Unlike other meteorite craters, the largest of famous Henbury iron meteorite craters formed when the giant lizard-woman named Mulumura dug down through the Australian soil throwing out iron fragments and lines of orange dirt in what would later be called ejecta forming the rays around the 180 meter-wide depression. Wisely, other Aboriginal people would not camp near the crater for fear that the fire-devil would fill them with iron. Nor would the locals drink from any water that pooled in the craters because the fiery devil that ran down from the sun and now makes his home on earth will burn and eat any “black fellows.”
The Henbury Craters and accompanying meteorites are named after the Henbury Cattle Station near the Finke River in Northern Territory, Australia. Initial recognition and protection of the Henbury craters located about 90 miles south of Alice Springs was formally adopted in 1980, and later readopted on the Northern Heritage Territory Register in 2003. The fascinating site is on my meteorite bucket list, but in the meantime, I will enjoy the irons of the fall.
It’s suspected that a large iron meteorite broke apart before striking earth some 4700 years ago leaving behind 14 craters and a story that might have been passed down through the ages from actual witnesses. On the science side, the Henbury craters did not attract much attention until the 1930 fall of the Karoonda meteorite. Only then did the scientists give Henbury proper attention, and thus Henbury is listed as find discovered in 1931.
My initial encounter with a Henbury meteorite was way back when I began collecting meteorites in the early 1990s. I bought a specimen from David New as one of the first 10 pieces in my collection. Another Aussie iron named Mundrabillia was the very beginning of my meteorite collecting. Since then, I have acquired a few more Henburys of various shapes and weights, but as my serious collecting turned to historic witnessed falls, geriatric irons were not high on my list. But Henbury was a keeper. So much so that sometime, maybe ten years ago, I was on the phone with Blaine Reed about something meteoritic. I don’t recall the specifics, but I ended up with a baggie filled with small Henbury specimens. As I was digging around, I discovered the baggie again in a similar fashion as when I discovered my coffee can full of Sikhote-Alin specimens. And I think I have another can around here will a small pile of as-recovered Canyon Diablos. But that’s for another article.
The notation on the baggie of Henbury individuals lists it at 450 grams and my scale confirms the mass. With that detail out of the way, I decided to spend some time digging through the many Henbury irons and let the gift of the Lizard-Woman fill me with iron.
Many of the Henbury pieces look like shrapnel reminiscent of Shikote-Alin possibly having the same hard landing on earth. I have seen some beautiful oriented Henbury irons and some wildly deformed shapes that could not have spent much time screaming through the atmosphere in their current form or the finer points would have ablated off.
Henbury is classified as a type IIIAB medium octahedrite. Earlier classified as a type IIIA, it is now suggested that the IIIAB is more accurate.
Some of the Henbury specimens in the bag are paper thin yet square centimeters in two-dimensional surface area. Others are twisted or bent in all manner of contortions as evidence of a rough ride to Australia. I tried to imagine what the ancient people of the area though of all the mangled metal and I could see that in a land of smooth forms filled with deadly animals that bite, the irons of Henbury would no represent peace or calm. Instead maybe something along a fire-devil from the sun violently crashing to earth.
So like some of the other irons in my collection, I am leaning towards counting Henbury as a witnessed fall. The available evidence of the craters allows a model to be made as to the general circumstances of the fall as it happened almost 5000 years ago when there were people in the neighborhood. The famous Vagn Buchwald of the Handbook of Iron Meteorites also came to that same conclusion, and noted so in the Henbury entry in his great Handbook with, “Under the circumstances it is quite possible that Henbury is a witnessed fall.” And there you have it!
And the lore passed down through time describing the creation of the craters fits in nicely with the science in my opinion. Well, minus the anthropomorphic lizard-woman and coming from the sun. But both those oversights are also easily explainable by science. A lizard digging a hole could create a crater-like pit complete with raised rim and ejecta rays. Henbury just required a bigger lizard. And a fire-devil running down from the sun is obvious. So much so that other meteorite falls considerably more contemporary have also shared the sun analog. And devils in astronomical events are a dime-a-dozen.
Until next time….