NASA’s Curiosity rover recently discovered a massive metal meteorite on the surface of Mars. The first encounter of its type, the two meters (6.5 feet) wide iron meteorite has been named ‘Lebanon’, and scientists are eager to examine the find. It is the largest ever discovered on the planet.
Back on Earth, meteorites have long fascinated humanity. Ancient man was in awe of and feared what were seen as unfathomable events in the skies. Modern science can now explain the meteor showers, lightning and thunder, aurora lights, and eclipses that inspired myths, religions, and legends. In antiquity meteorites were seen as messages from the gods, or profound omens.
Objects of Power
Many cultures saw fallen meteorites as religious icons to be worshiped and as objects of protection, but jewelry and art has also been created from the space rocks. RedIceCreations writes, “Ancient Egyptians incorporated meteorites into symbolic objects or jewelry, creating objects of ‘power’. An ancient gem in Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s adornments is thought to have been created by a blast more powerful than modern atomic bombs.”
Beads made from iron meteorite were found in a 5000-year-old tomb south of Cairo. Researchers say the material would have been very difficult to work with, nevertheless the ancient craftsmen were able to hammer, thin, and shape the metals into fine beads and stringed necklaces. They’re the oldest known iron artifacts in the world, created thousands of years before Egypt’s Iron Age.
The Black Stone of Kaaba
A mysterious dark rock rests in a corner of the Kaaba, a square black building found at the center of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Each year devout Muslims make the pilgrimage to Mecca, circling the Kaaba and giving a nod or a kiss to the meteorite that is said to rest inside. Scientists and historians debate the origin of the stone, but have not been able to determine whether the Black Stone of Kaaba is a meteorite or not, as the rock is not permitted to be removed from its silver casing for examination.
The worship of the Black Stone goes back to pre-Islamic shrines, when Semitic cultures used unusual stones to signify sites of reverence. According to Muslim belief, the stone originates from the time of Adam and the Islamic prophet Muhammad set the Black Stone in place after it fell from the skies.
Church of the Meteorite
The worship of celestial rocks continues even with modern meteorites. The ‘Church of the Meteorite’ was set up in Chelyabinsk after a meteor rocked the Russian region in 2013 and injured over 1500 people. RT reports on the cult that worships the meteorite, writing “There are currently about 50 believers in the Church of the Chelyabinsk Meteorite. These days they are busy holding rites on the shores of the lake, trying to protect the meteorite by building “protective barriers” around it.” The founder of the Church, “Paranormalist Andrey Breyvichko says the meteorite, estimated at 10,000 metric tons, is so powerful it could actually trigger the Apocalypse.” The meteorite broke into pieces from being handled after it was pulled from Lake Chebarkul.
Olympic Medals from Space
Celestial objects were and are still attributed with supernatural origins, religious significance, and embody the power of the gods. For the Sochi Olympics of 2014 in Russia, the Olympic medals were formed with shards of the Chelyabinsk meteor inside them. The beautiful medals symbolized triumph over adversity. Chelyabinsk Region Culture Minister Alexei Betekhtin told R-Sport that “both the meteorite strike and the Olympic games are global events”.
Meteorites and rocks from other planets hold our imaginations and are granted a ‘relic’ status as they’re defined as national treasures. Rock samples retrieved from the United States Apollo moon missions are heavily accounted for. Possessing or selling moon rocks is illegal and can earn you an arrest and either theft or fraud charges in some countries.
Meteorites, however, can be marveled at and exchanged as modern humans continue the ancient legacy of creating works of art, jewelry, and tradition out of the falling stars.