, 2006)

Figures: [1] Suevite block (St. George Church)

WANTED: Historic moldavites from 19th century collections | Mayer, J. (1787) reference | Antique moldavite jewels

Other impact glasses & tektite-wrongs

Irghizite & Zhamanshinite
Impact glasses
Zhamanshin crater, Kazakhstan

Irghizites found during an expedition by P. V. Florenskiy, donated to John M. Saul in 1984 at the XXVII International Geological Congress in Moscow.

Irghizite [1] and Zhamanshinite [2] are impact glasses found within the bounds of the Zhamanshin crater structure (about 15 km wide and 1 Ma old), situated in Kazakhstan, 200 km north of the Aral Sea. The main investigator of this site was P. V. Florenskiy (Florenskiy and Dabizha, 1980). Although considered to be tektites by Florenskiy, a distinction is often made in the literature between irghizites and larger tektite fields. The tektite-like glass can be wiry, ropy, droplet-shaped and is always of small size (from millimeters to a few centimeters). There are three types of zhamanshinite: Silica-poor (slag-like), silica-rich (glass of layered structure and containing bubbles) and blue (a sub-variety of the slica-rich type).

Figures: [1] Irghizite (P.V. Florensky / J.M. Saul) | [2] Zhamanshinite (Unk. Coll.)

Impact glass
Meteor Crater, Arizona, USA

Fragment of Lechatelierite from the Meteor Crater, Arizona, formerly from the Arthur Flagg collection (dimensions TBD).

Lechatelierite is a natural glass of fused silica, formed under very high temperature and pressure, in a layer of Coconino Sandstone at Meteor Crater in Arizona (also source of Canyon Diablo meteorites). It was puffed up to more than twice its size by steam and can now float on water. Other types of lechatelierite are fulgurites (due to lightning strikes) and trinitites (due to the nuclear explosion at Trinity Flats, White Sands, New Mexico).

Figures: Lechatelierite (Flagg) | Sandstone (Flagg)

Unusual glasses
Likely tektite-wrongs (natural or man-made)
Various sites

Unusual glasses of undetermined origin, possibly natural or man-made. Clockwise from top: Chunk of bright green East African Glass, East African Glass cut stone and "Pit Glass" cut stone from Sri Lanka, all formerly from the John M. Saul collection.

The search for glassy substances at the dawn of Space Age
Glasses used in "Moldavites and a survey of other naturally occurring glasses" by John Saul

In the years preceding the landing of men on the moon, efforts were undertaken to determine whether tektites or any other material found on Earth might have come from the Moon (Konta & Saul, 1976:193). The search concentrated in particular on glassy substances since the theory of the lunar origin of tektite was the predominant hypothesis at the time. An inventory of these glasses is given in Konta & Saul (1976) (signed copy part of The Tricottet Library). The Tricottet Collection counts several glass specimens, which served as basis for the Konta and Saul study, two East African glasses (one fragment and one cut stone) and one "Pit Glass" from Sri Lanka (cut stone) [1]. East African Glass was brought into Nairobi by African prospectors from the bush. Specimens were in the form of massive chunks of glass in shades of bright blue or bright green. These unusual objects were stated to come from Kenya and Tanzania. They could be man-made, volcanic or of another origin. They only contain between 56% and 67% of silice indicating the presence of other constituants. "Pit glass" is the name applied to glass pebbles reported from gem pits in Sri Lanka. Many specimens are surely manufactured objects, which were salted in fields in order to enhance their value in the eyes of prospective miners [2]. Other unusual glasses discussed by Konta & Saul (1976) include Sakado Glass and Schonite [3].

Figures: [1] Unusual glasses used in Konta & Saul (1976) | [2] "Pit Glass" | [3] Letter (G. Baker to J.M. Saul, 1967)

Tektite-wrong (Obsidian)

Obsidianites formerly from the Arthur Flagg collection (weight TBD). Although Flagg believed these specimens to be American tektites, Harvey Nininger proved that they were only obsidian pebbles.

Tektites as terrestrial volcanic ejecta
1959 correspondence between Arthur Flagg and Harvey Nininger & matching specimens

Early workers believed tektites to be ejecta from terrestrial volcanoes (e.g., Darwin, 1844). Hence, the terms obsidianite and obsidian button were used to describe these objects. Although somewhat similar in appearance, tektites and the obsidian volcanic glass have different chemical compositions. As indicated by Baker (1959), obsidianite is an obsolete term. Here we refer to obsidianite as any historical obsidian specimen mistaken for a tektite (i.e. "tektite-wrong"). To be continued.

Figures: "Obsidianite" | Correspondence (Flagg-Nininger, 1959) | "Obsidianite" & real tektite (analyzed by Nininger)

Other natural & artificial glasses

Lightning strike glass

An exogenic fulgurite green droplet with numerous twisted spines, found after a lightning strike in 2008 in Oswego, New York, and featured in Walter (2011) (38 mm).

From the mythology to the reality of petrified lightning strikes

Complete summary coming later.

Exogenic fulgurites are a new class of fulgurites, described in 2004, as a solidified form of originally liquefied material thrown into the air by a powerful lightning strike (Mohling, 2004). The first described occurrence is located in Elko County, Nevada (i.e. type locality) [1]. A second occurrence was discovered in 2008 in Oswego, New York (Walter, 2011) [2-4].

Figures: [1] Elko Co. exogenic fulgurite - AVAILABLE | [2] Oswego exogenic fulgurite (J. Shallit / M. Walter) | [3] Oswego exogenic fulgurite (J. Shallit / M. Walter) | [4] Nail struck by lightning (J. Shallit / M. Walter)

Nuclear strike glass
16 July 1945 Trinity nuclear bomb test
Alamogordo, New Mexico, USA

Summary and images coming later