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IMCA Insights – September 2010

IMCA Insights – September 2010
Commemorating the Schwetz Iron
by Andrzej S. Pilski

More than 20 years ago I started my meteorite adventure by reading a great work by Dr. Jerzy Pokrzywnicki „Meteorites of Poland” (Studia Geologica Polonica, Vol. 15, 1964). Then I visited Polish meteorite collections to learn how meteorites actually do look like. In the collection of the Museum of the Earth in Warsaw, the capital of Poland, I could see a rusty slab of an iron meteorite labelled Schwetz. I knew already that it was the one and only specimen of this iron meteorite in Polish collections, traded from Berlin for a specimen of the Łowicz mesosiderite shower.

534g thick slice of Schwetz before etching
534g thick slice of Schwetz in the collection of Muzeum Ziemi Photo courtesy A. S. Pilski

Despite the little experience I had in preparing irons I dared to ask the Museum to let me refresh the slab in order to show its nice Widmanstätten pattern hardly visible under the rust. Much to my surprise the director of the Museum accepted my proposal. Moreover he agreed to cutting off a small slice for the collection of the Olsztyn Planetarium in trade for a slice of the Seeläsgen iron for the Warsaw collection.

516.7g slice of Schwetz after etching
516.7g slice of Schwetz after cutting off a slice for Olsztyn and etching Photo courtesy A. S. Pilski

The results of etching were beyond my expectations. The pattern was bright and clear and in the Museum they liked the slice so much that they placed its photo on the cover of their catalogue “Meteorites and Tektites in the Collection of the Museum of the Earth” by Teresa Hanczke. I included the story into my introductory book on meteorites (in Polish) “Nieziemskie skarby” (Unearthly treasures).

6.4 g slice of Schwetz
6.4 g slice of Schwetz from the collection of Olsztyn Planetarium on display at monument Photo courtesy Ryszard Biernikowicz

The book was read by Bogdan Tarach from the village of Kozłowo near Świecie, former Schwetz. He was impressed to learn that he lived next to the place where a meteorite had been found. He tried to find another meteorite in the area and one day he came to visit me in Frombork with his truck full of stones. I checked them but unfortunately I could find no meteorite among them. Several years passed and one day I was told that the authorities of the town of Świecie wanted to commemorate the meteorite that had been found near their town. They had built a monument, and last August I got an invitation for the unveiling ceremony on August 21, 2010. The timing didn’t fit my schedule, but the organizers insisted. I was surprised: why did they want just me to be there?

Bogdan Tarach and Andrzej S. Pilski
Bogdan Tarach (right) and the author (left) at the display case next to the monument Photo courtesy Ryszard Biernikowicz

The mystery was solved when I arrived at Kozłowo and was welcomed by the same Bogdan Tarach who visited me in Frombork. Having served many years as village administrator in Kozłowo and member of the Council of Świecie Bogdan Tarach talked the authorities into commemorating the meteorite find somehow. Finally his idea was accepted as part of a project of building a recreation area at Wda river, formerly called Schwarzwasser.
Here is the quotation I could read about the find of Schwetz iron in the paper by Pokrzywnicki:
„Im Frühjahre 1850 wurde bei dem Abtragen eines sandigen Hügels für Ostbahn auf dem linken Ufer des Schwarzwassers bei Schwetz an d. Weichsel eine Eisenmasse etwa 4 Fuss unter der Oberfläche der Erde an der Gränze des oberen Sandes mit dem darunter liegenden Lehm gefunden. Sie war kluftig und ohne Mühe zu trennen. (…) Die ursprüngliche Gestalt der Eisenmasse ist ungefähr die eines geraden rechtwinklichen an der Kanten ganz abgerundete Prizma. Sie ist 9″ hoch, 24″ lang und 171/2″ breit. Die ganze Masse wiegt 43 Pfd. 81/4 Lth.” (Pogg. Ann. Ergänz., Vol. IV, 1854, S. 390 und 454).

The main mass of the Schwetz iron, Berlin
The main mass of the Schwetz iron in the collection of the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin Photo courtesy Dr. Ansgar Greshake

Norbert Classen kindly translated this passage into English:

“In spring 1850, during the excavation of a sandy hill for [the building of the] Ostbahn [Prussian Eastern railroad line] on the left bank of the Schwarzwasser Creek near Schwetz an der Weichsel, an iron mass was found 4 feet [1.2m] below the surface at the transition from sand to the underlying clay. It [the mass] was fissured and could be easily divided. (…)

The original shape of the iron mass is approximately that of a straight rectangular prism with fully rounded edges. It is 9″ high, 24″ long, and 17.5″ wide [Prussian inches, i.e., ~23x62x45.5cm]. The entire mass weighs 43 pounds [Berlin pounds, i.e., 21.5kg].” (Pogg. Ann. Ergänz., Vol. IV, 1854, p. 390 and 454)

Bogdan Tarach starts the unveiling ceremony
Bogdan Tarach starts the unveiling ceremony Photo courtesy Ryszard Biernikowicz

Bogdan Tarach told me that according to his knowledge the meteorite was found during excavations for pillars of the railway bridge. That’s why he suggested to place the monument at the bridge on left bank of the Wda river. The monument was situated between the road and the river and is two-sided so it can be read both by hikers and cyclists from the road and canoeists from the river.

Unveiling the monument
Unveiling the monument Photo courtesy Ryszard Biernikowicz

The ceremony was started by Bogdan Tarach who described briefly the efforts which led to the building of the monument, and then four notables were asked to unveil the monument together: Bogdan Tarach, Jerzy Wójcik – president of the Council of Świecie, Tadeusz Pogoda – mayor of Świecie and me, as a representative of IMCA and the person responsible for triggering Mr. Tarach’s interest in meteorites that finally led to the creation of the monument.

Wadi – the guardian of the slice of Schwetz
Wadi – the guardian of the slice of Schwetz Photo courtesy Jan Woreczko

Two of the three specimens of Schwetz in Polish collections were brought to the unveiling ceremony and were displayed in a special case next to the monument; the small 6.4 g slice from the Olsztyn Planetarium, and a 127.6 g slice from the collection of Jakub Radwan. The last one I spotted a few years ago offered for sale by Sergey Vasiliev. It was priced far beyond my reach, but fortunately another Polish collector had been able to purchase it and soon I was asked to refresh it as its etch pattern was rather weak. Of course, I agreed with pleasure. The result was nice again, then the slice was sold to its current owner and displayed during the meteorite conference in Wrocław, Poland, two years ago. The owner loaned it for the meteorite exhibition in Warsaw, and kindly agreed that the slice could be brought to Kozłowo and Świecie for that special celebration. Responsible for the slice were Jan Woreczko and Wadi, owners of a large meteorite collection who kept their eyes on it all the time.

Jacek Drążkowski talks
Jacek Drążkowski, an astronomer and meteorite collector born in Świecie, who also helped with preparing the monument and ceremony, talks about the Schwetz iron Photo courtesy Ryszard Biernikowicz

The monument seen from the river
The monument seen from the river Photo courtesy Jan Woreczko

Then there were a few speeches followed by many discussions and photos at the monument and at the display case, an later everybody was invited to an educational picnic in an old castle in the town of Świecie.

The castle of Świecie/Schwetz
The castle of Świecie Photo courtesy Jan Woreczko

The display case with both specimens of Schwetz/Świecie was moved to the castle, where visitors could see and hear four talks on the Schwetz iron and on meteorites in general, could gaze at the Sun, and later at the Moon and the stars with a telescope on the tower of the castle, or look at the starry sky in a portable planetarium and play in the court of the castle.

The picnic ended late at night.

Looking at the Sun
Looking at the Sun with telescope brought to the tower from Olsztyn Planetarium Photo courtesy Ryszard Biernikowicz

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