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Lot 194: CANYON DIABLO METEORITE - AN EXTREMELY NOTABLE OFFERING: THE FINEST SCULPTURAL EXAMPLE OF THE QUINTESSENTIAL AMERICAN METEORITE

Natural History Auction

by I.M. Chait

December 13, 2009

Beverly Hills, CA, USA

Live Auction
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  • CANYON DIABLO METEORITE - AN EXTREMELY NOTABLE OFFERING: THE FINEST SCULPTURAL EXAMPLE OF THE QUINTESSENTIAL AMERICAN METEORITE
  • CANYON DIABLO METEORITE - AN EXTREMELY NOTABLE OFFERING: THE FINEST SCULPTURAL EXAMPLE OF THE QUINTESSENTIAL AMERICAN METEORITE
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Description: CANYON DIABLO METEORITE - AN EXTREMELY NOTABLE OFFERING: THE FINEST SCULPTURAL EXAMPLE OF THE QUINTESSENTIAL AMERICAN METEORITE
Iron-coarse octahedrite
Meteor Crater, Coconino County, Arizona

The current offering is among the most aesthetic iron meteorites known to exist. It is also the most striking, sculptural specimen recovered in the United States available to the public and the second most sculptural specimen period-the first being the Tucson Ring, a centerpiece at The Smithsonian.

What makes this meteorite all the more desirable is that it comes from a much-celebrated locale: Canyon Diablo, "The Devil's Canyon," Arizona.

Approximately 40,000 years ago, this meteorite was part of a small asteroid that plowed into the Arizona desert with the force of more than 100 atomic bombs. The main mass vaporized on impact, creating the most famous and best-preserved meteorite crater in the world-the renowned "Meteor Crater" near Winslow, Arizona, nearly one mile across and 600 feet deep. Fragments of this famed impact-some of which landed more than 11-miles away-are prized by museums and private collectors everywhere, as every specimen is woven into a legacy that is unrivaled in meteorite Americana:

"The Devil's Canyon" was true to its name for both Harvey Nininger "The Father of Meteoritics" and Daniel M. Barringer. At the turn of the 20th Century, Barringer believed the unusual crater was created by an enormous mass weighing millions of tons and further believed this small asteroid, worth a fortune in iron and nickel, lay beneath the crater's base. In 1903 Barringer filed a mining claim on the site that later became known as "Barringer's Crater" and drilling commenced and continued for years. When funds ran low, Barringer initiated a public offering to fund the locating and excavation of the elusive mother lode. (As a measure of the preeminence of the Canyon Diablo pedigree, a stock certificate issued by the defunct companies which financed the drilling sells today for more than many of the specimens in this offering.)

Following years of drilling, nothing was found. Unfortunately for Barringer, scientists later determined that an asteroid far smaller than what Barringer imagined would possess more than sufficient energy to blow the huge hole in the Arizona desert floor-and would also generate enough heat to vaporize much of its mass. In effect, the large mass Barringer spent the last thirty years of his life looking for didn't exist.

Years later, Harvey Nininger built the American Meteorite Museum on the same site. Much of Nininger's pioneering research was done at this locale and Nininger recovered numerous Canyon Diablo specimens following countless surveys of the area-but none remotely as sculptural as the meteorite now offered. A few years after his having opened his museum at a strategically located perch on Route 66, the museum went out of business when a new interstate, I-40, siphoned the traffic from the Devil's Canyon.

Meteorites almost never look like the specimen now offered-a meteorite that has appropriately been called The Wishstone. Very few meteorites fork into different directions, as such bends typically break off over time resulting in multiple fragments. The matchless shape in evidence is the result of several variables which wondrously came together in an act of pure serendipity: a massive explosion in the desert splitting the asteroid apart along its crystalline planes into a fortuitous shape; the ejection of graphite nodules (see lot 196) which provided the furrows and sockets which when exposed to the elements expand into smooth curves and promote surprising twists; the perfect placement underground so that the incursion of oxidants in the weathering process sculpted the meteorite in a manner that prevented the multiple elongated fragments; and perhaps most significantly, the timely discovery and excavation of this specimen which provided the cessation to the oxidation.

As a final accent, a multi-hued natural patina-also unlike the typical Canyon Diablo-enthralls. This is an extremely notable offering of a matchless example from one of the most important meteorite events in history-and the single most aesthetic meteorite publicly available ever found in North America. H: 14"

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