We’ve been awash in meteorites lately, what with asteroids flying by and meteor showers abounding this month. (Meteorites are what meteors become once they land. During their journey through Earth’s atmosphere, they are meteoroids.)
Now some of them are going up for sale. The largest meteorite auction ever is scheduled to be held in New York City on October 14, and among those on the auction block is a piece of the Willamette Meteorite, claimed by the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde in Oregon as sacred. Though the bulk of the Willamette is owned by the American Museum of Natural History, a 28-pound slice of it belongs to Darryl Pitt, the collector who is conducting the sale.
Darryl Pitt, who is auctioning off pieces of his collection that is known as the Macovich Collection of Meteorites, has been hoarding space rocks, including a 28-pound slice of the Willamette, for decades. He tells Forbes magazine that with fewer than a million such items, meteorites are the rarest of collectibles.
As The New York Times reported a few years back, the Willamette meteorite was claimed by the Grand Ronde in 1999 under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 because of its spiritual and cultural significance. This dispute was between the tribes and the American Museum of Natural History, but Pitt already owned his piece, which Forbes said he expects will bring $85,000. A similar auction in 2007, though, produced no takers for the Willamette slice.
Meteorites have been used in sacred celebrations for centuries, as witnessed by the recent discovery of a statue thought to be of a Buddhist god, carved out of a rare ataxite meteorite. Pitt told Forbes he had obtained some of his collection from African tribal chiefs.