[meteorite-list] Nakhla - The Dead Dog Still Lives

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Wed Nov 3 12:18:38 2004
Message-ID: <200411031718.JAA14833_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>

Hi guys,

There are some details in papers written in 1911 and 1912 by
William Hume and John Ball that adds credibility to the dead dog story.
After taking account all the facts and observations, I've concluded
that the you can't close the book on the dog story just yet.

William Hume's paper was published in August 1911 issue of the "Cairo Scientific
Journal, #59, vol V, pp. 212-215. John Ball's report was titled 'The Meteorite
of El Nakhla El Bahria" and published in the Geological Report in 1912 in
Cairo, Egypt.

It was from these two reports that Kevin noted there were
discrepancies in a farmer's account in a newspaper article of the meteorite fall,
mainly that the date of the fall was off by a day (June 29 versus June 28),
and the fall location reported (Denshal) was 33 kilometers away from
the location of where the meteorite fragments were recoverd (El Nakhla el
Beharia). Presumably, Denshal was too far from Nakhla for meteorites
to fall in both villages. Also, a Denshal official reported that "no stones fell"
there. The farmer who witnessed the meteorite hitting the dog
was quoted as saying the dog was left like "ashes in a moment" from the
meteorite, which to some, cast further doubt on the story.

However, in the same two reports, particularly Hume's paper, there existed
some details that I will go over that adds credibility to the dog story.

The original story about the Nakha meteorite came from the
"Al Ahali", an Arabic newspaper. This is where the farmer reported his
observations of the meteorite fall and includes the dog story.
The story was translated from Arabic to English and reprinted in the
Egyptian Gazette. Now consider the words of the farmer, Mohammed
Ali Effendi Hakim, translated to English, who claimed the
meteorite hit the dog:

   "The fearful column which appeared in the sky at Denshal was
    substantial. The terrific noise it emitted was an explosion
    that made it erupt several fragments of volcanic materials.
    These curious fragments, falling to earth buried themselves
    into the sand to a depth of about one metre. One of them fell
    on a dog at Denshal, leaving it like ashes in the moment."

This does sound like an eyewitness account of a meteorite fall.
The ash reference in the last sentence does sound odd. John Ball later
said in his 1912 report that this statement "is doubtless the
product of a lively imagination". How can a dog go to ashes in a
moment from being hit by a meteorite? Or was it just an issue
of the translation from Arabic?

I had some discussions with professional Arabic translators on this.
One translator told me that he "could imagine that any number of
phrases fall into the same semantic cluster as 'left like ashes in a
moment' and could be mistranslated". Here are some quotes from
various translators on possible other translations from
the 'left like ashes' phrase when it gets translated from Arabic:

   "Something was being destroyed or killed"
   "The dog was soaked in blood"
   "The reference was to broken remains or a corpse"

The translators were all in agreement that translations should not be taken
literally. I think John Ball, and later Kevin, fell into
the trap of taken the phrase literally.

Also, the minor date discrepancy could be simply a reporting error
by the newspaper. Even CNN mas made a reporting error on a recent fireball event.
If CNN can make errors, then a small 1-day error by an Arabic newspaper
over 90 years ago is not so unreasonable - particularly when you consider
that there is no doubt that the farmer did observe the meteorite fall, and
the farmer's report did lead to the recovery of the Nakhla meteorite

And there is evidence from Hume's paper that a meteorite did fall in Denshal, which
is 33 km southeast from El Nakhla. Ball assumed that this distance was further
proof the meteorite did not fall in Denshal. However, we do know strewn fields can
be larger than 33 km - but this wasn't well known in 1911 or 1912. I also noticed
that the flight path of the Nakhla meteorite does line up with Denshal from
El Nakhla, and I'll discuss that in more detail.

Getting back to the farmer's story, the farmer did provide an accurate
description of the Nakhla meteorite in more detail in the same "Al Ahali"
   "Mohammed Eff. showed the editor of 'Al Alahi' a small piece of the
    fragments, which were described as a greenish colour, covered with
    something like shining pitch."

Now compare this with Hume's description of the Nakhla meteorite:

   "each side [of the meteorite] being covered with a black glistening
    varnish except where broken at the edges, where the interior is seen
    to be made up of light green-coloured crystals and grain."

Here's John Ball's description:

   "Many of the stones are entirely, and all the others are partially
    covered with a glossy black skin, as if they had been varnished with

   "about half [of the meteorites] are completely enveloped in a black
    varnish-like skin of fused matter.....others exhibit fresh fractures showing
    greenish-grey crystalline interior."

The description by the farmer of the rocks that fell in Denshal
does match the Nakhla meteorite, which interesting as Ball said the
farmer's story was a "product of a lively imagination".

There is more.

In his paper, Hume reports that he had recovered a rock fragment from the
Denshal fall:

   "On seeing this notice [the 'Al Ahali' article], private enquiries were
    instituted, so as, if possible to obtain specimens of the 'volcanic stones'.
    The representatives of the 'Al Ahali' newspaper have kindly sent a
    specimen of the original fall."

Presumably, the rock obtained by Hume was provided to the newspaper by the farmer.
Oddly, there is no further mention of the Denshal rock in the Hume paper.
What happened to this rock? Did Hume do any analysis on the Denshal rock?
Since Hume's entry was a footnote in his paper, this indicates Hume did not
receive the rock until he was almost finished with the article, and did
not have time to properly analyze it prior to submitting the paper.
Unfortunately, the current whereabouts of this rock remains a mystery today.

The fact that Mohammed Ali Effendi Hakim gave an accurate description
of the Nakhla meteorite, and a fragment was recovered from Denshal is not
100% conclusive, but it does give the farmer's story a lot more credibility.

And there's more evidence that a meteorite fell in Denshal, though it is
obvious Hume failed to see it.

It is documented that the Nakhla meteorite fell from the
northwest. From Hume's paper:

  "[the meteorite] was seen falling from the N.W. as a white cloud
   variously estimated as from one to three metres long."

And from John Balls' paper:

  "The direction of approach of the object was from the northwest, and
   its track, marked by a column of white smoke, is said to have been
   inclined only some 30 degrees to the horizontal."

If you draw a line on a map from the El Nakhla el Beharia
region to the southeast, along the direction of the Nakhla meteorite fall,
you will run into Denshal. Denshal lies on the path of the meteorite fall,
but 33 kilometers downstream from Nakhla. I think it is possible that the Nakhla
strewn field is larger than what everyone originally thought.
The strewn field from the Allende fall in 1969 was 48 km long, so you
can't rule out Denshal just because it was 33 km away from Nakhla.
Obviously, in 1911, there is little known about strewn fields as
there today, which may explain why this was overlooked by Hume

Hume sent a telegram to Denshal inquiring about a possbile meteorite fall,
and he received this message back from a Denshal official:

   "In reply to your telegramme, we inform you that some twenty days
    ago, at midday, the inhabitants of Denshal village heard an
    explosion resembling a clap of thunder, accompanied by a small
    quaking in the atmosphere, but no stones fell, as was the case in
    El Nakhla el Beharia, Markaz abu Hommos."

Unfortunately, there is no details on how this official determined that
"no stones fell" in Denshal. Apparently to Hume, the word from
a Denshal official of "no stones fell" was good enough to
discount the farmer's story entirely, and eliminate Denshal as a possible
fall area. This was very unfortunate. Note that the same Denshal official
also reported hearing explosions in the atmosphere,
clear indications of a meteorite fall near or in Denshal, and also
mentioned there were several Denshal inhabitants heard the explosions -
in other words, more witnesses that should be interviewed.
But sadly, Hume proceeded to spend all of his time and efforts at Nakhla
only. Even at Nakhla, extent of Hume's research was restriced to just
interviewing the people who had already found meteorites fragments.
There does not seem to be any effort by Hume to canvass the area and
surrounding terrarin for additional meteorites. There is no indication
from his paper that Hume, or anyone from his staff knowledgeable in
meteorites, had ever visited Denshal. There is no record that Hume or
anyone from has staff had even interviewed Mohammed Ali Effendi Hakim -
the first person to report the meteorite fall. There is no indication that
that the other people in Denshal who witnessed the meteorite fall were
interviewed. The fact remains that Denshal was not properly investigated
as a fall site even though there was compelling evidence to do so.

Considering everything mentioned in these two reports,
I firmly believe that the dog story cannot be discounted.
However, as I noted earlier, the story is still far from being
confirmed. Bear in mind that without the report of the dog
story, the Nakhla meteorite would have never been recovered
and would have been lost to science forever. It would be nice to
get closure on this either way. It is difficult to track down a
story that happened over 90 years ago in a remote part of Egypt.
I think it is very important to obtain the original Arabic article from
"Al Ahali". There also may be additional details about the meteorite
fall in the original article that was not mentioned in Hume's paper.
I have offered to Kevin to join me to in a collaborative effort to
research this further, but he has turned down my offers.

Ron Baalke
Received on Wed 03 Nov 2004 12:18:36 PM PST

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