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Valera – Cow killer meteorite

Throughout the arc of time, there have been stories of meteorites that have hit things, such as, a mailbox (Claxton), car (Peekskill), house (Kobe, Park Forest, and many more), etc. Then there are meteorites that have hit or supposedly hit animals and humans. Nakhla (hit and supposedly vaporized a dog), Valera (cow killer), Sylacauga (struck Ann Hodges) and Mbale (hit a teenager) come to mind. Chicxulub meteorite (asteroid) which was about 10 – 15 km (6.21 – 9.42miles) across and would have surely impacted animals on the ground, and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs and about 75% of all animals at the time would qualify as a “hammer stone.”

This article is about the “hammer stone,” Valera, which according to the Met Bulletin is a L5 witness fall that fell on 15 October 1972 in city of Valera, state of Trujillo, Venezuela. I wanted to get facts from people involved with the meteorite, not hearsay or speculation from people who were not involved.

Since I knew my friend, Darryl Pitt, obtained the main mass of Valera, I asked him about the famous meteorite. Darryl’s email to me is below, extracting out Christie’s description of Valera.

 

Hi Mitch

Thanks for your note…and thanks for your interest in one of the most undervalued of all meteorites — in which I unfortunately had a hand.

I was introduced to the good man from whom I acquired the meteorite, astronomer Dr. Ignacio Ferrin, by the legendary Marty Zinn, who was the promoter of the mineral and fossil shows in Tucson in Denver (and the entire Costa Mesa and Springfield shows) that meteorites called home at the starting at the end of the 80s until he retired around 2015.

It was 2000 or 2001 at the Macovich Auction which was held at Marty’s show at the Inn Suites in Tucson for a few years that Marty introduced me to the Dr. Ferrin. [I might mention I was responsible for having introduced meteorites in the auction environment at Phillips in 1995 during what was the first natural history auction, ever) and went on to hold the first meteorite-only auctions at Bonhams, Heritage, Christie’s and Sotheby’s.] Anyway, it was many years after the impact that Dr. Ferrin visited the Gonzalez estate. Upon instantly recognizing the importance of having this documented, in addition to obtaining the meteorites, it was Dr. Ferrin who had the event documented and notarized — and thus the delay between the event and his historical record.

[Darryl referred me to a Christie’s catalog description which can be found at VALERA METEORITE — THE ONLY DOCUMENTED METEORITE TO HAVE KILLED (christies.com) https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-5987687 or just Google Christie’s and Valera.]

Dr. Ferrin obtained Valera very inexpensively. Shortly after he removed material for research and a couple of Venezuelan institutions, something challenging happened in his life — I don’t recall what it was — and he felt the solution would be for him to sell this acquisition. Like Dr. Gonzalez, however, he did not place a high premium on the meteorite’s value, irrespective of the history. (It’s important to understand the era….when I first purchased Peekskill not much earlier it was for $2/g and I purchased the main mass for $4/g. Well, Dr. Ferrin got in touch with Marty who reached out to me.

Anyway, as the main mass was rather significant, so was the overall price despite the low price per gram — and it didn’t sell. I felt terribly for Dr. Ferrin — he came to Tucson and was so depressed — and so I negotiated the purchase of the meteorite post-sale for about what i initially paid for Peekskill. And this is where I then made a big mistake. I really didn’t have the money to make this purchase at that time and instead of setting it aside and sell something else, I decided to cut it up and flip it extremely inexpensively as my gesture to the meteorite community. In so doing, I inadvertently undermined the valuation of an esteemed meteorite and not just — some cynics even speculated as a result of the low price that the background narrative had to be invented. I naively thought I would be showered with gratitude and instead I learned how a gesture of magnanimity can backfire. Dr. Ferrin subsequently did an interview or two and while the pernicious rumors pretty-much evaporated, a lot of the material sold inexpensively — and it’s so much more challenging for a price to escalate from $2/g to $25/g than from $20 to $200/g — hence it’s current ppg.

In sum, the chain of owners of Valera (Drs.Gonzalez and Ferrin and especially myself) did not do a good job at all in protecting the rightful station of the Valera’s value, which should consistently be selling for hundreds of dollars a gram today. 🫤 Lesson learned. Voila.

Here’s the affidavit….and or course you can use it.

Thanks for your interest. As you’ve probably gleaned, I still have some scabs from this. Life.

Sending my very best / Darryl

 

I contacted Dr. Ignacio Ramon Ferrin Vazquez who investigated the Valera fall and obtained the meteorite. Unfortunately, physician Dr. Gonzalez, who owned the ranch and recovered the meteorite, passed away many years ago, so interviewing him would be impossible. Dr. Ignacio Ramon Ferrin Vazquez did not know how to contact the person who signed the affidavit Juan Dionicio Delgado or whether he was still alive since it has been over twenty years since they last communicated.

 


Affidavit provided courtesy of Darryl Pitt (1 of 5)

 


Affidavit provided courtesy of Darryl Pitt (2 of 5)

 


Affidavit provided courtesy of Darryl Pitt (3 of 5)

 


Affidavit provided courtesy of Darryl Pitt (4 of 5)

 


Affidavit provided courtesy of Darryl Pitt (5 of 5)

 

Affidavit of Juan Dionicio Delgado describing the events in which he and Dr. Gonzalez discovered the Valera meteorite on Dr. Gonzalez’s farm.
Dr. Ignacio Ramon Ferrin Vazquez wrote about the event to me as follows (I have lightly edited it for ease of reading without the use of [sic] and did not correct everything to keep the authenticity of his style of writing):

 


My 170 gram Valera “Cow killer” meteorite specimen with my friend Matt Morgan’s, Mile High Meteorites label.

 


The uncut other side of my Valera meteorite.

 

A Record of Two Meteorites, Valera 1 and Valera 2 (the Cow-Killer)

At the time these events took place, I was a full professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of the Andes, in Mérida, Venezuela. The first news that I received about these two meteorites was from a student who told me that there had been a meteorite fall in a nearby town. At first I did not believe him, because I constantly received reports of false falls and meteorites, resembling solidified lava and scrap metal from a foundry. But just a few weeks later, the same story was related to me through a second person, so I decided that it was worthwhile to investigate. The second person was Professor Guevara, who was a history professor at the University. I first met Prof. Guevara in 1991. He did not know about the death of the cow. He only knew about the fall. We will call this meteorite Valera 2, because the fall was nearby the city of Valera.

I had always been interested in meteorites, but this was my first chance to find a real one, so I started gathering information to make a trip to Valera about an hour away by plane. My first trail was a physics teacher at a local school. He had a meteorite, but this one did not have anything to do with the one I was investigating. However, he knew about the event and gave me the address of the owner of the farmer where the fall had taken place, the physician Dr. Gonzalez. I went to the address and found that the family had moved. However, they told me that the son of Dr. Gonzalez was working in a car dealer not far away. So, there I went. Fortunately, I was able to locate the son and talked to him for some time with the intent to extract the whole information from him. What follows is what he told me.

His father, Dr. Gonzalez had already passed away, but he could remember the event clearly. He told me that at night, at the end of 1972, his father had a visitor at the farm. They were drinking and talking when they heard a kind of muted noise. They both heard it, so they came out of the house to see what had caused the noise, but due to the dark of the night, they could see nothing. However, the next morning a worker came to say, that there was a cow that had died in strange circumstances. When Dr. Gonzalez went to investigate, he found that a large stone had hit the cow and killed it. The stone had broken into three pieces.

The most important question I asked was: “Do you have the stones?” He said that he had to check with his mom. My second question was related to the fact that as a scientist I had to check the authenticity and validity of the story. So, I asked if we could go to the farm to see the site of the fall. He agreed, and we set the date for the next Saturday, two days away, since he had to work during the week.

Saturday came and we drove to the farm. There was a central house, and I could see numerous cows in the nearby paddocks. I asked for the precise site where the cow was found, and the son of Dr. Gonzalez took me to the site. I did not have a measuring tape to find the distance to the house, where I had identified the place where they must have been sitting. Since I have long legs, by walking with long steps I could measure the approximated distance in meters. I wanted to test if a sound could be heard at that distance from the house. Those farms are very hot during the day and night because the place is not far from the Equator, so it is a common practice to have the house door and windows open all the time. I did my walking and measured 27 steps, or about 27 meters from the site to the house. My conclusion is that in the middle of the night, with no environmental noises, and with the door open it was perfectly possible to have heard the noise of the fall. So I concluded that the history of the fall had a chance of being true. However, the physical evidence, the corpse, was still missing.

At the farm I did something else. I walked all around the house and beyond, looking for other stones that could be meteorites. Sometimes there are several falls at the same site, but I did not find any.

I did ask about the stones again. “Where are the stones?” To find out we had to go to his mother’s house, where I met his mom, Doña Cecilia, and his sister. We had an interesting talk, and his mother confirmed the passing of her husband, and corroborated the story. I asked about the stones, and his mother said that there were three pieces. Her husband had taken with him the largest piece weighting about 30 kg. One of the other pieces was taken by the worker who discovered them, and she could not recall what happened to the third piece. I asked where was the larger piece, and if I could see it to confirm that it was really a meteorite, since previously I had received many specimens that were fakes. She said that after her husband had died, the farm had entered into a state of abandonment since the son did not want to take care of it. So, they had moved to another town, and all the content of the house, including the larger stone, had been moved to another house they had in another town. The lady also told me that the stone was somewhere in the garden of the new house. The new town was Barquisimeto, one hour away by plane.

I identified myself as a professor of Physics, and explained to them the scientific importance of the stone because it was 4.500 million years old, and that it had to be examined chemically and its composition determined. They both agreed that they would give the stone to me, if found.

I went back to my home town and in a few days I took a plane to the new town where they had moved, Barquisimeto. I arrived at the place, and visited Doña Cecilia, the widow of Dr. Gonzalez. She told me that they had been remodeling the house, and that the workers had dropped the residues and debris on the place of the garden where the meteorite was. Thus, the meteorite lied under a pile of residues 5 feet high. I had wasted my trip. Doña Cecilia promised me that she would call me a soon as the workers removed the debris. I thought that I was not going to see the stone ever, because the probability was high the workers would discard the stone with the debris. So, I went back to my hometown with a down feeling.

Months passed away and I had lost all hope, when one day a phone call entered my phone. It was Doña Cecilia informing me that she had the stone. I couldn’t believe it! As soon as possible, I took another plane and went to her house. When I got there, there was the stone on a table!

I examined it. Yes, it had the marks of a meteorite. There was a dark crust characteristic of meteorites. There were depths like when you press a finger on a soft mass of dough. It was heavy, about 30 kg, and finally, it was magnetic. I felt elated. I had found a real meteorite! Doña Cecilia agreed to give it to me for free.

I took the meteorite to my physics lab to do some research on it. I found its density to be 2.35 gm/cm3.

After I finished my research, I got back to my place, I started looking for a place to sell it. I needed to recoup the travel expenses of the flights, hotels, car, food, gas, etc., I paid for searching for Valera without reimbursement from the University. I had no idea of its value since I was new in this field. This is why I contacted Darryl Pitt who was and is an expert on the matter. He suggested that I should take the stone to the Tucson Gem and Mineral show that takes place in Tucson, Arizona, every year. So I did, and the meteorite ended in the hands of Darryl with the affidavit of the fall written by Delgado. Here is the registered affidavit:

“I, Juan Dionicio Delgado, Venezuelan, identified by the National Identity Document No. 5.030.450, hereby declare in this document that at the end of 1972, I was visiting the farm “El Tinajero” owned by Argimiro Gonzalez, deceased, which was located at the boundary of the states of Barinas and Trujillo. It was past midnight when we were talking, and there was a strange noise. When we went out to investigate due to the dark of the night we saw nothing. But the next morning a worker came to say that there was a cow killed under strange circumstances. When we went to investigate, we found that the cow had been killed by a stone that presumably fell from the sky the night before, causing the noise we had been unable to explain. The stone, broken in several pieces, was kept by Dr. Gonzalez, while the cow was eaten over the following days. These are the facts, as expressed in Barinas, the eleventh day of January 2001.”

As you can see although I did try to get a precise date, he could not remember. However, in some international registers you will find the date as October 15th. This is entirely fictional.

That was the end of the story on my side. I understand that Darryl cut the meteorite in smaller pieces and sold it to the public. He also determined that it was an L5.

And what happened to Valera 1 meteorite? That is a different story. I had received the news about Valera 1 from Professor Guevara. I visited him at his home where we had a long conversation on different topics of interest at that time. I was sitting comfortably on a couch, and looking around the room, when my eyes came into contact with a stone that was holding a door in place. At first, I did not make much of it, but the longer I looked at the stone, the stronger I began to have a strange feeling. The rock did not look like a normal stone, it was much darker. So, I got up, went to the door, and lifted the stone. I could not believe my eyes. It was a meteorite, no doubt! The meteorite had been used as a door stop all this time!

Professor Guevara told me that this particular meteorite was unrelated to Valera 2, and that he had obtained it many years ago. Professor Guevara had a huge collection of mail stamps related to space and science. By chance, I also had a smaller collection of stamps on the same topic. So, I proposed to him to give him my collection of stamps in exchange for the meteorite. He agreed and that is how I got hold of Valera 1. Valera 1 was much smaller. But the story does not end there.

I got home, and I placed Valera 1 on a small table at the corner of the living room, as a decoration. One day, the floor was being washed with soap and water, and I entered the room carelessly. I fell to the floor with grate force, I hit the small table, and the meteorite fell on my head and ended three feet from me. It took me some time to recover. I laid in the floor for some time, unable to move. Valera 1 had left a scar of about one inch long in my head, and there was blood dripping on my face.

In Figure 1 you will see that the meteorite is broken at the top. It was me retrieving a small piece for my collection. This is shown in Figure 2.

After selling the stone to Darryl, I wrote a letter to Sky and Telescope saying: “If an analysis is ever made on Valera 1 by the NASA boys, what will they conclude when they find human DNA? Will they call a press conference to announce the discovery of extraterrestrial life?”

And that is the end of the story of Valera 1 and 2. Being a scientist, I abide by the rules of Scientific Ethics, and testify that the events described above are true to the best of my knowledge.

Ignacio Ferrín, Ph. D.,
Full Professor
Institute of Physics
University of Antioquia
Medellin, Colombia

As a side note, on the internet I have seen a photo of the main mass of Valera on a wooden fence post with a cow in the background. I have also seen a photo of the main mass of Valera on the ground with cows in the background. Darryl has told me the photos have been staged in the U.S. Dr. Ferrin also says, the photos are not of the actual farm, since only a few people know of its location in Venezuela.

I asked Dr. Ferrin what happened to the piece of Valera 2 he broke off near the top of meteorite? He said, “I still have it and I use it in my astronomy classes. My students are delighted to see a piece of the solar systems aged 4.5 (billion) years.”

 


My 170 gram Valera meteorite specimen with the other side of the Mile High meteorites label with hand written note by my friend Matt Morgan stating, “170 g from Darryl Pitt 2001”

 

After communicating with Darryl and Dr. Ferrin, I am convinced that Valera struck and killed a cow, even though there were no eye witnesses to the event. I think it is good to be a little bit skeptical, but at some point, there is trust in witness accounts or evidence. Yes, it is better to have corroboration and multiple witnesses. Dr. Gonzalez and his guest Juan Dionicio Delgado did not think about taking a photo of the dead cow with the meteorite nearby to evidence the rare event, just like Michelle Knapp did not think of taking a photo of her Chevy after the Peekskill meteorite struck it. She did not think her damaged red Chevy Malibu was valuable, until a meteorite dealer offer to buy it at above market value. Only scientists, meteorite dealers and collectors would find the circumstances important enough to act. In the case of the red Chevy and dead cow, scientist would have little interest in them. Their focus would be on the meteorite. That was the case for Dr. Ferrin and Valera. None of the meteorite scientists ever did any research on Ann Hodges (Sylacauga). Therefore, it is easy to see why physician Dr. Gonzalez and his guest would not collect or keep any evidence of the event. There was no motive for them to lie about the events just like there was no motive for peasants to lie about rocks falling from the sky at Siena or L’Aigle. The question is do you believe Dr. Ferrin, Juan Dionicio Delgado, Dr. Gonzalez’s wife and son and Darryl? I do.

 

Acknowledgements:
I want to thank my friends Darryl Pitt and Dr. Ferrin.

 

References:

Various emails with Darryl Pitt

Various emails with Dr. Ignacio Ramon Ferrin Vazquez, Professor of physics at the Universidad de las Andes de Merida and Professor of astronomy at University of Antioquia Colombia.

The Meteoritical Society – Meteoritical Bulletin Database – Valera

Wikipedia – Ignaciao Ramon Ferrin Vazquez

Affidavit of Juan Dionicio Delgado

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