Beyrout, Lebanon: Ending the year with a Bang. Literally!

Updated: Martin Horejsi’s Meteorite Books Website 


A December 1921 Witnessed Fall: Beyrout, Lebanon

Beyrout, Lebanon

Ending the year with a bang. Literally!

Beyrout

As a “hut” hammerer, a New Year’s Eve fall, a LL3, a historic fall, and the only meteorite from its homeland, Beyrout has it all. Well, all except, much remaining material. With only 21% of the original 1100g accounted for, a piece of any size in a meteorite collection is is a welcomed addition.

What is better than a witnessed fall? An LL3 witnessed fall! And what’s better than that? An LL3 witnessed fall that crashed through a house! And adding icing to this particular cosmic cake are the facts, that the meteorite has an extremely low total known weight (made worse through years of bad curation), and it is the only witnessed fall in its country’s history. Oh, and on top of all that it fell on New Years Eve and is world’s only fall on that day.

According to the standard report, at 3:45 in the afternoon on December 31, 1921, a single stone of 1100g fell through the roof of a “hut” not far from the University of St. Joseph in Beirut, Lebanon. But like all meteorite falls, there is more to the story.

The Catalogue of Meteorites lists only a single entry in any collection anywhere in the world, a 51g specimen. If that is really the case, then over the past 90 years, 79% of the initial mass has been lost. The one and only collection entry in the Catalogue for Beyrout is the Natural History Museum in Paris, a location that is quite understandable due to history.


Beyrout

Thumbprints as Fingerprints

Crust is an important if not imperative feature on historic meteorites. The presence of crust, while not proof of authenticity, does provide a unfalsifiable piece of information.

Many witnessed falls have distinct crust that can easily be compared to other known samples. In fact, many seasoned collectors experienced with crust across both time and classifications can quickly assess a specimen’s potential as an authentic historic with the same skill as most others have discriminating between Campo, Canyon Diablo, and Sikhote-Alin. To those in the know, its obvious.

Interestingly, the entry in the Catalogue of Meteorites lists Beyrout, Lebanon as falling in Syria. Had the fall happened two years earlier, the actual country of landing would not be in question, and would without a doubt be Syria. But that neck of the global woods was in turmoil back then. Not that I was around at that time, but someone was and here’s what the CIA Factbook has to say about it:

Following World War I, France acquired a mandate over the northern portion of the former Ottoman Empire province of Syria. The French separated out the region of Lebanon in 1920, and granted this area independence in 1943.

Clear as mud, right. I guess with that kind of explanation either Syria or Lebanon will work as the home country for Beyrout. Heck, I’m still trying to figure out what “acquired a mandate” means. But since the land of Lebanon was identified as separate in 1920 and the fall was in 1921 I think this meteorite should be rightfully claimed by Lebanon.

Either way, its understandable how the only sample listed in a collection happens to be in a French museum.


Beyrout

Like Earth compared to Jupiter, the sliced chondrules visible in this face represent a sizable portion of the surface area. Of course a larger face would eliminate this problem, but with the rarity of Beyrout material, more real estate is not an option.

Beyrout’s entry in the Meteoritical Bulletin lists it as an LL3.8 with a total known weight of a mere 1100 grams, while the Catalogue of Meteorites adds, “only two small fragments preserved.”

I’ve avoided adding small specimens to my meteorite cabinet since making the arguably brutal collecting shift exclusively to historic witnessed falls. At eleven years shy of a century being historic was not an issue for Beyrout, and the fact Beyrout is a hammer did help, but a sub-two gram slice was pushing my unwritten collecting rules. Then again, specimens such as Beyrout come along only rarely if ever in the big picture of meteorite collecting so acquiring it allowed me to question my motives while passing on it would have set me up for later regrets.

Regardless of its diminutive size, as an LL3.8 Beyrout does have some great chondrule activity. I just wish there was more surface area to enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful to be the temporary caretaker of this locality, but a larger slice would have certainly been welcome and easier to justify given my picky collecting habits.


Beyrout

Small specimens of a gram or two have not gained traction in my collection over the past few years. I tend to avoid the smaller pieces figuring that they are more placeholders in a collection rather than full fledged members. But when something like Beyrout comes along, the terms placeholder and membership are synonymous.

So how did this piece of Lebanese history come to into my collection in the first place? It just took a few bits of luck for both a long-time meteorite dealer and for me. The story picks up at the Denver show back in the early 1990s. Apparently a professor from the University of Beirut with more than a passing interest in meteorites just happened to be in Colorado during the show. And this professor just happened to have with him a small piece of the Beyrout meteorite. And the dealer mentioned above just happened to cross paths with the professor while at the show. The professor was actually more interested in a trade for his precious Beyrout, but material as rare as Beyrout requires an equally rarified specimen in exchange. Luckily in this situation a large sum of cash carried the same significance as rare meteorite material.

The slice of Beyrout remained in the personal collection of the meteorite dealer for over a decade before a slice was removed. With my nose always sniffing for rare material as the meteorite winds drift around, I jumped on the piece the instant it became available.

Since then, a pleasant swing in the trends of meteorite collecting over the past few years has generated an exaggerated interest in the so-called hammer stones. Not only have the prices for such samples skyrocketed, but the general awareness of hammers as a collecting genera–as well as their routinely small TKWs–have led these special localities to increase in monetary value by a magnitude or two…or even in some cases three!


Beyrout

Everything is large under magnification. Whether through loupe, scope or macro lens, the telling nature of an LL3 shows through.

Alas, with all explosive price amplifications, there is an ugly side to meteorite collecting in that some unscrupulous collector-dealer-robber-barons (CDRBs) have gotten a hold of important meteorite material including rare historics, or hammers (or both) and are offering millispecs on eBay from a seemingly never ending supply. Of course if one of these CDRBs got their greedy hands on, say a couple grams of Ensisheim or Orgueil, and broke the grams into milligram or centigram pieces, the singularly rare sample is now dozens of nothing more than souvenir meteorite samples barely related to the locality upon which it claims ancestry.

Lets take a quick detour to do the numbers. Imagine a two-gram slice of Beyrout. Hit it with a hammer. The two gram piece is now 2000 milligrams. Many of the CDRBs offer samples of about 0.05g. There are forty 0.05g samples in 2g. If the CDRB sold each millispec for say $20, then the total selling price (40 times $20) would be about $800 (not subtracting the eBay and PayPal fees). At an average of $10/sample (not unusual with typical market saturation and limited interest given the small size), the total selling price is $400. Of course some of the first samples to be offered my actually fetch upwards of three figures, but none of this matters. Instead, it is the global loss of important material forever through the avaricious actions of slob collectors.


Beyrout

The rich chondrule distribution would benefit from a nice polish, but given the size of this specimen, the mechanics of polishing would be both risky and cut into this specimen’s already low mass. however, in a close up picture such the texture of some some chondrules shows through the saw marks.

Sadly, the city of Beirut is a place that rarely makes the global news scene for anything good. But you can change that. From now on, when you raise your glass to toast the coming new year, raise it just one notch higher for Beyrout, Lebanon and say a quick thanks for the only recorded meteorite fall on New Year’s Eve.

And then push your glass even higher and silently make a wish that next year will bring good things to the young country of Lebanon, the only home the Beyrout meteorite will ever know.

Until next time….


The Accretion Desk welcomes all comments and feedback. accretiondesk@gmail.com


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About the Author

Martin Horejsi
Dr. Martin Horejsi is a Professor of Instructional Technology and Science Education at The University of Montana. A long-time meteorite collector and writer, before publishing his column The Accretion Desk in The Meteorite Times, he contributed often and wrote the column From The Strewnfields in Meteorite Magazine. Horejsi is currently a monthly columnist in The Science Teacher, a journal by the National Science Teachers Association. Horejsi specializes in the collection and study of historic witnessed fall meteorites with the older, smaller, and rarer the better. Although his meteorite collection once numbered over a thousand pieces with near that many different locations, several large trades and sales have streamlined the collection to about 250 locations with all but 10 being important witnessed falls. Many of the significant specimens in Horejsi's collection are historic witnessed falls that once occupied prominence in the meteorite collections of Robert A. Haag, James Schwade, and Michael Farmer. Other important specimens were acquired through institutional trades including those from The Smithsonian Institution, Arizona State University, and other universities.
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