7 • A Meteorite from El Campo del Cielo

7 • A Meteorite from El Campo del Cielo

Argentina; Circa 4.5 billion years old
Discovered in 1576
49 x 31 cm; Iron
Weight: 70kgs

Structural classification: Coarse Octahedrite
6.68% Ni; 0.43% Co; 0.25% P; 87 ppm Ga; 407 ppm Ge; 3.6 ppm Ir.
Location: Gran Chaco Gualamba, Argentina

This rock was formed by two asteroids colliding at cosmic velocity in interplanetary space during the development of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago. It floated around outer space for billions of years before crashing into planet earth approximately 4,000 years ago. It was discovered 3,500 years later in a deserted province of northern Argentina and now sits in the new Cromwell Place arts hub in South Kensington, awaiting the next stage of its journey.

For centuries the locals from the northern Argentinian provinces of the Chacos – vast stretches of flat-lying, dusty soil with little rock or water – claimed the iron from their metal-tipped weapons to have fallen from the sky amidst raging fires. Eventually in 1576 Capitan Hernan Mexia de Miraval was commissioned to search for this mass of iron and set off with local guides along trails weathered by nomads seeking honey and wax until he came across a large mass of metal protruding from the soil. He took some samples, wrote a long account of the many diffculties of his expedition and the discovery of what he assumed was an iron mine of exceptional purity, then filed it in Seville where it remained forgotten and unread until the early 1920s.

When it was uncovered it became the earliest record of the examination of a meteorite by Europeans in the Americas. That meteorite was part of what has become known as El Campo del Cielo – The Field of Heaven – so named by the locals because of their belief in the celestial origin of the metal left strewn over an area of 18 kilometres. They were only proved correct when samples were analysed at the Royal Society in London in the early 19th century, at a time when scientists finally acknowledged the possibility of rocks originating from outer space.