[meteorite-list] Trade Growing In Stolen Meteorites

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 09:46:23 2004
Message-ID: <200105111711.KAA10481_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>

http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk/newsid_1324000/1324361.stm

Trade growing in stolen meteorites
Matt McGrath
BBC News
May 11, 2001

Thieves may be stealing meteorites to order to feed a growing international
trade in space rocks, a BBC investigation has revealed.

Collectors are willing to pay vast sums of money for rarest specimens and it
seems this has now attracted a criminal element.

We have learned of two major thefts in the past six months in South Africa
and Germany.

With a piece of lunar meteorite now commanding a price of 20,000 a gram -
that is 3,000 times the price of gold - experts believe the number of thefts
can only increase.

Internet driven

Dr Monica Grady, who leads the Meteorites and Micrometeorites Programme at
the Natural History Museum, London UK, said: "I think once communication
gets round that meteorites are very collectable, very tradable, then it's
possible there will be more theft.

"With better communications over the past few years on the internet, people
are able to buy and sell meteorites internationally. There are more people
going out and collecting them for themselves," she told the BBC.

"It's easier, for example, to get into the Sahara to get meteorites and
bring them back and sell them. There is a huge increase in the numbers of
meteorites that are actually on the market, and a corresponding increase in
the number of people that are buying them and are willing to collect them."

One of the pieces stolen in South Africa, a nickel-iron meteorite found in
the Vryburg district of the Northern Cape Province, is described as
"scientifically priceless". It was just one item in a mass theft of more
than 150 meteorite and mineral specimens from a museum.

Red Planet

The German meteorite, known as the Ramsdorf main mass, was taken from a
private collector. Other valuables left behind by the thieves made police
think the space rock was stolen to order.

Beyond their market price, meteorites are hugely important to science. Some
of the most important specimens incorporate grains that have been largely
unaltered since the birth of the Solar System. The 16 Martian meteorites,
for example, have revealed astonishing information about the Red Planet's
wet and warm past, and have even suggested the presence of microbial
lifeforms.

But although science may be a victim of this new crime, it might also be an
unwitting accomplice, warns Ralph P Harvey, assistant professor at Case
Western Reserve University, Ohio, and principal of the US Antarctic Search
for Meteorites program.

He told the BBC that the methods used to get meteorites out of Africa,
particularly Morocco and Libya, were questionable. He said private
collectors were going to these countries to obtain the space rocks before
selling them on to academic institutions. "But its not clear that these
meteorites came out of these countries legally," he said.
Received on Fri 11 May 2001 01:11:18 PM PDT


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