[meteorite-list] BLM and Meteorite Recovery Policy

From: Martin Altmann <altmann_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Mon, 3 Dec 2012 15:44:26 +0100
Message-ID: <002401cdd164$b1b7cd00$15276700$_at_de>

Hi Jason,

I see a logical inconsistency in your argumentation.
On the one hand you mourn that due to the activities of commercially
oriented hunters and dealers, the scientific process and the institutional
collecting would be deprived of newly found meteoritic material,

and in the next break you concede, that meteoritic material wouldn't be
found at all, if not the commercial oriented people would search for it.

Also your opinion, that in 1906 the meteoritical world regarding the access
of the material would have been different is not backed historically.

How do you think, how Smithssonian, the Field musem, the ASU (and London,
Vienna, Berlin, Paris) assembled their collections, the basics of all
meteoritical scientific works?

They purchased that material, that was the most efficient and fruitful way
to get meteorites and a matter of course also in the 19.th century.
Some of the annals of these museums e.g. those of Vienna you can find
completely digitalized on web. There you can find the yearly reports, which
meteorites were acquired, from whom and at which prices, same one should
find in the archives of any museum.

A large problem is in my eyes, that if a state decides to annex all
meteorites and to ban any hunting or commercial use of meteorites,
that then those deciding to do so, have no alternative way to offer, how the
institutions and universities shall retrieve their meteorites then in

If we think that practically, we don't have to discuss about the ideology
behind, whether it is legitimate for a state or for a scientific institution
to override the normal civil rights of ownership of their citizens (and that
special-laws are for a jurist certainly a remarkable exception - note that
btw. in more countries, which are democracies and states of law special
meteorite legislation is in place, than in totalitarian states like China,
former East-Germany, Russia ect.).

Where are the alternatives?
We have the very costs-intensive Antarctic programs, no one can have
objections against that, science costs. Though we can't blind out, that the
commercially used meteorites are easier accessible for the scientist, offer
a larger variety and quantity and are with a gigantic factor cheaper.

And the only other meteorite recovery program is that of the Suisse
universities in cooperation with Oman, a couple of searchers for a few weeks
per year.

And there is the dilemma, in general most universities have neither the
personnel nor the funding to equip and to carry out own substantial and
permanent search activities.
Commercial dealers and hunters are not to blame for the underfunding of the
university departments, as they are not part of these public institutions.

So, those champions of the cause, to eliminate commercialism from
meteoritics, fail to present, how the scientists shall in future get their
new meteorites.
For me, such legislation is a short-circuit.

Also it is the question, if soberly regarded the past, hence the number and
kind of finds, the effective costs for the labs and institiutes, whether
such laws are necessary at all.

Simple example - Slovakia - Lenarto, Gro?-Divina, Magura, Nagy-Borov?,
Rumanov? - where ended up the main masses? In the Slovak National
Therefore, why to introduce a meteorite law?
Obviously there it was never the case, that commercialism hindered national
science to get the Slovak meteorites.

Take Poland, there the recent "official" meteorite retrieving action dates
back more than 50 years. Meteorite research in our decade on universities
doesn't take place there, all the long meteoritical tradition there is
maintained at 98% by private collectors and dealers.
Is therefore really an export restriction necessary, where is the public

Please, can you tell me, why I shouldn't use Australia as an example

For Nick I recommend by the way, to paint simply a graph of the published
new finds in Australia per year from the Bulletins.
Nothing is so striking for the eye.
Of course you can discuss, what the reasons all could be, that the finds -
and I knowingly say, the published finds - because that is the indicator,
whether a meteorite really did reach "science" took such a breaking-down,
that Australia had suddenly nowadays not more finds than in the 1850s. And
if you reflect this numbers with the total numbers of finds before.
Keeping in mind, that in other countries, like USA in the recent decade and
a little before, the number of finds were steeply climbing (not to mention
the desert).

Hence no matter, which opinion one has - the situation is for all not
satisfying at all,
and one can't deny, that the Australian laws of the 1970s and of the 1980s,
yielded no improvement for the Australian meteorite science.
But seemed to be rather a step backwards.
Maybe also for the meteoricists too, if I remember, that now for 20 years
300 Australian OCs are said to be still unclassified lying in Perth.
Obviously, there is a lack of scientific resources.

O.k., you have there the new fireball-network.
The main point in applying for the financial funding was the chance and the
probability to raise the number of newly recovered meteorites remarkably.

Of course a praiseworthy project and Ansatz.
Nevertheless again the lack of personnel and time foils that aim,
Cause as it's given on the homepage, they do catch fireballs, their spectra
and calculate the point of fall - but unfortunately they have not the means
to search for the droppers more than a few days per year and with a small
Here in Europe, where the fireball network would be glad to have a fraction
of their funds,
The affair depends strongly on private, voluntary helpers. As well as they
use for hunting the help of laypeople and professional hunters - with the
great success of my first homeland meteorite for more than 100 years.

And of course, you can say, that in Australia they could have a different
focus on other scientific questions in meteoritics, than to analyze the
stones. On fall dynamics, statistics ect.
But then a private hunting would not affect them at all and the prohibition
is unnecessary.

These are the main difficulties.
Take the last efforts for meteorite recovery in Europe.
EUROMET was closed down, because it had annual running costs of 20 million
USD (source EUROMET), while the finds were relatively modest (one year
stones, which all in all, which one can buy at a commercial dealer at
The ending of the program was a weighing up, done by administration and
Again, commercialism had nothing to do with that at all.

Therfore, I think, the problem isn't the commercialism, but rather the
internal structures in the science process are defective.

Btw. Puff is part of the trade. Dealers and hunters are the same lachrymose
as curators and meteoricists.

Note, that if a new meteorite is sensational enough,
many institutes don't have all but sudden no problem to acquire the stuff.
Look, how fast we found a fat Tissint in Vienna, in London, in Flagstaff...
And how many dozens and dozens scientists at universities are working on

An excellent example, that your black&white painting, that there would be a
harmful opposition between privacy and science doesn't exist.

In fact, just take a look on the number of papers published about
Fact is, that due to the intense private activities, the science received
the recent years an opportunity, they never had before. A huge mass of
scientifically uninteresting but also a huge mass of extremely intriguing
meteorites - and that at so low costs, like never before in history. And
that either costs-neutral via swapping, or cheap by buying.

I can't find any reason, why we should turn the wheel back in time.
We're at number 7000 with the NWAs, at Dhofar 1800 and so on, thousands of
unclassified ones, more new falls recovered in countries, where it else
would have been unlikely, that after a bolide, stone would have been found
at all, cause the hunters and collectors are going there. Due to the higher
number of participants we get much higher tkws as it would be else possible.
New main masses of old finds are found.
20 times or more more meteorites, then when I put my hand for the first time
on a meteorite in the early 1980s.

And I think, your opinion, that commercialism would be the reason, that
scientists wouldn't receive any meteorites of interest anymore or much less
than in former times, I guess originates from your lack of knowledge.
You should speak once with the professional dealers, hardly anyone, who
isn't in contact with scientists and hasn't dozens and dozens of university
and museums addresses in his clients list, interacting regularly with them
in selling or swapping samples.
A matter of course, cause one hardly could do meteorites for a living, if
one would solely have to rely on the purchase power of the specialized
private collectors.

In fact, all inducement enough to be meteoritically extremely happy, isn't

Yep, I got your point long ago, that many meteorites are lacking field data,
making a work on the terrestrial aspects of that part of science impossible.
But you can't have all, what you want.

To one respect, that not so fine situation is directly caused by newly
introduced laws.
If suddenly a country forbids ownership on meteorites, the people having
hunted them all the time before, have two choices: to be suddenly illegal
and to carry on, or to quit.
In the latter case you won't have the coordinates, weights, distribution,
population data neither, but - in my eyes worse - neither the stone

To the other respect, it is a simple matter of costs.
Even if it technically and legally would be possible, to enable the
anonymous hunters in the desert to retrieve full field data - it simply
would cost money.
As well as if a country introduces cumbersome and longsome permit and
documentary processes,
it would be a cost factor. (Btw. it seems, that several countries with
meteorite legacy haven't no practical implementation of these low, in
existing no offices, where you could get the paperwork).

If nowadays, you and perhaps a few other bemoan, that meteorites are already
so expensive,
what for an uproar that would be, if meteorites would get even more
and that would a fortiori light that unhappy debate in the media of the
$$$$$$ question,
leading maybe to even more restrictions.

Be aware, and I mean, you by your own were down there,
That this enormous boom of extremely cheap meteorites - gosh think back, the
times, where Western retailers sold OCs cheaper than cheese and good meat,
R-Chondrites at 2-5$, Moon below 500$, HEDs at 1-3$,
is solely based - and there is absolutely no difference when it comes up
ethical discussions of consumption (see just the factory burned down in
Bangladesh) of profiting from slavery work in buying your consumer goods at
discount prices -
is solely based on the extreme poorness of the people actually finding these
meteorites in the desert for us and for science.

I'm convinced, that the majority of the dealers involved would like to pay
their sources much better - but it is a complete impossibility. The dealers
have to handle an extreme pricing pressure. The collectors are not able or
not willing, to pay more, they would be unable to sell their goods. Put
yourself in their places, they are acting in a stress-field, in an area of
conflict - here they have to pay alms for stones, where they know of, that
10-15 years they would have been worth a fortune - there they have the
scientist whining and haggling, that thesample of the most whack achondrite,
they need for thin sections and microprobing costs 200$ the piece, where
they paid 15 years ago 4000$, if they wanted to work on that type.

That is by far the much darker side in that biz than any legal question.

I chose that example, to demonstrate, how unfortunate it is, if meteorites
are declared to be cultural objects. Not only for dealers and hunters, but
in the wider perspective for science and institutional collections.

I think, many, if not most of the famous collections wouldn't be only able,
but really would love to add the stones of scientific dreams the private
harvest produced in our times to their collection. From the scientific point
of view many of them are ranking among the most important meteorites found
so far and it is a historical bequest that these institutions are made for
preserving and to work on the complete inventory of extraterrestrial matters
history has compiled.

Alas, many of them - as much as they would want - can't do so, due to the
uncertainty and the obstacles the new cultural legislations on meteorites
For me as a fiery enthusiast it is simply unbearable, that the bassinet of
modern meteoritics, Vienna, owns till today no single reasonable lunar rock.
Not to mention, all the exciting new finds, from types, where before only
2-4 finds exsisted at all, nor those, which are truly unique.

Also hindering is, that some institutional collections (and that is more
logical than to declare the unfound and untouched meteorite to be a cultural
heritage and btw. the only possibility the UN-convention prospected) declare
their inventory as cultural heritage, and are not allowed anymore to swap -
but don't get any additional funds for enlarging their collection and to
compensate that method of acquiring.
(Well, and not to mention, the many sighs you will hear by scientists about
their colleagues in several other institutions and countries, how reluctant
those are to swap a little sample for research).
Well and Kalahari, at least, if in private possession, there is the chance
higher that some will be distributed to science, as when the stone will be
locked in a museum in Botswana, not a country directly known for lunar
research, as a curio for visitors.
Always surprised btw. I am, that countries discover so often 10 years or
later, that a particular meteorite was always of highest public interest for
them and that they want to have it back (= to have it for the first

All in all, can't prove it though, as I'm not a pensioner,
but I would bet, that the number of meteoritical papers published, will have
been increased,
if not proportionally with the new recoveries, but at least drastically in
the last 15 years,
so that in my opinion, the private work improved largely the delivery rate
of meteorites to the scientific institutions,
hence I have an opposite hypothesis than you.

Another such disagreement would be, that you have the opinion, that
meteorites would find themselves if the most productive sector, the private
and commercial one would be eliminated.
I'm not that sure. The stones, laying in Sahara and Oman where already there
20,30, 100 years ago, when the private hunting wasn't done to that extent
like today.
The Bulletin talks, we hadn't such find rates before.

And finally, I guess, as perhaps the debate may incite a few to add some

Meteorite dealer is a honorable profession.
It is in no way different from let's say a potato-farmer.
If that farmer invests his work, time and money in growing his potatoes,
and in the end of the year, the outcome is, that he gained no money for
he will quit and grow something else.

Ask the dealers. How often they were thinking, when they saw on the shows
and fairs, how great the demand for - huh, cool new word: brummagem (?) -
is, observing the prices paid and being aware of the producing costs,
how they said to themselves, why the heck am I addicted to meteorites, life
could be so much easier!?!

And btw. another law, when it comes up to professions,
something, which all public skeptics have to concede to the private
meteorite sector:

Read Article 23, 3 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Back to the BLM-rules.
They're somewhat unfortunate. Too complicate and uncertain in practice.
A simpler version would have been better.
1 permit per year for the whole state to hunt at a symbolic price (and to
get easy online).
50% of the meteorite for the finder, 50% for the state.
And all could live happily together,
and the doubling of the dry state find prices, I guess they are bearable, as
most of them were likewise cheap before.

To me anyway that complex is a little bit rustic.

Look here in Europe, whether the people have more couth, I don't know.
Here are almost no laws; when a meteorite is found, scientists, finders and
collectors are in first instance and also in the second: happy,
and so far there was still all the time a decent agreement achieved between
state/scientist and finder/owner without invoking any laws or courts, where
all parties were more than content. Let it be Maribo, Twannberg II,
Neuschwanstein I + II, Ramsdorf and so on.

And that all, where we have not at all those huge empty areas like you over
there, but are extremely densely settled, which, as one might think, should
cause a much larger potential of conflicts than if the coyote drops his poo
in the lonely desert.


PS: Gosh, what a lengthy suada. Am I getting healthy again?



-----Urspr?ngliche Nachricht-----
Von: meteorite-list-bounces at meteoritecentral.com
[mailto:meteorite-list-bounces at meteoritecentral.com] Im Auftrag von jason
Gesendet: Montag, 3. Dezember 2012 06:34
An: Meteorite-list
Betreff: Re: [meteorite-list] BLM and Meteorite Recovery Policy

Hello All,
I'd like to point out a few things:

As an active meteorite hunter/collector, the proposed regulations do not
affect me. These new rules primarily affect the commercial interest in
meteorite hunting -- those people who regularly hunt on
public land and sell their finds. A precious few people publish any
information on their more 'important' finds. It often takes years for such
information to reach the public, if it does at all.

Most of the single-specimen 25+ lb stones found on BLM land in the past two
decades have been kept secret and out of the public sphere of knowledge. I
know of a few such stones, and have no doubt that there are more. They
haven't been submitted for analysis, and you can't
find photos online. Not for fear of the government claiming them,
but because the finders don't want the attention...or competition in the

Sonny Clary is one of the very few people I know who publishes that kind of
information. And now his finds are being touted as examples of why private
meteorite hunters are such a boon for science, despite the fact that he is a
very big exception when compared to the rest of us Southwest hunters. [Or
maybe you think that no one else is finding large meteorites? Seems
unlikely, doesn't it?] That said, such a law won't change this practice of
keeping important* finds secret, so I'm still not seeing the point of
supporting either side.

*Perhaps "large" (>25 lbs) isn't synonymous with "importance." Seems like a
qualitative judgement to me.

Granted, we amateur hunters find meteorites. But, as a group, our primary
interest isn't the advancement of science. That much is very clear. We're
all interested in it to different extents, but we're not donating our finds
to science beyond what we have to (some folks give a bit more, but it's
almost always a fraction of a given stone).

With regards to recovery, we do indeed accomplish more than scientists could
on their own. Battle Mountain is the best example of this in recent years:
a new fall that would not have been recovered without amateurs. But, with
collectors and dealers finding rocks, scientists get a much smaller cut of
the material, with the majority of it going to sale/into collections (and
with no guarantee of the quality of curatorship).

No one against the law has yet addressed this topic, which I think may be an
aspect of the problem. And no one is arguing that we amateurs don't provide
a valuable service by bringing new meteorites to light that would otherwise
not (ever?) be found. Nor do the proposed regulations inhibit the right or
ability of most hunters to continue to do what they've been doing. You guys
need to look at the regulations and what they're actually going to change.
Permits will theoretically be required for selling meteorites found on BLM
land and uncommonly large finds that aren't usually reported anyway are
theoretically going to have to be turned in to the government.


The Antiquities Act -- yes, it seems a little odd to piggy-back meteorites
on an antiquity law that was not intended to include meteorites. On the
other hand, it's probably easier to pass regulations on newly considered
items by folding them into existing regulatory categories. Instead of a new
BLM department for regulating meteorites, the government officials who went
after artifacts can now address both groups of items (meteorites +
artifacts). This doesn't seem like such an insane idea to me. Good? I
don't know. Since the new regulations don't affect me, I don't particularly

Were these new aspects of the law intended under the original legislation?
Nope. But it seems that the *intent* of the people changing the law is to
restrict the private for-profit exploitation of meteorites found on public
land. So, they are passing the laws that they intend to pass, which aren't
the laws that someone wanted back in 1906. Of course, back in 1906, we
didn't know that meteorites could be collected on public land and sold for
considerable profit, so the fact that there wasn't a law then (and *perhaps*
should be one now) is...kind of logical.

Seems a little less crazy now, doesn't it?

All that's left to do is debate the pros and cons of these proposed
regulations. I would go about it by comparing the regulations'
merits and drawbacks. Making this a legal argument of "but they weren't
intended to be covered by this law in 1906" seems odd to me.
With Gebel Kamil in Egypt, some academics tried to say that meteorites fell
under an antiquities law when no qualifying laws/regulations had
ever been made. That didn't cut it for me. This is going through
actual legislative channels.

Generally, I don't like regulation, but...
After ~10 years of free-time-hunting, the largest stone Peter and I have
ever found out here in California weighs a measly few kilos.
Maybe when I find a 200 lb iron sitting out there, I'll think differently.
But the Smithsonian already confiscates the big meteorites when they turn up
(e.g. Old Woman). So....I'm not seeing the difference between then and now
-- unless you sell your finds and don't like the idea of getting/renewing a
permit every year. Even though, if you fall into that category, you're
taking meteorites that legally belong the the BLM off of public land and
selling them for your own profit.

If it's a counter-argument the dealer population wishes to put forth, then
fine. But they should at least call it what it is. Meteorite dealers make
money by trading in a scientifically valuable commodity, and protecting
their right to sell meteorites found on public land in the US is of course
high on their list of interests.

It's a special interest.


Other things -


Martin - please stop using Australia as an example. We've gone over this:


And (scroll to my message):


Adam - ambiguously bringing up stones like Kalahari 009 as examples of
mismanagement (private or public mis-management?) is odd. Since the stone
was found by a private party, if anything, it shows that individual people
aren't likely to be responsible curators of meteorites. Having personally
seen some prime examples of personal
*and* institutional mistreatment of meteorites, pointing out individual
examples doesn't accomplish much more than pointing fingers.

I personally don't see why it's a horrible fact that Kalahari 009 wasn't
studied as much as it could have been *when it was found.* We haven't lost
any information or scientific capability. Just time.
Science isn't running out of time.

Conversely, the meteorite could have been cut up and sold, with only a small
portion of it going to science. Which outcome is "better" is entirely a
matter of opinion.


Richard brought up the 300 lb Glorietta Mountain siderite as an example of a
wonderful meteorite that was brought to light by the private sector.

I believe it is a perfect example of both sides of the issue. A large
(historic?) meteorite of significant size was found on public land.
It probably would never have been found without private sector effort.

It was then cut (almost entirely) and sold for profit. The largest known
mass of a large American meteorite that theoretically belonged to the
American public and probably should have gone to a museum, was
instead...well, it's gone. I hope you enjoy the photos. The finder wasn't
wrong to do that -- it was entirely his prerogative. He owned it. But I
believe that these new laws may be partly intended to keep such things from

Whether you see that as good or bad depends on your values, but I'd like to
share my own.

Would that meteorite ever have been found without the private sector?
None of us can say, but it does seem unlikely that it would have happened in
the near future. But we do know one thing for sure -- that monolithic
meteorite is *gone,* and you can be certain that it's not coming back.
Ultimately, the specimen was a source of income for a meteorite hunter, and
the sum of what we have to show for it now is a bunch of slices scattered
around the world -- that I can't tell apart from Seymchan.


Most of the large American meteorites discovered on public and private land
in the past few decades (that have surfaced) have been cut and no longer
exist. They were cut for profit. There's a very long list.

I like to think that there's a reason we really appreciate the Smithsonian
and AMNH to see large rocks. We enjoy seeing photo albums from various
museums' collections on Facebook. Big rocks from outer space are great for
outreach and education. And they're intact, so if anyone ever wants to do
research on them in any way, shape, or form in the future, they're available
for that.

We're the reason that so few of these rocks are being preserved, despite the
fact that we admire them. Isn't it odd?

The only reason that I feel I might oppose these new regulations now is
because there's the chance that if they're passed, they *could* be made more
stringent in the future. However, since the current wording doesn't affect
me, I don't mind it.

All of this adamant nay-saying seems a bit much.


> From: Martin Altmann <altmann at meteorite-martin.de>
> Date: Sun, Dec 2, 2012 at 4:04 PM
> Subject: Re: [meteorite-list] BLM and Meteorite Recovery Policy
> To: meteorite-list at meteoritecentral.com
> Hi Fred,
> "Artifact" would imply that your legislative authorities do believe in
> the existence of highly developed aliens somewhere between Mars and
> Maybe we can make here on the list a little collection to donate some
> more modern books than those of Percival Lowell to the Library of
> Congress, that this assumption has turned out to be unlikely.
> Uh coffee was perhaps a bad example - the prices for gasoline, energy,
> housing, meat will bring you immediately back!
> Can I sign too as non-citizen?
> Good night,
> (have to take my pills, was too talkative...) Martin
> -----Urspr?ngliche Nachricht-----
> Von: hall at meteorhall.com [mailto:hall at meteorhall.com]
> Gesendet: Montag, 3. Dezember 2012 00:32
> An: Martin Altmann
> Cc: meteorite-list at meteoritecentral.com
> Betreff: Re: [meteorite-list] BLM and Meteorite Recovery Policy
> Martin, is coffee a total cost of $7 per pound or are the taxes $7 per
> pound? If it is ONLY $7 per pound total cost, being a coffee drinker, I
> consider moving to Germany, as we pay $9 to $11 per 12 ounces, plus sales
> tax, in most States of the USA!
> A meteorite should not be considered an "artifact" unless it is found
> a Native American site or early American site. They are rocks, 99%+ never
> used by early man. Glorious rocks, but rocks none the less. If you find a
> rock on BLM land, other then petrified wood or fossils, you can haul it
> even if it weighs 499 pounds. The petrified wood limit is 250 pounds per
> year per person.
> As for rocks, no permit is needed on BLM land UNLESS you want to mine for
> minerals. Picking up a rock, by hand, on the surface is not mining.
> Sign me up to end this new ruling by our lord and master, the BLM.
> Fred Hall
> ______________________________________________
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