“Look! Brahmins and Chumars, bankers and tinkers, barbers and bunnias, pilgrims and potters – all the world going and coming. The Grand Trunk Road is a wonderful spectacle. It runs straight, bearing without crowding India’s traffic for fifteen hundred miles – such a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world.”
So proclaimed Rudyard Kipling of India’s main commercial byway.
The Grand Trunk connects Kabul to Calcutta and bisects Shergotty, Behar, where on August 25, 1865 a meteorite from Mars would fall, burying itself beneath the ancient Bengal soil.
Before continuing this drama authored by a Red Planet rock, let’s review what transpired in the First Act.
We learned from the Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal of December, 1865, that after being recovered, the presumed aerolites passed into the possession of the Deputy Magistrate of Shergotty, W.C. Costley. Not sure about the stones, he showed them to a local opium agent familiar with past subcontinent falls. Mr. Peppe correctly identified them as meteoritic. Accompanied by Costley’s report, which named the finder, they found their way to S.C. Bayley, the Secretary of Bengal.
A chain of possession was established by British bureaucrats. Cecil Beadon, the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal instructed Bayley to relinquish the specimens and Costley report to the Asiatic Society. Thomas Oldham, their President, should forward everything to the British Museum (Natural History) in London. Keeper of the Minerals, Nevil Story-Maskelyne, would classify and add the meteorite to the national collection, and perhaps return a small sample to India.
I’ll cut to the chase.
In 1865, one person watched Shergotty penetrate a Bengali hillside. He recovered specimens, but his story was lost, his name consigned to oblivion.
Likely the last link to this witness are the minutes from a December, 1865 meeting of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. They were discovered in the archives of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland after a multi-year search.
Here and now his voice will be heard, his account of the fall re-told for the first time in 154 years.
The lights are dimming and the curtain is rising. Please take your seat, strap in tight, and prepare to tour colonial India and meet the players. We’ll dabble in a little science before diverting momentarily to Mars.
Then we’ll return back to Bengal to witness the fall of Shergotty.
Two Rivers, a Lion and a Road
Sher Shah Suri (1472-1545), a Pashtun noble who rose to become ruler of the Delhi Sultanate, was said to hunt lions near two rivers in the Gaya district of Behar. That place became known as Sher (lion) ghati (pier or platform).
Sherghati, Sherghatti, Shergati, Sherghauti, Shergotty… Hindi, Bengali, English… the spelling has changed over the years.
Shah Suri funded a tree-lined road across the Plain of the Ganges to connect the capital city of Agra with his home town of Sasaram.
Caravansarai (inns) were built along the route which was extended to connect Peshawar, then Kabul, with Calcutta. This became, and still is, India’s most important commercial highway, the Grand Trunk Road, and it ran through Shergotty.
The town is bounded by the parallel rivers Mor and Sor. For millennium, rice, wheat, pulses (peas and lentils), ground nuts, cotton, indigo, tobacco and sugar cane were cultivated on the low surrounding hills. A road ran north twenty miles to Gaya, then on to Patna, a trading hub on the Ganges River with access to the world.
Gaya was a sacred site. Entrepreneurs in Shergotty would offer to guide the visiting faithful the final few miles. Beggars lined the route creating a gauntlet, reminding pilgrims that “the path to Heaven lies through the gateway of charity.”
This confluence of produce, rivers, roads and religion made Shergotty a marketing center.
The regions’ original settlers, aboriginal people collectively called Adivasi, had historically been allowed autonomy and cultivated the land as a joint patrimony.
But as the power of the British colonialists grew, their territory was divided among nonlocal landlords. The Adivasi had to borrow to purchase seed and fertilizer and endured high interest rates and taxation. Their poverty became so profound they couldn’t afford their only luxury, salt.
Dried and collected from Bengal sea brine ponds, salt was taxed 7.5% by the Raj.
The Adivasi vented their frustration by burning down the houses of the landlords as part of the Indian Rebellion of 1857-58. Amar Singh was their leader and his followers cut off communications and trade in the districts surrounding Shergotty.
W.C. Costley was then the Deputy Magistrate of nearby Sasaram. Costley and his force were being constantly harassed by belligerent villagers while on patrol, so the Commissioner of Patna requested that “European troops now passing along the Trunk Road, this body of 400 or 500 be collected to make a demonstration against Amar Singh so as to drive him into the hills….the police have no power in that quarter whatsoever.”
That same 18 August, 1857 memorandum from Commissioner Samuells to General Sir James Outram revealed the true motive for this essential show of force.
“The second of these objects, pacification of the Arrah District, is of very great importance. On the speedy attainment of this object the opium crop in that district depends, which is worth to the Government not less than half a million Sterling.”
The memorandum is specific on where the crop was most threatened.
“Gaya, it is obvious, is in a dangerous position, if the rebel troops from Ramshur should move upon it, the small party there being quite inadequate for its protection… it is not at all improbable that they may avail themselves of the Trunk Road as far as they can…it would seem the safety of Gaya and Shergotty would be, in great measure, secured by a small force from Saseram.”
Does this suggest that insuring the ‘safety’ of Shergotty was less about protecting its populace from pillaging and all about guarding its opium crop from rebels?
And is this why Mr. Peppe, a British opium agent, was conveniently present eight years later to identify the Shergotty meteorite when Costley could not?
In “The Naval Brigades in the Indian Mutiny, 1857-58”, William Bevill Rowbotham recalls, “One company at a time reached Shergotty, where our company parted with the brigade and proceeded across the country 20 miles to Gaya, the principle town in the opium district of Behar.”
A passage from “The Peasants Armed: The Indian Revolt of 1857” best describes this deployment, “British military formations moved along with the sureness of destroyers passing over a dark and turbulent ocean.”
Once Raj reinforcements arrived, Shergotty’s poppy plants were safe from rebel forces.
Absent the British opium trade, Mars’ NWA’s would likely be called zagami-ites.
Europeans coveted Chinese silk, tea and pottery. For these commodities Middle Kingdom merchants accepted payment in silver. English precious metal reserves were being depleted.
Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of British India had an idea. He offered opium in trade.
Opium became the resource that enriched English merchants but derailed the Indian economy.
Chinese Emperors demanded an end to this immoral exchange and destroyed thousands of chests of opium.
Two Opium Wars were fought and England twice prevailed. American and French forces aided the British. Chinese rulers grudgingly legalized the drugs’ consumption. Hong Kong was surrendered to the Commonwealth as reimbursement for the previously plundered product.
A zone covering 500 square miles in the Ganges River valley was planted to poppies.Patna was the center of collection, refining, storage and transport of product to China.
Poppie cultivation was much more profitable for Indian farmers than growing cereals and sugar. They were obligated to sell their crop to the British.
At one point, one million Behar farmers were cultivating poppies on 500,000 prime acres of land. A monoculture was created leaving food crops, even imminently marketable cotton, in short supply.
India suffered periodic mass starvations so that Continental socialites swathed in silk could sip a spot of tea poured into a cup of delicate china.
The world’s largest opium refining facility still operates in a red-brick building on fifty-two acres in Ghazipur, Uttar Pradish, selling pure opium to the world’s pharmaceutical companies.
It hasn’t change much since 1888, when Rudyard Kipling, reporting for the Pioneer newspaper, described the place.
Kipling himself enjoyed opium for recreation and ‘medicinal purposes.’
Export opium is packaged in wooden chests fabricated in Nepal. By tradition, opium is shipped as thirty-one pound balls.
The factory’s resident monkeys are not molested as they feed on opium waste, drinking its dregs from the sewage, slumbering where they fall. “They have become addicted to opium. Most of the time we have to drag them away from this place,” related a worker in a 2008 BBC interview.
Mr. Peppe, the person identifying Shergotty as a meteorite, was party to this enterprise, employed as a government opium agent. He would visit growers- now essentially indentured servants to the Raj – extend credit, supervise planting and inspect the crop, helping to transfer the harvested tar to the ‘godown’ (refinery/warehouse).
There is but one crop per season. Opium poppies sprout when the monsoon ends.
When Shergotty fell to Earth, it is as likely as not that the meteorite landed in a field being prepped to plant poppies.
A Costley Promotion/ Separating the Links in the Chain of Possession
The nineteenth century periodical Allen’s Indian Mail gives us access into the life of W.C.Costley, the first British colonialist to handle Shergotty.
He arrived in India with his family on a passenger ship in 1850, assigned to be the “dep.coll. of Chittagong”. His wife and two children departed for London sometime in 1854.
Costley was the Deputy Magistrate in Saseram in 1856, involved in a trial against several ‘inhabitants’ alleged to have ‘plundered’ nine rafts of firewood.
Allen’s Indian Mail of October 17, 1864 includes this announcement – “By the Lieutenant Governor July 22, No.4, 193 Appointments: The following officers are respectively authorized to perform the duties and exercise the power conferred on district magistrates:… Mr. W.C. Costley, dep. Mag. of Shergotty”
This may have been a demotion from his post as Deputy Magistrate of Saseram, a more important town and site of the venerated Sher Shah Suri tomb.
Costley took charge of a food relief center in Shergotty, a critical assignment as the rice crop had failed. Only he knows why he didn’t distribute the available remaining rice, and as conditions worsened, cholera broke out at the facility.
The next year, a meteorite from Mars found its way into his reluctant hands. According to Costley’s report of the fall, he had once seen a meteorite “in the Furreedpore District, which, if I recollect right, was brown in exterior appearance, and the flint or silica, of which iron meteorites are chiefly composed, being distinctly apparent…”
We can forgive him for not knowing that a somewhat friable, granular volcanic stone from the fourth planet is akin to the stainless-steel heart of an asteroid.
It appears that Costley relinquished the Shergotty meteorite to his supervisor, the Officiating Secretary to the Government of Bengal, Steuart Colvin Bayley. A graduate of Eton and Haileybury, he arrived at his post in March, 1856.
S.C.Bayley became the Commissioner of Patna, the principle opium processing center during the Bihar Famine of 1874. As Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, in 1888 he famously ‘rejected the proposal outright’ to unite the Orissi territories, leaving them economically disadvantaged.
In this Mars-struck assemblage of bureaucracy, it was then-Lieutenant Governor of Bengal Cecil Beadon who ordered the rocks to London. During his disastrous four year assignment, his attempt to regulate the nascent Assam tea trade caused it to collapse. His misguided diplomacy instigated a war with neighboring Bhutan. Beadon under-estimated the size of the starving masses during the Orissi Famine of 1866 and four to five million people died over two years.
Though Bayley politely relayed Beadon’s orders, Thomas Oldham of the Asiatic Society of Bengal did not immediately forward any Shergotty to Nevil Story-Maskelyne in London.
Inside the Rock
British museum documents record that the Trustees of the Indian Museum distributed specimens of Shergotty, Gopalpur H6, Khetri H6, Pulsora H5 and stone meteorite Moteeka Nugla to London during 1867-1870. While London received two Shergotty specimens weighing 62 and 55 grams, there’s no indication that Story-Maskelyne even gave them a cursory glance.
The Museum in Vienna received 183 grams in 1867. At a meeting of His Majesty’s Academy of Sciences on February 22, 1872, G. Tschermak presented the results of his analysis of Shergotty.
He writes of the sample being a single, roundish and angular specimen with fusion crust on three sides. “The crust is pitch-black and glossy, resembling the crusts of Stannern, Juvinas, Jonzac….it is likely that the stone belongs to the group designated as eucrite(s) by G. Rose.”
In thin section, Tschermak found five different minerals; an augite-like mineral, a yellow- silicate, magnetite, troilite, and a new mineral – maskelynite.
Maskelynite was composed of “colorless, small glassy grains of shell-like cleavage…recognizable only in thin section.” He considered it “fused feldspar making up 22.5% of the meteorite.”
As a mineral of this composition had never been previously described, “May I take the liberty to propose the designation of ‘maskelynite’ for this new meteoritic mineral in honor of Mr. N.S. Maskelyne in London who so successfully applied the method of the partial mineralogical and chemical analysis to meteorites and thus opened new territory in the field of meteoritics.”
Also found in a few chondrites, maskelynite- shocked plagioclase – has become the signature mineral of meteorites from Mars.
Charles Meyers’ Mars’ Meteorite Compendium also gives Tschermak credit for observing magnetite in Shergotty, stating, “this… indicates a relatively high degree of oxidation at the time of crystallization.”
While encouraging the reader to easily track down the geologic history of this meteorite, one other intriguing discovery regards Tschermak’s “yellow-silicate”.
Workers El Goresy et al. (1996, 1997, 1998) and Sharp et al. (1998) found “silica grains in Shergotty consisting of two phases: (i) a dense amorphous silica glass, and (ii) a poststishovite polymorph of SiO2.”
This polymorph found in Shergotty, Zagami and other shergottites Goresy’s group named ‘seifertite’, honoring Friedrich Seifert (founder of the Bayerisches Mineralogical Association) who was a specialist in high pressure geoscience. It is predicted that seifertite is formed by “shock-induced solid-state transformation of either tridymite or cristobalite (terrestrial volcanic minerals) on Mars.”
The discovery of this mineral opens a discussion about whether seifertite may also exist deep within our own planet.
Hap McSween of the University of Tennessee opined,”it is kind of amazing after more than two decades we are still finding out new things from this one meteorite rock of Shergotty from India.”
After Shergotty fell, no more shergottites were recovered until 1962 when Zagami startled a Nigerian farmer calling home his cows.
Martians must have a fondness for dairy. Chassigny also chased the cows home when it fell.
Since then, assorted shergottites have been found in Antarctica, Africa and the Middle East. Bob Verish’s LA001/002 pairing were probably recovered in the Mojave desert of California.
In the 1980’s L.E. Nyquist, A.M. Vickery and H.J. Melosh developed models to transfer Mars rocks blasted off the planet’s surface into space. Researchers believed they escaped Mars’ gravitational field through a physics-constrained doorway, but no one could be 100% sure.
Then one day, Opportunity knocked…
Sol 1 for the mission was January 24, 2004.
Secure on the surface, even after a protective airbag was dangerously scrunched upon a Meridiani Planum rock during the landing, the rover Opportunity phoned home from within a crater called Eagle, hard on the Martian equator, and deliciously close to a field of ‘blueberries’ – hematite inclusions associated with liquid water.
On Sol 67, the spacecraft’s Mössbauer spectrometer zapped that same small boulder, now cleverly named “Bounce”.
Bounce was targeted for investigation because it didn’t belong there. NASA researchers believe it traveled about fifty kilometers following a large meteorite impact that created a twenty-five kilometer-wide crater to the southwest.
The results of the X-Ray were conclusive. Bounce’s pyroxene and plagioclase signature lacking olivine closely matched the Shergotty meteorite, but was a twin to Lithology B of Antarctic shergottite EETA 79001.
It was the first time that an orbiter or surface mission had found a rock on Mars matching a Mars’ meteorite recovered on Earth.
Elephant Moraine 79001 was the lead actor in the 1983 Bogard and Johnson thriller, “Martian gases in an Antarctic Meteorite?”
This meteoritical equivalent of Genesis affirmed that certain meteorites originated on Mars.
I cannot improve upon these predictive words:
“Significant abundances of trapped argon, krypton, and xenon have been measured in shock-altered phases of the achondritic meteorite Elephant Moraine 79001 from Antarctica. The relative elemental abundances, the high ratios of argon-40 to argon-36 (equal to or greater than 2000), and the high ratios of xenon-129 to xenon-132 (equal to or greater than 2.0) of the trapped gas more closely resemble Viking data for the Martian atmosphere than data for noble gas components typically found in meteorites. These findings support earlier suggestions, made on the basis of geochemical evidence, that shergottites and related rare meteorites may have originated from the planet Mars.”
In the beginning…
Upon arrival at Endeavor Crater, Opportunity spotted hydrated calcium sulfate.Steve Squyres of Cornell University proclaimed this “the clearest evidence for liquid water on Mars that we have found in our eight years on the planet.”
Opportunity was scheduled to operate for ninety days. It ‘lived’ for more than fourteen ‘Earth years’, traveling 45.16 km/28.06 miles.
It completed a Marathon on Mars… and kept running.
The Fall of Shergotty
During the month of Bhadro in the Bengali calender year 1272, a meteorite from Mars ended its journey to Earth.
At the peak of the monsoon in Shergotty, India is hot, cloudy and rainy. On 25 August, 1865 at about 9am, following a 5:27am sunrise likely obscured by clouds, Hanooman Singh witnessed the fall of Shergotty.
Shergotty’s Deputy Magistrate W.C. Costley dutifully recorded Singh’s story, “… a stone fell from the heavens, accompanied by a very loud report, in some upland appertaining to Mouzah Umjhiawar, burying itself in the earth knee deep, and at that time the sky was cloudy and of a dusky colour, the air calm, and no rain.”
The report sent to the Asiatic Society of Bengal, tells little more of Hanooman Singh, except that he resided in Thannah Nubbeenuggur.
Bearing the last name of ‘Singh’, it’s likely the witness was a Sikh practicing his religion by leaving his hair long, wearing an iron bracelet, and keeping a sword tucked into a garter strap. He might have worn a turban.
The foundations of Sikh belief are the principles of truth, equality, freedom, justice and Karma.
And a noble bolt of Karma dignifies this fall as sobriquets ‘Shergotty’ and ‘Singh’ both have roots deriving from the noun ‘lion’.
Although Costley was schooled on Story-Maskelyne memorandums, he failed to obtain answers from the witness to questions regarding “what appearance the aerolite presented, whether it fell obliquely or straight down, and whether the stone was enveloped in fire or not, how soon after the stone was taken out of the earth, and if it were warm or cold…”
There is no information on how Singh extracted the meteorite from the hole or about his reasons for passing it on to the authorities. Being the lone witness, he could have done anything. Or nothing.
Costley continues, “when examined, the stone was found to be broken in two pieces, but it reached me in three pieces, I imagine that the smaller piece must have been chipped off by some accident afterwards. This piece is in the possession of Mr. O’Connor, Assistant Superintendent of Police, who will, no doubt, willingly make it over to you if required.”
Why did Costley offer this small fragment to O’Conner?
Reviewing the Indian Museum holdings, it appears that this piece is lost.
“The latitude and longitude of the spot where the aerolite fell, can, I fancy, be approximately obtained from the knowledge of its position with reference to known localities. But this information, which I do not at present possess, together with the replies to the queries put by me and noted above, will have to be furnished hereafter, as they appear necessary to make the report more ample, and can conveniently form an addendum to it.”
A thorough search of cyberspace’s cobwebbed attic does not reveal this addendum.
Next to an asterisk at the bottom of the page in the Asiatic Proceedings where Costley’s report was noted we learn, “The weight of the two pieces received is 11 lbs. 2 ozs. 368grs.”
There are 6.48 grams per 100 grains. This will bring the TKW (total known weight) of the fall to 5069.46 grams or 69.46 grams more than the five kilos commonly cited in the literature.
F. Fedden inventoried Indian Museum meteorites in 1880 and 4642 grams of Shergotty remained in the collection. Through gift or exchange, 100.44 gms. (Paris), 117 gms. (London), and 183 gms. (Vienna) were subtracted prior to this weigh-in. Adding these back brings us within a few grams of Costley’s original TKW.
The Geological Survey of India (GSI) lists the coordinates of the fall at 24º 33′ 00”N, 84º50′ 00” E.
Upon the suggestion of Dr. L.J. Spencer, Keeper of the Minerals of the British Museum, in 1932 C.A. Silberrad, B.A., B.Sc. of the Indian Civil Service (Ret.) reviewed the entire inventory of Indian meteorites “and as far as possible, verified and corrected the recorded places of the fall of all reported Indian meteorites.” He concurs with the GSI locale east of Shergotty and twenty miles SW of Gaya.
At an 800′ altitude bird’s-eye perspective, Google Earth presently shows the area to be a patchwork of small individual farms, the terrain flat to rolling and not indicative of the “upland” described in Costley’s paper. From that height, ongoing poppy cultivation can not be confirmed.
The Shergotty story was picked up by the Calcutta Gazette and mentioned again in the 1866 “Report of the 36th Meeting of the British Assoc. for the Advancement of Science”.
An historical note, Roderick Murchison was a permanent trustee of that association. A river and town in Australia bear his name, as does a certain CM2 carbonaceous chondrite that fell in 1969.
The actors in this play, until now unperformed gracenotes in the conductor’s score, have taken their bows. But the star of the show remains behind the curtain.
He is mentioned but once in W.C. Costley’s report on the Shergotty fall.
When Costley couldn’t tell the rock from a hard place he showed it to another employee of the British Raj. “… but I find from Mr. Peppe, the Sub-Deputy Opium Agent, that there can be no doubt of its being a true aerolite…”
No doubt at all.
Mr. Peppe saved Shergotty.
As I worked to bring the people involved with this meteorite back to life, Mr. Peppe stubbornly remained anonymous.
But while reading archived docs about India’s nineteenth-century agricultural practices, I found an 1883 reference to a “Mr. T.F. Peppe”, regarding the “cultivation and curing of tobacco in Bengal”.
“The people smoke hookas, and the Behar tobacco is considered very superior to the local narcotic for that purpose.”
The local narcotic was opium. The tar-like substance would hopelessly clog cloth hookah tubes.
A search adding ‘T.F.’ in front of ‘Peppe’ uncovered a Raj Renaissance Man… even a mention on Facebook!
But whatever names the ‘T’ and ‘F’ abbreviate remains a mystery for another day.
Peppe understood the significance of the area’s megalithic sites and communicated their locations to E.T. Dalton in 1873. “There is news that one Mr. T.F. Peppe, a deputy sub agent of the British government, was perhaps the first person to record the finds of megaliths in Sherghatti, Bundu, Tamar, Burunda, and Chokahatu.”
A photo taken by Peppe called “Barabar Hills Cave Entrance – Buddhist Sanctuaries from 3rd century B.C.” is in the British archives, quite an accomplishment for an amateur humping bulky equipment around rural India, pre-Kodak.
Mr. Peppe attempted to start a cottage industry to uplift the indigenous population. An 1887 issue of Nature reveals his efforts to collect cocoons of the Tussar worm to cultivate ‘wild silk’. “All of the aboriginal tribes of India would be available for this work,” he enthusiastically suggested. Peppe had a head start, having collected cocoons for three years.
Mr. Peppe long lies still, and his contributions to agriculture and archaeology are noted in the literature. But his legacy is worthy of a more appropriate tribute.
I propose that the next important geologic site on Mars bear his name.
After all, he saved Shergotty.
Author’s note: In August 2012, Dr. Jeff Grossman of the USGS informed me that the following proposal has been accepted for consideration by the commission responsible for naming geological features on the Red Planet (the Mars Science Laboratory):
“A nomination to honor the person responsible for identifying Mars meteorite Shergotty and designate a geological feature on Mars to bear the name T.F. Peppe. Shergotty is the namesake meteorite for the largest (by number and weight) class of martian meteorites, shergottites.”
But as of 1/1/20 ‘T.F. Peppe’ does not yet appear on this list of Martian craters.
It is time to make it so.
My thoughts regarding ‘The Rise of the Raj and the Fall of Shergotty’
The show is over but the band plays on, completing it’s encore, hailing the final curtain call for this ‘theater from the sky’. I’m out of popcorn, but before I exit, stage left, I’d like to share some thoughts.
Over the years I’ve acquired several sub-gram specimens of Shergotty for my collection.
Reflecting upon these fragments and slices, I can now know that someone named Hanooman watched it fall and dug it out of the exhausted Indian soil in 1865.
My specimens are part of stones that passed from W.C. Costley to Tschermak to S.C. Bayley to Thomas Oldham to Nevil Story-Maskelyn after being examined by T.F. Peppe himself. I’ve become a link in this auspicious chain.
But this event horizon stretches to Mars. These pieces of a planet are a totem from a place where no human has stood.
My appreciation of these truths are why I consider the study and collection of meteorites a supremely gratifying pastime.
Joel Schiff, the former publisher of Meteorite, reviewed these pages for dutifully dotted eyes and correctly crossed tees. He gently constrained my poetic exuberance, which knows no bounds . Thanks, mate!
I’m prouder than a Babu with a belly full of Vindaloo to again have Dorothy Norton Kashuba in my kitchen keeping the curry cookin’ with spicy illustrations full of local flavor.
This feature completes my Martian trilogy of the planet’s three most significant and historic meteorites, the triumvirate of Shergotty, Nakhla and Chassigny.
A multi-year exercise in forensic journalism began with my review of Egypt’s first meteorite, the Mars Nakhla fall of June 28, 1911. The two-part feature appeared in the May and August, 1998 issues of Meteorite! I presented a chronology of research as a retrospective of machines and methodology involving the Twentieth Century’s greatest workers. A +400% Nakhla TKW typo was discovered in an earlier iteration of Catalog of Meteorites, which Dr. Monica Grady graciously corrected in her year 2000 Fifth Edition. Evidence creating the legendary ‘dead dog story’ was refuted by newly-recovered contemporary reports of researchers on site, and the dead dog legend “became like ashes in a moment”. These Nakhla revelations and vivid descriptions of the historic, first professional recovery of a meteorite were found in “The First Meteorite of Egypt”, published in Cairo Scientific Journal #59, vol V, August, 1911. We can thank Dr. Tim McCoy for excavating deep within the Smithsonian archives to locate this periodical.
My next Martian literary adventure began by identifying relevant research papers written two-hundred years ago, then requesting inter-library loans from European repositories for copies of these documents to be mailed to my Fort Myers, Florida library. The hunt harvested the account of the world’s first recovered Mars fall, Chassigny. That feature appeared in the August and November, 2001 issues of Meteorite, during Joel’s Schiff’s seventh year as publisher. I was thrilled when the August cover displayed a rarely seen, thin-section image of Chassigny. The description of the fall, “as told to M. Virey by M. Pistollet, physician of the same town”, appeared in the Paris science journal Annales de Chimie in 1816. It described a typical witness fall with all the usual fireworks, but “when he picked up one of the fragments he found it to be hot (to the touch) as if it had been exposed to intense sunlight.” No one weighed the Fall after the fall, so the original TKW has been estimated. This singular meteorite has minerals in relative proportions not found in any other terrestrial or extraterrestrial material. The first microprobe analysis, accomplished in 1962 by E. Jeremine, J. Orcel and A. Sandrea, described what they called, “…a perfect preliminary form of a small (polysomatic) chondrule“. There were mysterious melt inclusions. A Brachina/Chassigny pairing classification was supported by distribution patterns of REE abundance, that both were calcium-poor, and hey, they look alike. But much of the information I needed for this report appeared in early nineteenth-century papers written in French. The translations were cheerfully accomplished by that most-dedicated of meteorite aficionados, my tri-lingual (at least) friend, Bernd Pauly.
That left one more Mars volcano to climb.
Then one day, a librarian in Edinburgh, Scotland replied. He had located the Costley paper, which turned out to be the only known document containing the account of the fall of Shergotty. I could begin my ascent.
Now too, that last mountain has been scaled.
This Martian Trilogy has been a twenty-three year journey of research and wonder that has gifted me the great joy of discovery. I’ve been privileged to take you readers along for the ride.
A very special thanks to Paul Harris and James Tobin. They have allowed me to find closure by publishing in the Meteorite Times ‘The Rise of the Raj and the Fall of Shergotty’.
Nine degrees N and due S of Aguas Zarcas
‘The Art of Collecting Meteorites‘ available on Amazon
“The Rise of the Raj and the Fall of Shergotty”
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