A Medicine Meteorite: Queens Mercy
A South African H6 Fall with a Great Story
and Low TKW...
that just might grow Larger.
The art photo above is one I took (and made) of a settlement in Cape Town, South Africa this past summer. I wrote some about that trip in a previous Accretion Desk article.
This month, the Accretion Desk's fall of interest (or should I say falls?)
The country of South Africa has a rich history in supplying the world with wonderful and rare meteorites. Of the almost 50 meteorites reported to hold South African citizenship, nearly 40% are iron finds (with the remaining finds including four chondrites and one mesosiderite). The rest are either witnessed falls or meteor-wrongs. I actually prefer the term meteor-nots in this case since there may not even be any known sample of it to be wrong.
The South African falls read as a who's who classifications. Represented are plenty of H and L chondrites of several petrologic varieties, one eucrite, a pair of howardites, a CM2, a couple E chondrites and one medium octahedrite IID iron named N'Kandhla.
This well-crusted corner fragment of Queens Mercy entered my collection when Michael Farmer was so kind as to allow it out of his.
Long before I ever held a piece of Queens Mercy, I was enamored with the meteorite's name.
The reason I hesitate on the singularity of the Queens Mercy fall, is that while a scant ~1.3kg of material is reported as the total recovered weight, this number could be over two magnitudes off the actual value. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let's start with what is known.
The Queens Mercy meteorite fell in Cape Province, South Africa on April 30, 1925 at about 8:00 in the evening. It is classified as a veined H6 chondrite. Below is the entry from the Catalogue of Meteorites of the Natural History Museum in London:
Queen's Mercy...............................30'7' S., 28'42' E.
Matatiele, Griqualand East, Cape Province, South Africa
Fell 1925, April 30, 2000 hrs
Stone. Olivine-bronzite chondrite (H6), veined.
After detonation and appearance of a bright light, three stones (at least) fell; one measuring about 18 x 12 x 9 in. at Queen's Mercy, about 20 miles from Matatiele, where it was broken up by natives, a smaller stone of 950 grams, about 15 miles from Matatiele, and a small fractured stone of 315 grams found near the large one.
What I find interesting here is that the entry above from the Catalogue is distilled from a published report about the fall, and we can directly compare the article and the catalogue entry side by side. By doing so, we gain some insights into just how much information is lost during the “gisting” process when distilling a catalogue entry for specific meteorite.
The following paragraphs are from a 1926 publication by G. T. Prior, Keeper of the Mineral Department of the British Museum titled: Three South African meteorites: Vaalbult, Witlclip, and Queens Mercy.
Meteoric Stone of Queens Mercy, Matatiele, GriquaIand East, Cape Province.
Fragments of the Queens Mercy meteorite were kindly placed at my disposal for examination by Dr. A. W. Rogers, Director of the Geological Survey of South Africa, Mr. E. Warren, Director of the Natal Museum at Pietermaritzburg, and Mr. E. C. Chubb, Curator of the Durban Museum.
Of this meteorite two stones at least and probably more fell at about 8 p.m. on April 30, 1925, after appearance of a bright light and a loud detonation. The largest stone, according to an account by Mr. A. J. R. Atkin, fell 'at 8.15 p.m.' at Queens Mercy about 20 miles from Matatiele, Cape Province.
There was a loud noise and a bright light, and the natives fled to the bush and found the meteoric stone next morning near a hut. It was a large stone measuring about 18 x 12 x 9 inches and projecting about one foot above the ground.
As the medicine-man said that if used as a talisman, good luck would come to the wearers, the stone was broken up and distributed in small pieces as 'muti', and only a few fragments, two, however, weighing over 6 lb. each, appear to have been recovered.
The smaller nearly complete stone was obtained from Chief Jeremiah Moshesh and handed over to Mr. Warren by Mr. G. Pyke, Postmaster of Matatiele. According to Mr. Pyke's account it fell “ at 7.55 p.m. and fell from east to west. I saw it and also saw it break up.
There was a bright light like a motor head-light. After it burst I heard a noise exactly like thunder which lasted about three seconds (I walked a distance of about 100 yards between the bursting and the noise). It fell about 15 miles from here (Matatiele) and over a radius of about 5 miles, just under, or within five miles of the Drakensberg range.”
The time of fall 7.55 p.m., was given by Mr. Pyke, as he “happened to be coming out of our public library at the time and had just looked at the clock on passing out of the door”.
The term Muti is a Zulu word for tree, which, since tree parts were used by Medicine Men as drugs to treat ailments, a Muti is often a slang word for medicine. The Prior article above states that Queens Mercy was used as a talisman. This is not an isolated situation. For example, a L6 chondrite named Oesel that fell in Estonia on May 11, 1855 fell upon a similar fate. Oesel, as penned by A. F. Gebel in 1868:
"Many people believed in apparitions of the Devil. To defend themselves from his mystical attacks, simple folk ground pieces of the 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 Oesel, but I myself saw and obtained several such amulets, kept by peasants and especially by peasant women."
This thick, crusted slice of Oesel, Estonia pictured above was a lucky acquision for my collection as it should be since it brought me luck simply by existing in my collection.
Now as the story continues, if one looks up information on all four-dozen South African meteorites, two localities stand out in relation to Queens Mercy. One directly and one indirectly.
Below is the Catalogue information about a stone known as Moshesh:
Moshesh.....................................30'6' S., 28'43' E.
Matatiele District, Cape Province, South Africa
Stone. Olivine-bronzite chondrite (H).
A stone weighing 180-225kg was found at Moshesh Location, near
Queen's Mercy, of which 5kg are in Natal Museum, Pietermaritzburg.
This may be part of the Queen's Mercy fall.
Analysis, 25.19 % total iron.
Given the original Queens Mercy description, I doubt a ~500-pound stone went unnoticed for very long. However, with 5kg presumably available for study, it should not take long to learn if Queens Mercy and Moshesh could be related.
I've submitted several emails to the museum, but after months, nothing but silence has arrived in my inbox. And even if the 5kg Moshesh matches Queens Mercy, the real challenge will be to find the missing 200kg of material.
Continuing this text-based archeology, another name pops up as a possible relative to the Queen. A tiny stone named Natal is thought to possibly be a misplaced piece of Moshesh, with could in turn make it yet another piece of Queens Mercy. Here is the Catalogue's weigh-in on the matter:
Natal, South Africa
Aprox. recovered weight: 1.4g
A 1.4g fragment is said to be part of a stone which fell in Natal. The fragment is described as an olivine-enstatite chondrite. It may be part of Moshesh which in turn may belong to the Queen's Mercy fall. C. Frick & E. C. I. Hammerbeck (1973).Distribution: Main mass, Nat. Mus. Bloemfontein.
Farmer traded this specimen of Queens Mercy from the Natural History Museum in London during the heydays of rare NWA material exchange. At that time, museums around the world were eager to trade ordinary chondrites (and even some rare classes) for rare classes of NWA meteorites including achondrites, carbonaceous chondrites, and of course Martian and lunar samples.
It didn't take long for the dealers to realize that some research institutions would trade ordinary but highly historical chondrites for the once unobtainable (especially in larger sizes) achondrites even if hot desert finds.
Something I find interesting about this internal view of Queens Mercy is the gluey oval fingerprint with a few paper shards left intact. Many of the historic specimens in the collection of Natural History Museum in London from where this piece came were identified with small paper oval with an ID number glued to the specimen. For example, see below:
This 3/4 individual of the Supuhee, India chondrite fell on the Bubuowly Indigo Factory at noon on January 19, 1865.
The Museum of Natural History in London routinely marked its specimens with a identification number written on an oval paper and glued to the stone. The number (41050) is referenced in the Catalogue of Meteorites as a nearly complete stone of 55g that fell on the factory.
Here is a link to a painting of an indigo factory painted around the same time of the fall of Supuhee giving some insight as to what this meteorite fell upon.
However, as the flood of “rare” meteorite material from the hot deserts of Africa continued unimpeded for years, and in many cases, such as with rare achondrites, actually increased in flow, many of the museums realized their errors and closed their meteorite collections from further trading of hot desert material.
And in some cases, stopped trading all together effectively locking their specimen cabinets until there is a better understanding of the future of the meteorite market.
The picture above shows a cut face flanked by the rich black fusion crust. The lighting in the photo highlighted some reddish overtones. I have seen the same effect on a crusted fragment of Cold Bokkeveld, another South African meteorite. I have no idea what it is, but do feel that blood it is not.
In another view of the cut and polished face of my Queens Mercy fragment, not much beyond a tradition H6 matrix is presented. But in hindsight, any meteorite with an interesting name, a great story, and in almost century old witnessed fall from the depths of the southern hemisphere, is a welcome addition to my collection.
As another installment of the Accretion Desk rolls to a stop, I find it interesting that the most the most precious souvenirs I have from South Africa were already in my collection before I ever left to visit the southern tip of the dark continent. And when it comes to authentic South African folklore and objects, I cannot think of a more appropriate keepsake for my journey to South Africa than a documented piece of lucky medicine named Queens Mercy.