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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in
American Antiquity
Vol. 4 No. 1 (Jul. 1938), pp39‑40

The text is in the public domain.

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 p39  Meteorite Collecting
among Ancient Americans

H. H. Nininger1

During the past two years the field activities of the Nininger Laboratory (now the American Meteorite Laboratory, Inc.) have brought to light four new meteorites on old Indian camp sites in eastern Colorado (Plate 5) and western Kansas. The mere fact of these several associations strongly suggests that the aborigines recognized a special significance in these fallen stones. However, it must be admitted that, without additional evidence, these associations could be regarded as accidental.

[image ALT: Two rocks. They are meteorites.]

Plate 5.

Stony meteorites from Colorado Indian camp sites: upper, from near Karvel, Lincoln County, 1937, ½; lower, from north of Springfield, Baca County, ¼.

There are other reasons for suspecting that ancient Americans regarded meteorites of special importance. The Winona meteorite, 1928, was found in a stone cist similar to those in which the former inhabits of Arizona buried the bodies of children. The Navajo irons, 1922, were found covered by a pile of stones and their surfaces bore numerous grooves which had been laboriously cut by the stone implements of ancient man. Under one of the irons were found certain ornaments. The Mesa Verde meteorite, 1922, was found in the ruins of the Sun Shrine House of the Mesa Verde National Park. The Pojoaque meteorite, 1930, was found buried in a pottery vessel on an old village site. It showed signs of much handling and is thought by Dr. H. P. Mera to have been carried in a medicine pouch. Recent investigations by the present writer indicate that this little specimen was a part of the Glorietta meteorite, the site of which is about thirty miles from the Pojoaque site. This fact furnishes additional evidence of human possession.

The meteorites of Red River, Wichita County, Iron Creek, Willamette and Cape York, all are known to have been the object of regular pilgrimages on the part of local tribes of early Indians. The Chilcoot iron, 1881, was satisfied in the sacred possession of an Alaskan tribe and was reputed to have been so held for several generations.

The Casas Grandes iron was found buried in the Casas Grandes ruin of Chihuahua. It was wrapped in "mummy cloth" which indicates very definitely the special regard in which it was held. The Huizopa irons were also taken from a ruin in western Chihuahua. Worked fragments of meteoritic iron were found in the Hopewell Mounds, 1902, and in  p40 the Anderson Township mound of Ohio in 1884. A small axe shaped from a fragment of nickel-iron meteorite was excavated in a ruin in New Mexico and brought to the University of New Mexico. The specimen appears to have been shaped by rubbing on sandstone. These facts indicate the importance of an adequate knowledge regarding the recognition of meteorites on the part of all archaeologists and amateur collectors of Indian artifacts. It is safe to assume that many meteorites have been passed over as unimportant by collectors both professional and amateur.

The meteorites discovered by our Laboratory on old camp sites have been of the stony variety. This class of meteorite is most likely to be over­looked, because of the resemblance to certain terrestrial material. As has been pointed out in other of the author's writings, even geologists have generally failed to recognize stony meteorites until recently.

In the interest of more complete data regarding the frequency of meteorites in and upon the soil, the writer wishes to urge that all field workers take note of all dark-colored heavy stones found, especially if they show any shallow pittings ("thumb marks") or an indication of a surface fusion crust. Subject suspected stones to a few strokes of a carborundum stone and look for minute points of white metallic iron (Plate 6). If samples showing this indication are sent to our Laboratory, we shall greatly appreciate the coöperation and shall, in return, make final tests and report to the sender free of charge. A leaflet on the recognition of meteorites will be sent free to any one on request.

[image ALT: Three rocks, each with many small flecks or inclusions. The rocks are meteorites.]

Plate 6.

Sections of stony meteorites polished to show gains of bright nickel-iron: a — Gladstone, New Mexico; b — Farley, New Mexico; c — Hale Center, Texas.

The Editor's Note:

1 Director, American Meteorite Laboratory, and Curator of Meteorites, Colorado Museum of Natural History, Denver, Colorado.

Thayer's Note: An important pioneer in the study of meteorites, he is the subject of an interesting and detailed illustrated page on his life and career, Dr. H. H. (Harvey Harlow) Nininger | Meteorite Hunter, with further relevant links.

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Page updated: 18 Feb 16