Historic Tektites & Other Glasses

Last update: 20 May 2017

This gallery displays a collection of historic glass specimens, mainly tektites but also other impactites formed from the impact of large meteorites, nuclear blasts (trinitite) and lightning strikes (fulgurites). Most specimens come from the main investigators of those strange glassy objects. Famous collections (both private and institutional) are also described from catalogued specimens, original manuscripts and rare publications.

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1. The elusive exogenic fulgurites
Nevada & New York, USA

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).

Lightning glass lucky finds: from the Nevada desert to a suburban front yard

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 (fulgurites): [1] From Elko Co. (1 of 3 original finders) | [2] From Oswego (J. Shallit / M. Walter) | [3] Nail struck by lightning (J. Shallit / M. Walter)

Irghizite, found by Florenskiy, 1980s, from the John Saul collection

2. The hunt for unusual glassy materials

Unusual glasses, possibly natural or man-made (bright green East African Glass, "Pit Glass" from Sri Lanka) formerly from the John M. Saul collection.

See also: Gallery of Historic Gems

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 our natural satellite. 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) [1]. 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)

Lunite, chips from the Moon, australites, Heisman estate

3. The MIT/Saul expedition to the Ivoirite strewn field
Ivory Coast & Bosumtwi Crater, Ghana

Geological map (with some handwritten notes) of Lake Bosumtwi and road map of Southern Ghana, used by John M. Saul during his 1965 expedition.

The first scientific expedition at Lake Bosumtwi & in the Ivory Coast tektite strewnfield

Summary coming later

Figures: [1] Field notes & other documents (J.M. Saul, 1965) | [2] Saul, 1969 (presentation copy: TC) | [3] Ivoirite (M. Bouguarel)

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

Indochinites from 1959 Vietnam expedition, Nininger collection, Arizon State University, handwritten label, tear-drop, pear-drop

4. Glasses from the A.L. Flagg collection
Arizona & New Mexico, USA
Mid-20th century

"Obsidianites" from the A.L. Flagg collection. Although Flagg believed these specimens to be American tektites, H.H. Nininger proved that they were obsidian volcanic glass.

Glasses of the Southwest: Melts from volcanoes, meteorite impacts & nuclear blasts
A suite from the Arthur L. Flagg Collection

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"), as did Flagg in the late 1950s [1]. Arthur Leonard Flagg (1883-1961) was a mining engineer with a keen interest in minerals from Arizona. Few mineralogists or collectors could sight-identify hand specimens as rapidly and accurately as could Flagg, affectionately known throughout the country as "Mr. Rockhound" (Wilson, 2017). His collection included several glasses (both natural and artificial) from the Southwest, including the tektite-wrongs discussed above [1], impactites from the Meteor Crater, Arizona (Lechatelierite) [2], and Trinitite from the 1945 Trinity nuclear test site, White Sands, New Mexico (coming soon). Flagg often expressed a desire to establish an Earth Sciences Museum in Arizona. He was the first curator of the Arizona Mineral Museum, but this was as close as he came to seeing this dream fulfilled. The Flagg Mineral Foundation, from which the present specimens originate, was formed in 1962 with the goal of establishing a mineral museum in the Phoenix area. Unfortunately, due to Arizona House Bill HB2251, the museum was closed in 2011 (source: FMF).

Figures (A.L. Flagg): [1] "Obsidianites" & correspondence (Flagg-Nininger, 1959) | [2] Lechatelierite & sandstone, Meteor Crater | [3] Trinitite, Trinity (coming soon)

Bediasites, Georgiaites, Virgil Barnes, Albin, signed references

5. The H.O. Beyer Collection of Philippinites
Manila, Philippines
First half of the 20th century

H. Otley Beyer and his collection of tektites and archaeological artifacts, presented in issues of Philippines International magazine from 1962 and 1965.

H.O. Beyer, avid investigator and collector of tektites in the Philippines

Born in America, Henry Otley Beyer (1883-1966) 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 (Philippines International, 1962; 1965) [1]. His life-long work on tektites is compiled in a large two-part monograph entitled "Philippine Tektites", which includes most of his past papers [2]. Beyer was described as an assiduous scholar and encyclopedist as well as a hard beaten scientific field worker and collector. Amongst 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 of Manila. 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 [3] and the rest of the collection was purchased by A. Whymark in the 2010s. This is Beyer 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 [3]. 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.

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

Great Circle Hypothesis, glass meteorites, Alfred Lacroix articles, 1930s, tektite strewn fields

6. The South Australian Museum tektite collection
Adelaide, South Australia
Second half of the 19th century-20th century

Charlotte Waters australites originally part of the James W. Kennett collection built in 1932-1937, obtained by the South Australian Museum in 1940 & studied by Charles Fenner.

The most extensive & representative collection of australites

Australites were first described in Darwin's "Geological Observations" (Darwin, 1844), twelve years before the founding of the South Australian Museum (SAM) in Adelaide. Australites were already long known to Aboriginal people who produced small cutting tools (or microliths). By the mid-19th century, they were also well known to the gold diggers, who called them button stones. A collection of almost 4,000 specimens made by W.H.C. Shaw of Perth was acquired by the SAM during this period. In 1940, a collection of more than 7,000 specimens made by Constable John W. Kennett was purchased; these, with the assistance of aboriginals, were collected in the area surrounding Charlotte Waters [1]. Smaller individual series were obtained through the years from other collectors (e.g., from N. Bartlett) [2]. Australites 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 [2a] and cores (secondary shaping) [2b]. Tertiary shaping due to terrestrial degradation is rarer than for other tektites due to favorable climatic conditions. Charles Fenner (1884-1955), staff member of the SAM paleontological section (after being Director of Education), plunged with enthusiasm into the work of registration and cataloguing of australites of which he made a particular study (Fenner, 1940) [1]. Among the last of his activities (before he retired in 1954 aged 70) was the preparation of a separate register for the australites of the SAM. For a detailed history of the first one hundred years of the SAM, read Hale (1956).

Figures: [1] Australites (J.W. Kennett / SAM) | [2] Australites (N. Bartlett / SAM)