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


Fukutomi, Japan:

123 Years of Recent History

The Geological Survey of Japan (GSJ) was formed in 1882 the with goals of mineral exploration a priority over understanding the science behind natural events such as earthquakes, volcanoes and the like. In that same year, in the early afternoon on March 19, an L5 chondrite named Fukutomi fell on Kyushu, Japan. Reports of reports preceeded the fall of the two stones of Fukutomi, one of 7.20kg and the other of 4.42kg.
An ancient obelisk from space, this 45 gram corner section of Fukutomi stands as pillar of history sharing the early solar system through science while picking up the scars of adventure along the way.

Japan has a rich history in meteoritics including Nogata, the world's first witnessed meteorite fall where material and an account of the event is preserved. On the Julian calendar date of May 19 in the year 861 (or if you prefer, April 7th in third year of Jogan), a 472g L6 chondrite fell and later housed in a wooden box in the Shinto shrine of Suga Jinja. The stone, it is written, produced a brilliant flash, fell to the ground making a hole, and was recovered the next morning. To put the date of this fall in perspective, the famous Ensisheim meteorite is 118 years closer in time to us today than to the fall of Nogata.

Japan is the size of the US state of Montana (the 4th largest in the US), but it seems to have more than its share of meteorite falls. Even if we take into account that Japan had a head start with four recorded meteorite falls before the United States even existed, there seems an abundance of recovered meteorites given Japan's size. Compare that to Montana which boasts five irons, one stone, and no falls. But of course, Montana (today anyway) has much less than 1% of the population of Japan- as if more facts make this absurd comparison any more valid.

The Natural History Museum (London) Catalogue lists 64 meteorites that claim Japanese citizenship. But 11 of those (eight falls and three finds) are in doubt as meteorites bringing the realistic total to 53. After subtracting the questionable rocks, Japan has 39 documented meteorite falls. Then, if we subtract the four falls prior to 1800, we can extrapolate that a witnessed fall occurs in Japan every 5.8 years. Further, Japan had seven falls in the past 25 years producing an average of one fall every 3.5 years.

Japan has well-established science programs to study meteorites including the National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR) in Tokyo. Here is a link to an article about my experiences with the NIPR many years ago.

An early Japanese relative of Fukutomi, this specimen of Ogi fell in 1741. The largest stone from this fall still resides with the Nabeshima family in Tokyo. Few collections hold pieces of Ogi. The Natural History Museum in London, from where this piece came, holds the main mass (4072g) of the second largest stone.


Although classified as a type-5 chondrite, Fukutomi offers earthly eyeballs a wealth of well-defined chondrules in a colorful matrix gently scattered with nickel-iron metal flake.

The Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois was once the home of the piece of Fukutomi pictured here. When reading about the origin of the meteorite collection at the Field Museum, this piece of Fukutomi takes on special significance. Here is an excerpt from the collection catalog of the Field Museum:
"The meteorite collection at the Field Museum began in 1893 at the World's Columbian Exposition with one hundred seventy meteorites that formed a part of the natural history exhibit put up by Ward's Natural Science Establishment. The entire display was bought by Marshall Field, founder and one of the members of the board of trustees of the Field Museum.

A significant addition was made to the meteorite collection when the Ward-Coonley collection was purchased in 1912 for $80,000. Prof. Henry Ward accumulated this collection world-wide by travel and purchase. He cut up and polished some of his original meteorites and used them to trade for rare and extremely valuable pieces."

This specimen bears the markings of 123 years of collection captivity. The "me1491" tattoo is the Field Museum's paint with the "me" shorthand for meteorite collection followed by the collection number. It is my suspicion that the red number is a Ward-Coonley collection number since the Ward-Coonley meteorite collection catalogue lists the specimen number of Fukutomi as 368 which is easily possible if one turns this picture upsidedown as below.

A specimen label from the Field Museum rides shotgun with this piece of Fukutomi offering security as to the source and history of the piece.

The current collection catalog of the Field Museum lists one piece of of Fukutomi, a crusted end section weighing 175.2g. Since the label date for my piece is almost six years old, I suspect the online catalog of the Field Museum is up-to-date and their piece once weighed over 200g.

The distribution of Fukutomi listed in the Catalogue notes that outside Tokyo, only the Natural History Museum in London has a piece larger than 200g, but only 207g at that. Had the Field Museum chosen not to cut their piece, thus producing my piece, the Field Museum piece would have weighted over 220g and ranked the largest in the world outside Tokyo.

But the problem with this logic is that the Ward-Coonley meteorite collection catalog lists only a single 179g specimen of Fukutomi in the collection. Hmmmm.

When reading between the lines of the Field Museum meteorite catalog text, it seems that a twist of fate brought the Ward-Coonley collection to Chicago rather than New York City or Washington, DC. Here is another excerpt from the Field Museum catalog:
"The Ward-Coonley collection had been promised for deposit at the American Museum of Natural History with right of first refusal. The American Museum of Natural History failed to follow options in the agreement.

When Ward died, his widow Mrs. Lydia Avery Coonley acted immediately to dispose of Prof. Ward's collection. Her first contact was the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian Institution failed to raise the necessary funds for its purchase and the American Museum of Natural History declined to sell it for Mrs. Coonley. The collection was then purchased by the Field Museum."

I find it hard to believe that Fukutomi is a type-5 chondrite given chondrule density and low amount of deformity. My guess is that this is really a type-4 at the most. I suspect that if the distribution of Fukutomi was as great as Barratta, Australia, someone would do more lab work and a reclassification would be in happened with Barratta.

Fukutomi, Japan is a beautiful chondrite rich in history and Japanese tradition. I count myself lucky to be able to hold it in my meteorite collection. Especially since I have a great uncle, aunt, and brother-in-law who are all Japanese.


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