[meteorite-list] A Quest for Shooting Stars (South African Meteorites)

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 09:48:59 2004
Message-ID: <200109141524.IAA06794_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


A Quest for Shooting Stars
Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg, South Africa)
September 14, 2001

Nawaal Deane

Scientists have a keen interest in meteorites, saying they could hold
information about other planets

In most countries you can buy a meteorite for a few dollars on the Internet
but in South Africa it is illegal to keep one of these terrestrial rocks
even if you find it in your backyard.

This week a group of meteorite amateurs and experts set out on an expedition
to look for the precious objects near the Namibian border. Hiking for a
week, they will endeavour to discover new specimens of meteorites that would
hopefully add to South Africa's meagre collection.

Meteorites - also known as shooting stars - are rocks left over from the
formation of the solar system, with nearly 3,000 being recovered and
catalogued worldwide. South Africa had 49 specimens catalogued, but in the
past 27 years only three new specimens have been found.

"I have done a study of public awareness of meteorites in South Africa and
it is pretty low, we need to get the public involved by giving them
incentives to search for meteorites," says Stephan Laubscher, a meteorite

In South Africa it is illegal to remove meteorites without a permit. But in
many other countries meteorites are not only searched for but also auctioned
on Internet sites to the highest bidder. Common meteorites are sold for $1.5
dollars a gram, while rare Martian meteorites can fetch up to a few thousand
dollars a gram.

Scientists have a keen interest in studying these precious objects, saying
that they may hold information about other planets. But there are many
amateurs and dealers of meteorites who feel that South Africa's legislation
on meteorites impedes scientific discovery.

In South Africa meteorites are protected by the Heritage Resource Act 25 of
1999. It states: "No person without a permit may destroy, damage, excavate,
alter, deface or disturb, or remove from its original position any

It is also illegal to trade, sell or export meteorites from South Africa
without a permit.

Some meteorite experts feel that this act impedes the discovery of new
specimens. According to Bruce Cairncross, geologist at Rand Afrikaans
University (RAU), meteorites are geological specimens and should fall under
a separate act. "These items rare or common, fall outside of cultural
objects and including the meteorites in the act is legally dubious," he

"The law should be relaxed so that people could be given the incentive to
find meteorites and maybe donate a piece to science, keeping the rest for
themselves," says Lewis Ashwal, a geologist at RAU. In this way more
meteorites may be found, catalogued and registered.

But Mary Leslie, an archaeologist at the South African Heritage Agency
responsible for national heritage sites, says: "The act protects and
conserves our heritage."

She does not think that the act in any way impedes scientific discovery of
meteorites. "Meteorites are a source of information and should not be used
to make dealers rich," says Leslie.

Most recognise the need to protect our heritage but insist that meteorites
are in a league of their own.

"If we don't have the act our heritage will be plundered but you must
recognise that it is the amateurs who have made scientific contributions so
that these geological specimens can be studied," says Cairncross.

There have been a few reports of meteorite smuggling mainly from Namibia but
nothing significant in South Africa.
Received on Fri 14 Sep 2001 11:24:51 AM PDT

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