Meteorites: Falling from the sky with blinding light, thunderous noise and earth-shaking concussions, our ancestors naturally assigned them to the realm of the supernatural and ascribed to them great and God-like power. These 6 sacred stones from the stars illustrate the influence these astronomical visitors have had on humanity down through history.
Black Stone of the Ka’aba
The Black Stone, or “Al-Hajarul Aswad”, is an ancient Muslim relic that according to Islamic tradition, fell from heaven to form the altar upon which the biblical Adam and Eve performed their first sacrifice. The Black Stone was venerated before the founding of Islam, and is said to have been positioned at the eastern cornerstone of the holy Ka’aba in the center of Mecca’s Grand Mosque by the prophet Muhammad himself.
Just what IS the Black Stone of the Ka’aba? If not an actual meteorite, it may be the product of a meteor impact. Pieces of black “impact glass” have been found near the ancient lost city (recently rediscovered) of Ubar in Saudia Arabia’s Rub al-Khali, or Empty Quarter – the approximately 6,000 year old event may have even led, directly or indirectly, to the destruction of Ubar. One thing about impact glass: it sometimes floats due to gas bubbles trapped inside while in a molten state. legends have it that after the Black Stone was stolen and subsequently returned to Mecca, it was tested by immersing it in water. Yes, it floated.
Today, the Black Stone is enclosed in a massive silver frame and has been worn nearly smooth by the touches and kisses of untold millions of worshipers over the past 14 centuries. It plays a special role during the penultimate ritual of the Hajj, when pilgrims circle the Ka’aba 7 times and point to the Black Stone once every circuit.
The Thunderstone of Ensisheim
On November 7, 1492, a young boy from the Alsatian town of Ensisheim watched breathlessly as a brilliant fireball slashed across the sky and plunged to the ground in a wheat field. Rescued from local souvenir hunters by the local magistrate, the roughly triangular stony chondrite meteorite was “restrained” with iron chains inside the town’s parish church so that it would not be able to wander about at night or, perhaps, return to the heavens in the same fiery manner by which it arrived on Earth.
(image via: Donnersteine)
By the time the townspeople were finished with it, only 55kg (120 lbs) of the original 127kg (280 lb) meteorite remained. Newly-crowned Emperor Maximilian I of the Holy Roman Empire hurried to view the so-called “Thunderstone of Ensisheim”, whereupon he pronounced its appearance to be a good omen for the Empire’s wars with France and Turkey. The rounded remainder of the meteorite was placed within an elaborate glass case which was later installed in the Regency Palace of Ensisheim, built in 1535 by Maximilian’s grandson, the Emperor Ferdinand of Austria. As for the omen, history records that Maximilian I oversaw a great expansion of the territories controlled by his family… the Habsburgs.
King Tut’s Pendant of Libyan Desert Glass
Archeologists investigating the myriad treasures of King Tutankhamun’s tomb were long mystified by the beautiful, buttercup-yellow carved scarab beetle that highlighted the Boy King’s jeweled pendant. The researchers knew the scarab was made of glass but no other known ancient Egyptian glass matched its ethereal shade and mineral content. Finally in 1998, an Italian mineralogist proved that the carved scarab in Tut’s breastplate was made of Libyan Desert glass.
The area in which Libyan Desert glass can be found is actually located in Egypt’s Western Desert. As for the glass itself, scientists from the Sandia Research Laboratory have determined that the glass was formed just after the 30 million year old Kebira impact event in which a a 120-meter (395 ft) wide asteroid slammed into Earth’s atmosphere causing an explosion with a yield of about 110 megatons.
(image via: AnlamBilim)
The fireball from the impact was hot enough to melt quartz grains in the desert sand. One wonders if the ancient Egyptians, with all their advanced technical and scientific knowledge, somehow deduced the “heavenly” origin of Libyan Desert glass and therefore found it appropriate for their king’s most precious jewelry?
The Stone of Emesa
The Roman Emperor Elagabalus, who reigned from AD 218-222, was formerly a priest at the temple of Elagabal in the Syrian city of Emesa. It was common in that era for stones – meteorites in particular – to be venerated as gods and the conical Stone of Emesa was a perfect example. The stone garnered fame across the entire Roman Empire thanks to Elagabalus, who brought it from Emesa to Rome upon his installation as Emperor.
(image via: Wildwinds)
Elagabalus would put the sacred stone into a cart led by a team of matched white horses, with the Emperor himself leading the procession by walking backwards ahead of the cart. The processions were immortalized through the image of the Stone of Emesa and the horse-drawn cart being stamped into the reverse of Roman coins. After reigning for about 4 years and alienating the Roman aristocracy with social and sexual practices that made Nero look like a choirboy, Elagabalus was deposed, executed and thrown into the river Tiber; in roughly that order. The stone was returned to Emesa (modern-day Homs), there to decorate the city’s coins for a while longer before vanishing into the mists of history.
The Winona Meteorite
The spectacular impact of the huge iron meteorite that dug out Meteor Crater in northern Arizona also scattered meteorite fragments across a wide swathe of the arid southwest. Many of these fragments of the Canyon Diablo meteorite were found on the ground by Native American tribespeople tens of thousands of years later – they proved to be a useful – and the only – source of iron used in tools and weapons. They were also often treasured and venerated as being visitors from another world (true enough) with strong shamanic powers.
(image via: Thomas Witzke)
One such fragment was the Winona Meteorite, found in 1928 by archeologists excavating a former settlement of the Sinagua people dating from around AD 1070 to 1275. What makes the 53 lb. Winona Meteorite special is that is was found carefully wrapped and enclosed in a buried stone cistern, treated much as a beloved child who had died before his or her time. Curiously, the meteorite that had survived such a violent descent to Earth, shattered into tiny pieces as it was being removed from its carefully constructed crypt.
Cow Killing Meteorite of Venezuela
(image via: LGF Museum of Natural History)
Last but not least, the Valera meteorite may be the only space rock in this group to have real power… the power to kill! Let’s go back to the night of October 15th, 1972. Villagers in the Venezuelan town of Trujillo reported seeing a bright light in the sky accompanied by a loud noise, likened by some to a sonic boom. The following morning at El Tinajero farm, Dr. Arginiro Gonzales and Juan Dionicio Delgado found the remains of a cow that had been sliced nearly in two by what became known as the Valera meteorite.
(image via: Michael Blood)
Though weighing only 757 grams under 2 lbs), the meteorite’s great speed was more than enough to send the unfortunate bovine to “meat” its maker. As for the meteorite, pieces of it have been very popular sale items by a number of meteorite vendors who tag the bolide with shocker names like “The Butcher of Venezuela” and “The Bovine Basher”.
(image via: Skywatch Media)
The “shock & awe” spectacle of meteors plummeting from the skies continues to inspire supernatural beliefs among human cultures from primitive to advanced. Ground meteorite powder is said to cure AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa while adherents to literal interpretation of the Bible’s Book of Revelations see them as harbingers of Judgment Day. If one considers the dearth of scientific knowledge in ancient cultures, it’s no surprise that these celestial visitors were hailed not only as messengers of the gods, but the gods themselves.