West Sahara Meteorite Hunt 2014

We found some interesting meteorites. Haggling is apparently an art, and after tough negotiations we shook hands and everybody laughed. Then we took a traditional group photo with the meteorites.

Most Moroccan meteorite dealers live in the south-eastern parts of the country, so we returned to Agadir to swap our jeeps for cars. In Agadir, we met my friend Tuomas Uusheimo, a photographer. He had come there straight from a residency in Villa Karo in Benin. He had had an exhibition of meteorite photographs at Lasipalatsi Gallery in Helsinki from 10 to 26 January 2014, and was now preparing for a larger show from 29 May to 19 June 2015 at the Photographic Centre in Kotka, Finland.

The next day we drove to Zagora, our first destination on this leg of the journey. We were met there by Rachid, whom we had been corresponding with for years and who had previously supplied us with several meteorites. Rachid is a French school teacher, but he also deals and sells meteorites worldwide. Meteorites are an important source of additional income for many people.

Rachid had arranged accommodation for us, and invited us to his parents home for supper. He is a devout Muslim, and the walls of his home are decorated with quotes from the Koran. His children and wife were in another room, as is the Arab custom. We took off our shoes and stepped into the living room, where several meteorites were on display. Rachid began by showing us a small lunar meteorite, the preliminary analysis of which he had received from the US a few days earlier.

It is an indescribable feeling to hold a piece of the Moon in your hand. A few nights ago the Moon had been shining over the desert, and now it had fallen into my hand. With a laugh, Rachid said we would not believe where it had been found. He said it was found by a Bedouin friend on the spot in Tissint where the Mars meteorite had fallen in 2012. There had been 3000 people in the area looking for valuable fragments of the meteorite.

Meteorites are traditionally named after the nearest post office to the site of discovery. In this case, it was in a village called Tissint. Meteorites found in the Sahara usually carry the acronym, NWA, which stands for North West Africa, in their name, as it is often impossible to ascertain where nomads had originally discovered the meteorites. Additionally, every meteorite has an identifying number: the diogenite fragments we found have the number 7831. It indicates the position of the meteorite in the series; our fragments were from the 7831st meteorite in the group.

After several meetings, our journey ended in the town of Ouarzazate to see meteorite dealer Muhamed. His nephew was there to meet us and led us to his uncle’s house. We were greeted by a man in his fifties, with a stern eye, who had evidently been in business for a long time. We looked at meteorites, drank tea and bought a few pieces.

Finally, he invited us to view a couple of meteorites in his garage. We were tired from the trip and it was already way past midnight. When he opened the door to the garage, our weariness was instantly wiped away from our eyes and minds. It was a breathtaking sight. In the midst of rubbish, old tyres and other junk, there were enormous meteorites. The kind of pieces you might find in the collections of the British Museum, not in an untidy garage in a shady residential area in a small town. There was an achondrite weighing more than 100 kg and an intact stone meteorite of over 150 kg, quite exceptional in size. There was also half of a gigantic stone meteorite and a 50 kg fragment of an Agouldal (Imilchil) iron meteorite.

While we were still gasping and looking at the meteorites, Muhamed went upstairs to his flat and returned with a bundle. With a grin on his face, he opened it and handed us its contents for us all to hold in our hand – none other than a 2.2 kg lunar meteorite. It looked exactly what I thought the Moon looked like when I was a child. It was yellow like cheese, with countless dark lines that were created when an asteroid had hit the surface of the Moon. It was my turn to hold the meteorite in my hand. It was the perfect way to end the journey.


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Jarkko Kettunen Meteorite Collection © 2023