An Article In Meteorite-Times Magazine
by Martin Horejsi of  Martin Horejsi's Meteorite and Tektite Books
 

Hraschina put the H in Historical!

The name Hraschina rings few bells among meteorite collectors even though it is one of the most famous and historical meteorites in the world.

In the year 1751, the Hraschina meteorite exploded out of the sky with a loud, booming crash around 6:00 in the evening on May 26th. Witnessed described a fireball that exploded into two pieces with a detonation rumbling the countryside.

This 44g fragment is not much to look at, but it the second largest piece of the famous Hraschina meteorite in the world! And the largest is the cornerstone of the Vienna Museum Meteorite Collection!

The rather ageorgeous look is actual a good thing. When researching the history and distribution of Hraschina specimens, it becomes clear that 250 years ago, powerful liquid-cooled diamond-bladed saws were not yet available for the cutting of iron meteorites. That means that except for the main mass, any other piece of Hraschina had to be bludgeoned off another larger piece by crude and violent means.

In fact in the Catalogue of Meteorites, reference is made to the second largest piece listed in a collection as being "mechanically removed" from the main mass. I suspect that "mechanically" is a euphemism for someone beat the living hell out of the thing with an axe.


Even for a historical meteorite, Hraschina's resume' is impressive and includes the following:

Hraschina is a witnessed fall.

Hraschina is an iron meteorite.

Hraschina fell in 1751 in Zagreb, Croatia.

Hraschina's medium octahedrite structure was the structure upon which Aloys von Widmanstatten made his observational discoveries of the crystal structure of nickel-iron so named for him.

Hraschina is the cornerstone of the world famous Vienna Museum Meteorite Collection.

A somewhat famous painting was made of the fall of Hraschina.

Legend has it that the two pieces of Hraschina that fell were in the shape of chains welded together (the UFO folks had fun with that one!). But I think this myth occurred as a language translation error.


Until now, the distribution of Hraschina material was exclusive only to major institutional collections, and the largest piece outside the Vienna Museum's holding of the 39kg main mass was a 20g fragment in Berlin. I can say "until now" because a 44g fragment was recently discovered among the specimens in an old mineral and meteorite collection in Europe.

According the to the distribution of Hraschina listed in the Catalogue of Meteorites, this recently discovered 44g piece would rank as the largest piece of Hraschina in the world outside the Vienna Museum. And it is more than twice the size of the next larger piece held in Berlin; which by the way, is twice as large than the next largest; which in turn is several times larger than the next largest. In fact, the piece held in the Smithsonian Collection is only half as large as the 0.8 gram specimen in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History in New York!

But I digress.


This is the original specimen card that accompanied the specimen across the "pond" to me. Kindly translated by a German meteorite dealer, the card reads:

Meteor-Eisen
Hradina b. Agram
Croatien, gef. 1751
Otto Wei▀haupt, Isenheim


Meteor-Eisen  =  "Meteor Iron", common German 19th century term for Iron Meteorite

Hradina b. Agram = location: "Hradina at Agram"

Croatia, gef 1751 = "Croatia, fell 1751

Otto Wei▀haupt  = name of the collector (Otto "Whitehead")

Isenheim = little town in Germany.


The notation of Agram is a good thing on this card because the name "Hraschina" was not applied to this fall until late in the 1800s. Further detective work by a contact in Germany explored information on Isenheim, Germany for anyone named Wei▀haupt. No luck. But, of course, much has happened in the century-plus since the specimen entered the obviously Jewish Wei▀haupt's collection.

I had the pleasure of spending some time in Zegrab, Yugoslavia in 1989. Unfortunately, mere months after my visit, the country broke apart in a civil war ending with several new countries rising from the the ashes of one. An interesting twist on this is a movement to keep the country of Yugoslavia alive through the Internet. Cyber Yugoslavia (CY) intends to collect citizens until the population is large enough to apply for United Nations status. At that point, CY will apply for 20 square meters of land anywhere on earth in order to place the Internet server for this cyber country. Dear citizens of Cyber Yugoslavia, please contact me when you have UN status. I have 20 square meters of land I will consider giving you - pending local codes, zones, etc.

Croatia claims only four meteorites recovered from within its borders. All are falls, but In an interesting twist of synchronicity, exactly 200 years after the first known Croatian meteorite named Hraschina fell, the most recent Croatian meteorite fell. In the cosmic fireworks of a bicentennial celebration, a stone of only 1.9kg was seen to fall on February 20, 1951. Well, OK it's not exactly 200 years to the day, but it is 99.869% of 200 years.

The stone meteorite named Dubrovnik fell with the sound of a thunderclap at 2:00 in the afternoon. Witnesses reported that the stone slammed into a tree before burying itself deep into the ground. Dubrovnik is classified as an L3-6 S3 polymict breccia with some unequilibrated fragments, and remains to this day almost intact (at 1.7kg) in a very fitting place, the Dubrovnik Museum.


Two hundred years to the year, Hraschina and Dubrovnik are forever linked in time and country. This partial end section of Dubrovnik in the author's collection is covered with rich, dark fusion crust, just as fresh as the day it was pulled from the dirt after it fell out of the sky and bounced off a tree.

The specimen label that came with this piece is from the Natural History Museum in Zagreb, Croatia. After hitting a tree during its fall, Dubrovnik then buried itself "several feet" into the dirt from where it was recovered at a "later" time.


Vagn F. Buchwald, in his writings on iron meteorites highlights Hraschina for something less than a noble reflection of human behavior. He writes:
An example of the fate of an iron meteorite is revealed by the story of Hraschina in 1751, where one of the two recorded fragments was entirely lost soon after the fall because of the activity of blacksmiths.
Dr. Buchwald included more details on the Hraschina when he added:
The small mass was divided by blacksmiths in Hraschina, Zagreb and Bratislava, and while some parts were forged into nails, others were distributed as curios. This [smaller] mass was thus already lost to science during the first few months after its fall, and nothing is to be found today in any major collection.

The incident is quite important because it gives an indication of what must usually have happened in earlier times, when there were not authorities or mineral collectors actively engaged in tracing and compiling the material from new falls of iron meteorites.

Notice that Buchwald writes that the second mass of Hraschina was lost only to science, not to the whole world. And he does admit that pieces of the second mass were "distributed as curios" in at least three different cities. Further, the lack of existence of a sample "in any major [meteorite] collection" does not provide evidence that all pieces of the second mass of Hraschina are lost forever. To the contrary, I believe it is one these "curios" that has surfaced in a phenomenon not uncommon to the worlds of art and music.
A close-up view of a painting of the arrival of Hraschina (aka: the Agram meteorite). Offering some insights into the event, the picture shows the weather, terrain, and an interpretation of the effects of the fall (labeled A, B and C). Sketched by a witness some 25km east of the fall, this painting is referred to as the Phenomena of Agram.

This is the 37kg main mass of Hraschina from the Vienna Museum as pictured on their website. Such a beautiful creature should not have lost its partner through the careless acts of humans. It seems meteorites have more to teach us humans than just science.


 

Mislabeled Hraschina is something that has plagued major meteorite collections. Both the meteorite collection of the Natural History Museum in London and that of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City have discovered that their priceless pieces of Hraschina were really something else. Sadly in both cases, the pieces were of significant size and importance, and are now relegated to commoner iron status such as Tolcua. In fact, the mislabeled piece in the AMNH collection reigned king for over 100 years before being discovered as an imposter and thusly dethroned. For that reason, the acquisition of this piece of Hraschina for my collection was not a quick transaction, nor one without extensive study.

Before adding this specimen to my collection as an authentic piece of Hraschina, I first had to outbid all other competitors just to have the opportunity to have it analyzed. Once in my possession, I studied all the history, distribution, and descriptions of Hraschina, finding no inconsistencies with the piece in question. Then a small sample was removed and sent to a major meteoritical laboratory for inspection under the electron microprobe. Further comparisons were made with other irons, especially historical and well distributed locations. Thus far, all has checked out.


This might look like ugly cuts scaring the surface of this meteorite, but to me they are the beauty marks of authentic Hraschina.

Buchwald made reference to such marks on the piece of Hraschina he inspected when doing his work with iron meteorites. Buchwald writes:

"On both surfaces, but distinctly on the anterior one, straight scars resembling chisel marks May be observed.

They are typically 1-5 cm long, and 1-2 mm deep and wide, and are apparently oriented in a limited number of directions."


 


Despite its fragile appearance, this fragment of Hraschina is quite durable and resilient. When removing a small appendage for study, it took a pair of pliers and a surprising amount of effort to "mechanically" remove the little iron tentacle.

On the robust end of the fragment remains a glue stain from an old specimen label. Too bad the scrap of history is not still attached to this piece. Close inspection of the region, even under ultraviolet light, revealed no clues as to what it said.


 

In a most unflattering view of an already beauty-challenged specimen, the gaping wounds of violent removal from a larger piece offers all the world a peek at the iron entrails inside Hraschina.


 

As a collector who specializes in historically important meteorites, Hraschina was both a blessing and a curse. Hraschina sat near the top of my "wish-list" ever since I saw the number of pages referenced to Hraschina in John G. Burke's book about meteorites in history titled Cosmic Debris (18 references for Hraschina, and in comparision Ensisheim has eight). But alas, it is easily the ugliest meteorite in my collection. Further, it is an iron and I have been avoiding irons when possible because of their tendency to change volume, mass, shape and chemical composition over time. Even worse, an iron's density is double that of stones so it halves an iron's volume when paying the same price per gram as a historic stone.

Now that the dust has settled around this piece of Hraschina, my perspective of historical has again shifted further into the past. Just as a piece of Ensisheim skews the historical depth of a collection, Hraschina inflames the historical importance of a collection. Entering Hraschina into my collection was a milestone of sorts when I again felt the responsibilities and obligations of caring for meteorites during my tenure on earth. Hraschina, now closer to its third century on earth than its second, has outlived all witnesses to its fall, all the assaulting blacksmiths, all kings, all queens, and all the peasants of the time. In fact, generations of the dead have long since joined the sediments while the fragile iron from space moves from person to person, county to country, collection to collection in a organic chain of custody. Which in the end is all we can ever do.



The Accretion Desk welcomes all comments and feedback.

accretiondesk@gmail.com