by Alain Carion
The tektites of Ivory Coast are without a doubt the rarest of the tektites in any collections. They have been found while searching for gold, particularly in gold placers, but local shamans and tribal chiefs usually kept them and prized them as amulets with great powers. They are sometimes called “Ivoirites”; they are black, opaque, often round with small, very typical vacuoles. The source crater is probably the Bosumtwi crater, in Ashanti land in south-central Ghana; it is about 10km (6.5 miles) across, filled with a lake and both the crater and the tektites have been dated at about 1 million years old. Among the many different tektites, we can only be sure of the source-crater of two: moldavites and Ivoirites.
In the early 1960s, when the Americans were preparing to conquer Space, the prevalent theory was that tektites came from the Moon, and since NASA was already planning to land on the Moon, a number of researchers were sent around the globe with the mission to find those strange objects and all the information available. It is at that time that a few of those experts came to the Museum of Natural History in Paris and re-classified the whole tektite collection there. Others went directly to the local sites to collect specimens; this was the case for Dr. Virgil E. Barnes of the University of Texas, in Austin Texas. On behalf of NASA he went on two trips, first in 1960-61, then in 1963-64, he brought back many samples from many different sites, except Ivory Coast where he was met with great difficulties and found none.
Ivory Coast was a French colony until August 7, 1960 when it declared its independence. Many French people lived there and some still do, France having always had close relationships with its former colonies in Africa, and Paris is a good place to be to hear about new mineral discoveries in those countries.
Here is how a batch of those rare tektites was discovered and saved by a French collector, Mr. F. on an open-air market in central France thanks to his knowledge of meteorites and tektites. This gentleman, a collector always looking for unusual things, was walking around a small flea market where local people could present on a small patch of ground some old clothes, children toys, and even old packaging from the 70s. He had almost finished his visit when he spotted a few marble-sized pieces of black glass; he picked them up, recognized them as tektites, asked for the price and bought five specimens for just a few euros. Intrigued by the shape, he asked the seller where she had found those objects; much to his surprise, she explained that her grand-mother, Mrs. Madeleine Bouguarel, an avid collector of minerals and rare, odd natural objects, had long lived on a cotton-plantation near Daoukro in western Ivory Coast and she had become intrigued by those black marbles, already quite rare. Eventually it had become a passion and she had encouraged the workers of the plantation to bring those tektites to her. It took her over fifteen years to build up her collection but in 1970, after some ethnic riots, she finally left the plantation taking with her only a small suitcase and her precious black stones. After her death, her grand-daughter had found them in a box in the attic, and she had picked up a few to present on this flea market. Mr. F., who understood the interest and the value of those stones, asked if she had more and where they were located. Only two days later he was able to buy the whole collection, some 120 stones; a true world-class treasure! He promptly contacted me because he had read my books and knew how rare those stones were; in fact he was already one of my customers.
At first he contacted me by phone and offered to send a few pieces to me free of charge, asking only for my expert opinion. A few days later, I did receive a package with a small plastic box containing four small stones but the shapes were not what I expected. I have a very good specimen in my personal collection and I have in the past sold a few small stones acquired from John Saul, an American scientist, one of the very few people who had ever collected any directly on the site. The shape I was expecting was that of a well-rounded marble, those were not, and I declined the offer.
I kept that box on a corner of my desk for nearly a year before I finally decided to call him again and to go look at the whole batch. But then, when I saw the complete collection, all doubts were gone and I understood the value of that discovery. I bought the whole lot and Mr. F. accepted to put me in contact with the original seller, the grand-daughter of Madeleine Bouguarel, I wanted to know more about the original owner of this exceptional collection, and I even obtained a picture of that lady. But among the many emails I exchanged with the grand-daughter there is one that surprised me, it read exactly: “Me, I know that she had fields of cotton at Daoukro, and that at the time she had sent a few stones to NASA”. This could only have been known by a few people at that time; did Madeleine Bouguarel meet or hear of those American scientists who were looking for unusual stones? Did she have the wrong address? Was the package lost or did a secretary think that it was a joke? We will never know.
I presented this collection in exclusivity during the Show of Tucson in February 2014. Each tektite was sold with a certificate of authenticity, with a picture, weight and dimensions of the individual stone. I personally guarantee each of these tektites. Also Pierre Rochette of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Aix-Marseille did a magnetic susceptibility study on about forty of these Ivory Coast tektites. The study proved that the lot is homogeneous with an average value clearly different from the magnetic susceptibility of an Australite from my Gallery and from the values published in the scientific literature. All this because you can actually find tektites in Ivory Coast but it is impossible even for an expert mineralogist to tell if they have been found locally or imported from China or Vietnam, as the local ones are still extremely rare. So even with the addition of these 120 stones, real tektites from Ivory Coast are still the rarest of all tektites.