As I write this article, the tragic events of the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas unfolded. Two teachers and nineteen students died needlessly. Unlike the media, I choose not to concentrate on the shooter and his name. I prefer to remember the antithesis of the murderer from a different school shooting. I choose to remember Sandy Hook Elementary School first grade teacher, 27 year old, Victoria “Vicki” Leigh Soto, whose valor are the reason seven of her first graders survived. The killer had just shot and murdered special education teacher, Laurea Rousseau and all her 14 students. The gunman next went into Vicki’s classroom where she hid her students in closets. He demanded to know where the kids were, and she replied that her students fled to the gym across the school. As a result, he shot Vicky multiple times killing her. She was shot near her desk, from which she had hung her students’ drawings which had captions such as, “I love my teacher Miss Soto.” The children hiding recounted the events to police. Vicki was posthumously awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal. In a Tweet, Soto’s sister Carlee implored people to “Hug your loved ones and tell them how much you love them because you never know when you’ll see them again. Do this in honor of Vicki.” I dedicate this article to all the children, teachers, law enforcement officers and others who needlessly perished by gunmen throughout the years. I also dedicate this article to Victoria Leigh Soto and all others who make this world a better place for us all.
“Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorraph brimstone and fire from the Lord out of Heaven; And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.” Genesis 19:24-25
In the Middle East, stories were told of a city destroyed by heavenly fire in punishment for the inhabitant’s sins. Thinking of the biblical account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the English explorer, Harry St. John Philby made the exceedingly difficult journey to the reported site deep in the Empty Quarter desert. He found perfectly circular glassy walls enclosing sand floored depressions up to a hundred meters in diameter. In the surrounding area, they found a scattering of shiny jet black “pearls,” assumed by the locals to have been lost by the fleeing harem and scorched by the fires of heavenly wrath. We now know that these walled “cities” are in fact, a cluster of meteorite impact craters where desert sand was fused into glass. Wind erosion scoured away surrounding sands, leaving the walls in positive relief. Sand accumulated in the sheltered interiors forming flat courtyards. The “pearls” (beads and teardrops) of the harem are impact glass. When the site was first visited by Philby in 1932, the craters with their glassy walls and surrounding ejecta were all well displayed. When visited by expeditions in 1994 and 1995, the features were almost completely buried by migrating dunes, but parts of the crater and ejecta blanket were still exposed. Now, they are gone completely, buried by at least one meter of sand in the shallowest spots with dune fields tens of meters high advancing. There may be no more material coming from Wabar in our lifetime. Thanks to my friend Norm Lehrman for this entertaining story.
Wabar may refer to one of many names of the lost city in the Arabian Peninsula: Atlantis of the Sands, Iram of the Pillars, Irum, Ubar, or City of the pillars a lost city mentioned in the Quran. The Quran mentions Iram in connection with Imad (pillars): Surah al-Fajr (6-14). Have you not considered how your Lord dealt with “Aad” – Iram – who had lofty pillars, the likes of whom had never been created in the lands, and [with] Thamud, who carved out the rocks in the valley? And [with] Pharaoh, owner of the Pyramids? [All of] whom oppressed within the lands and increased therein the corruption. So your Lord poured upon them a scourge of punishment. Indeed, your Lord is in observation.
Iram or Ubar become widely known to Western literature with the translation of the medieval story “The City of Many Columned Iram and Abdullah Son of Abi Kilabah” in the book of “One Thousand and One Nights.”
Legend had it that at Warbar lay a block of iron as big as a camel’s hump. The native Bedouins warned where there is no water, that is the Empty Quarter and no man goes there. The Empty Quarter or Rub’ al Khali is part of the Arabian Desert, the second largest desert in the world. Rub’ al-Khali, an area bigger than the state of Texas, is the largest area of continuous sand in the world and largely uninhabited due to being one of the driest regions on the planet. In the spring, sandstorms are known to blow for forty days without stop. British explorer Harry St John Philby (Sheikh Abdullah) converted to Islam by 1930 and was an adviser to King Abdulaziz, Saudia Arabia’s first ruler, from the 1920s. He wanted to be the first Westerner to cross the Empty Quarter but was beaten by Bertram Thomas who was featured on the first page of the New York Times for his achievement. Thomas was Christian and had he been discovered in the Empty Quarter, he could have had his throat slit and that knowledge made his heart beat a little faster. Philby was so upset after learning of Thomas’ success that he locked himself in his home for an entire week. Philby wrote his wife, Dora, in England, “Damn and blast Thomas . . . I have sworn a great oath not to go home until I have crossed the RK (Empty Quarter) twice! And left nothing in it for future travelers!” Neither Thomas or Philby would be able to traverse the sands without the help of the Bedouin, similar to Sherpa’s assisting climbers reach the pinnacle of Mount Everest.
Philby plunged into an ocean of sand and after a month of traveling on 2 February 1932 found Wabar, while searching for the legendary city of Ubar. Philby found a rabbit sized iron, not the Camel’s Hump. After the journey, Philby sent the iron to Dr. L.J. Spencer of the British Museum where he discovered it was a meteorite. The impact site is known to the Bedouin tribes as “Al-Hadida” or Arabic for “the iron” or “the iron thing.” The impact site consists of three craters named Philby-A (64 meter diameter), Philby-B (116 meter diameter), and “11m crater.” Prescott et al. (2004) dated the impactite material with Thermoluminescence (TL) dating methods concluding the impact ages were between 235 to 416 years. Basurah (2003) correlated the event with the description, in two historic poems, of a bright fireball on 1 September 1704, observed in Tarim, Yemen.
Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) expert, James Mandaville asked his Bedouin sources to let him know if they saw the Camel’s Hump. The Bedouins informed Mandaville that the dune has moved and the Camel’s Hump was visible. Mandaville relayed this information to National Geographic correspondent, Thomas J. Abercrombie who, in 1966, drove 645 kilometers (400 miles) and found the Camel’s hump 400 meters south – southwest of the largest crater. He estimated the Camel’s Hump weighed over 2 tons. In mid-October 1966, Mandaville returned to the site with heavy equipment and brought back the Camel’s Hump and another large iron piece. The Camel’s Hump weighed 2,045 kilograms (4,500 pounds). Mandaville had returned to Wabar two more times after 1966, frustrated that each of those times finding more and more sand covering the crater sites.
The Wabar craters were later surveyed by Gene Shoemaker and Jeffrey C. Wynn in 1994 – 95. The three impact craters are situated on 125 acres of constantly shifting sand dunes. The largest known mass was collected in October 1966, a shield oriented shaped 2,040 kg main mass known as the “Camel’s Hump.” Other recoveries include a 210 kg mass and several other multi kg masses along with numerous small fragments. Additional meteorite remnants uncovered below the sand have been completely weathered to shale. The oxidized or weathered iron fragments with some appearing “popped.” This phenomena is thought to be caused by high temperatures and pressures at impact causing the iron to oxidize rapidly. Although all large meteorites creating large craters would have high temperatures and pressure. Why did this occur at Wabar?
The “Camel’s Hump” was on display at the King Saud University in Riyadh until it was moved to the new National Museum of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh where it is displayed in the entrance foyer. The impact site is known to Bedouin tribes in the region as “Al-Hadida,” Arabic for “the iron” or “the iron thing(s).” Wabar is in the “Empty Quarter” (Ar-Rub Al-Khali) desert of Saudi Arabia and can be reached only by four-wheel-drive vehicles with great difficulty. It can take several days of driving to reach Wabar due to the lack of any landmarks and the presence of continuous moving sand dunes. On one trip to Wabar, the temperature reached 50 degrees Centigrade or 122 degrees Fahrenheit. While doing a survey in May 1994, the mid-day temperature of 61 degrees Celsius under a protective tarp (an ambient air temperature of 142 degrees Fahrenheit). I think the Bedouin people are correct – no man travels to the Empty Quarter, and I would add to do so would be an invitation to one’s death. Imagine Philby and his group traveling to Wabar by camel.
James Reynolds Gregory (1832-1899) founded the company which is known today as Gregory, Bottley, and Lloyd and is one of the oldest running mineral dealerships in the world, second only to F. Kranz Company in Bonn, Germany founded about 20 years earlier. Gregory amassed an outstanding meteorite collection from several hundred falls which was later broken up and sold by his sons, most of it going to the British Museum.
The 120 year old album print from the collection of 19th century meteorite dealer James Gregory. It was acquired from his estate and now resides in my collection. He used these custom made photo cards to show and sell his meteorites. The photo is referred to as “Nejed” which was the old name used to refer to “Wabar” similar to when “Aerolites” were used to refer to meteorites. Mike Bandli put it best when he recalls in Space Rocks magazine, This neatly-labeled print shows a 61.715 kilogram [136 pound] individual of Nejed (Wabar) that Gregory acquired for his collection in 1893. It is the only know photograph showing the individual iron in its complete uncut state. In the year following Gregory’s death, the meteorite was sold to Henry A Ward [Ward’ Natural Science – Ward’s Science] and accessioned into the Ward-Coonley Collection of Meteorites. Ward removed approximately a quarter of the iron which was made into slices for sales and exchanges. The remaining mass was acquired by the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, in 1912 where it remains to this day (48.08 kg – No. ME 1100.1).
The two largest masses, the Camel’s Hump (2,040 kg) and 210 kg specimen are at the Natural History Museum in Riyadh. The main masses of the other large recovered fragments a 62 kg specimen (former Nejed II) and a 59.4 kg specimen (former Nejed I), are held at the Field Museum in Chicago and the Natural History Museum in London, respectively.
Of the nearly two hundred craters discovered on Earth, the Wabar Crater is one of only seventeen to contain remnants of the original impacting object.
USA Today – Report Teacher tried to divert shooter. John Bacon December 16, 2012.
Chron – CTPost.com staff – Teacher died fighting for her students – December 15, 2012.
Wikipedia – Victoria Leigh Soto
Tektite Source (Norm Lehrman) website
The National News – A line in the sand: The European explorers who battled to claim the Empty Quarter 28 May 2022
The Meteoritical Society – Meteoritics & Plantary Science 48, doi: 10.1111/maps.12218 – The Wabar impact craters, Saudia Arabia, revisited – E. Gnos et. al