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


Pillistfer, Estonia:

Are There Skeletons In Its Closet?

There are many interesting twists and turns in the meteorite trade, and part of the fun (if one can call it that) is to track and document the stories. In this month's installment of the Accretion Desk, we will explore the somewhat thick plot of the Pillistfer enstatite chondrite.

I first came across an interesting message on the internet about Pillistfer back in 1995. At that time, there were very few meteorite-related websites so it was easy to open each and every hit in a web search of the word meteorite. One of the links was-and still is- the following: ATTENTION METEORITE !

Even back then, I printed the page kept it as part of my meteorite literature collection so every now and again when digging through my pile of various piece of meteorite information my memory about the issue with Pillistfer was refreshed . Then one day (many years ago) Blaine Reed offered some slices of Pillistfer for sale.


The Republic of Estonia has a population of about 1.3 million people. Here is a quick bio about the country from the CIA's Factbook website:

After centuries of Danish, Swedish, German, and Russian rule, Estonia attained independence in 1918. Forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1940, it regained its freedom in 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Since the last Russian troops left in 1994, Estonia has been free to promote economic and political ties with Western Europe. It joined both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004.



This sketch was borrowed from the website describing the 3kg mass allegedly stolen from a museum in Tartu, Estonia.

In fact, there seems to be plenty of stolen meteorites floating around out there as evidenced by a quick google search for such things. Here are a few examples:

Trade growing in stolen meteorites (BBC News)

Meteorite.com's Missing And Stolen Meteorites And Tektites page

Stolen meteorites post to the Meteorite List in 1998

Museum Security Website (March 22, 1999) with mentions of meteorite theft

Illicit Trade In 'Hot' Moon Rocks Flourishing

IMCA's website of fake Chinese Meteorites



Some background on the Pilistvere meteorite fall (center of the map):

The Pillistfer, Estonia meteorite is an EL6, S2 enstatite chondrite that fell at 12:30 in the afternoon on August 8, 1863.

At least one of the four recovered stones encountered a building making this a documented "hammer" or meteorite that hit something during its fall to earth.

The weights of the four stones were 14kg, 7.5kg, 1.5kg and 250 grams.



This is an 11 gram slice of Pillistfer I purchased from Blaine in Tucson this year. It was from a collection Blaine was selling on consignment, and the first piece of Pillistfer he has had for sale in a long time.

Upon returning home from Tucson, I decided to look into the Pillistfer issue again. One of the first things I stumbled across is an interesting exchange in the archives of Meteorite List dated November 3, 1999:


Hallo,

I'm xxxx xxxx from the University of Tartu, Estonia. Why do you think, they can't sell these stolen meteorites?

Four years ago the Pilistvere-Kurla (Pillistfer) meteorite (E6) was stolen from our museum. This year I saw a big slice from the stolen part, belonging to a respectable private collection. What to do?

-xxxx xxxx

 

Hello xxxx

That you saw and recognized your stolen meteorite just proves my point. There is no market for stolen meteorites, just as there is no market for stolen major works of art. The art works are recognized and their return is demanded, and the purchaser looses his money.

Demand the return of the slice. The slice owner will also want to get his money back, so he will probably help you find who sold it to him. From there, work your way up the chain.

-xx



This 29 gram crusted slice of Pillistfer is now the representative of that locality in my collection. Before purchasing this larger slice to replace the two smaller pieces I bought from Blaine, I inquired again about the source of the material.

The explaination I received was essentially the following:


The curator at the Estonian Museum offered a collector in the US a nice piece of Pillistfer. It was purchased by the collector, and several slices were removed to help recover the cost of the specimen (it was from one of those slices that Blaine acquired his material to sell).

Then, several years later, the collector who purchased the piece of Pillistfer from the museum curator received a phone call from the Estonian Museum claiming the piece of Pillistfer had been stolen. As would be expected, the Museum wanted their piece of Pillistfer back.

However, since the US collector paid a sizable amount of money for the piece, it was not something that he wanted to part with without a fight. In the end, half the piece of Pillistfer was returned to the Museum in Estonia, with the material in the US being declared appropriately exchanged.



Pillistfer is an EL chondrite with 27.78% total iron. Even though a lower-iron E chondrite, the metallic sheen of Pillistfer under angled light is beautiful-like a thick star field in a Hubble Telescope image.
 


Estonia has three other documented meteorites to its credit, two more stone falls, and one iron find.

There is a listing for a 1704 fall named Dorpat, but most sources discount this as an actual meteorite. The lack of support is fueled by the lack of specimens, lack of study, lack of distribution, and lack of any witnesses outside that of an interpretation of part of a letter where someone described a fireball.

The slice pictured above and below is my piece of Oesel, Estonia, an L6 chondrite that fell on May 11, 1855. The 1855 fall date makes this the first documented Estonian meteorite.



The beautiful crust on this piece is especially important to me since this particular stone had special meaning to those who lived near where it fell over 150 years ago.

In 1868, A. F. Gebel explained the situation:

"Many people believed in apparitions of the Devil. To defend themselves from his mystical attacks, simple folk ground pieces of the Kaande [Oesel] meteorite into powder, then swallowed it; or carried pieces of the meteorite on their chests as amulets.

People not only assured me of this in Kaande, but I myself saw and obtained several such amulets, kept by peasants and especially by peasant women."



Although my piece of Oesel did not come directly from David New, it did come with a specimen label from him. And from dealing with David for many years, I have no doubt that this piece of Oesel has a clear title.


The Accretion Desk welcomes all comments and feedback.

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