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May 16, 2024 49 mins

Before the dawn of the iron age, ancient humans had but one source of workable iron for their artifacts and weapons: meteorites. In this very-metal episode of Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Robert and Joe discuss various examples of meteoric metal artifacts, including several precious sky-weapons of antiquity. 

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Speaker 1 (00:03):
Welcome to Stuff to Blow Your Mind production of iHeartRadio.

Speaker 2 (00:13):
Hey you welcome to Stuff to Blow Your Mind. My
name is.

Speaker 3 (00:15):
Robert Man and I am Joe McCormick, and we're back
with part three of our series on human uses of
iron from space. I think we had a little interlude
there where. On Tuesday of this week we ran an
unrelated interview. But today we're back to finish off the
series with Part three. Now, if you haven't heard the
first two parts yet, you should probably go back check

(00:37):
those out first, But to do a quick recap. In
part one, we focused largely on the iron dagger of
Tuton Common, a blade found wrapped up with the pharaoh
tuton Common inside his coffin from before the time of
large scale smelting of iron in Egypt. And we discussed
chemical and mineral analysis showing that this dagger was almost

(00:58):
certainly made out of iron that came not from Earth,
but from a piece of iron meteorite that fell from space.
And it turns out that a lot of iron artifacts
like amulets, beads, tools and trinkets. A lot of these
iron artifacts from before the various regional iron ages have
this in common. They come from meteorites, so ancient peoples

(01:21):
were taking alien metal that fell from the sky and
shaping it to their uses. In Part two, we talked
about a few more specific artifacts believed to be made
from meteorite irons, such as the Shang Dynasty axes from
ancient China, and a meteorite iron sculpture known as the
Iron Man or sometimes in the media as the Space Buddha,

(01:42):
which was at one point alleged to be a Tibetan
depiction of a divine figure in Buddhism known as vice Ravana,
but according to some experts in Buddhist art, was actually
a twentieth century European design, amounting to a forgery or
at least a crude imitation of Tibetan imagery. And then
I ended up getting in to some of the speculation
about who could have actually made this sculpture, which is

(02:04):
a somewhat wild story if true, big if true. We
also talked about the history of knowledge that meteorites come
from space. So it took scientists of the European Enlightenment
until around the beginning of the nineteenth century to really
agree on this, but there is some evidence that people
in ancient China. In ancient Egypt and other cultures knew

(02:26):
that this metal came from above, and some of the
indications of this are linguistic, for example, in the fact
that in the ancient Egyptian language there's a convention to
refer to iron as iron of the sky or metal
of the sky. And so today we're back to talk
about more possible uses of meteorite iron in technology and
artifacts from human history. And you know, one thing that's

(02:48):
interesting this has sort of come up a little so far,
is that meteoric iron still retains a strong power, a
sense of power, and a mystical appeal, even after the
spread of tools and artifacts made from earth based iron.
So even after iron as an element becomes common and mundane,

(03:09):
and you know, it's smelted out of iron ore from
the earth and we use it to make all kinds
of things, including including steel products, there's still something undeniably
appealing and even perhaps mystical about iron from the stars.

Speaker 2 (03:23):
That's right, and that's why in this next section I
want to get out of the Bronze Age and get
into the post Bronze Age Islamic world, where we see
various mentions of what may be meteoric iron. So a
lot of this is going to concern swords, at least

(03:44):
in the outset here. Swords have of course played a
significant role in human history and take on various meanings
across various cultures that use them, which is pretty much
any culture with access to the prerequisite metals. As we've
just us on stuff to blow your mind and the
artifact the short form episodes we were on Wednesday before,
we see sword like weapons in cultures that did not

(04:07):
have access to the prerequisite metal work, though their functionality
is ultimately perhaps more comparable to a club. Thinking here
about you know, particular examples of essentially wooden clubs that
are that to the untrained eye might look like a sword.
May even be you may even have bits of stone
embedded in them, you know, given this the swordlike appearance,

(04:30):
so there is something like, even when you cannot make
swords because you don't have the prerequisite materials, there is
something about the form, and it's an extension of the
human arm as a weapon that seems to lock up
in various cultures. At any rate, wherever the sword was known,
the sword increasingly took on various literal symbolic metaphorical meanings,

(04:52):
And this of course means that swords factor into various
religious traditions in a number of ways, like, for instance,
in Christiananity, Jesus mentions the sword as a metaphor for conflict,
and I believe the particular passage is widely interpreted to
refer to social division rather than armed conflict. But like
anything in a religious text, people will take it and

(05:15):
apply whatever meaning they want to it.

Speaker 3 (05:17):
Yeah, there are a lot of ways you could read
I come not to bring peace, but a sword.

Speaker 2 (05:21):
Yeah. Now you'll find swords, even flaming swords, and Buddhist
iconography and Hinduism, and the sword of course also factors
into Islam. And I bring up these other religious examples
in part because, based on some of the sources I
was looking at, it does seem that there is often
a Western bias in interpreting sword iconography and references in

(05:41):
Islam as more overtly tied to armed conflict than perhaps
in other religions. This is not to say that the
sword in Islamic traditions isn't, but as with other cultures,
it doesn't always refer to harmed conflict or violence.

Speaker 3 (05:55):
Could be literal, could be metaphorical.

Speaker 2 (05:57):
Exactly, so. Islamic swords may stand for religious or political authority,
they may stand for mystical knowledge and more in addition
to military victory. But moving on to specific swords, there
are a number of them of note from Islamic history.
The prophet Muhammad is held to have possessed nine swords
during his life, and the most famous of which is

(06:21):
the dul Fakari or dul Fakar. I may be pronouncing
this incorrectly. If so, I apologize, but the name's meaning
is largely uncertain, but may relate to concepts of splitting,
and is often depicted as a pronged, split or double
bladed sword. You can look up images of various images

(06:43):
of the sword in iconography, and depending on how it's presented,
the blade may split near the tip or I've seen
examples of the blades splitting close to the hilt. So
I guess it kind of runs the gamut from like
the highly symbolic to the you know, pievable and practical,
and again that we're talking about largely about imagery here.

(07:07):
Actual symbolic swords have been produced, but the sword in
question here, the dual Forakar, is I think largely understood
to be a mystical and or mythological item. The story goes, however,
that the prophet acquires the sword at the Battle of
Bata in six twenty four, and then ultimately passes the

(07:28):
sword on to his son in law, Ali, the fourth Caliph,
now Caliph's by the way, if you're not familiar, these
were the Muslim civil and religious rulers who succeeded Muhammad.
So the sword in question here, the Dulafaikar, is strongly
associated with Ali. There are various legends about his military
exploits with this mystical weapon and its ability to cut

(07:50):
through his enemies, though it is also a symbol of
political and spiritual authority. It is in many ways said
to be the sword of swords, as Islamic blades were
traditionally inscribed with the phrase there is no sword but
dul Fokar, and there is no hero but Ali. Okay,
some superlatives, right right, And you can find examples of this.

(08:12):
I was looking around and like various museums inevitably have
swords of Islamic origin that have that do mention the
Dulfokar on them. So it's a can you can find
examples of this, perhaps even in your own museum within
your own region. Now, some say that the actual sword
in question here, among other relics, is currently in the

(08:34):
in the possession of the Topekapi Palace museum in Turkey.
But it also seems that in twelve verse Sheism, the
sword is believed to be in heaven or and or
in the possession of Muhammad Almadi, the Imam believed to
return at the end of time. So again there's this
idea that again a highly mystical sword that is held

(08:57):
in tradition to not even be perhaps on this earth anymore. Now,
I say all this to sort of going to get
into the idea of Islamic swords, but this is not
the sword that I wanted to talk about in connection
to today's episode. Like there's I've seen no discussion that
this sword or anything any artifact that is connected to

(09:19):
this sword containing meteoric iron, And I guess we should
also clarify that any sword in the possession of beings
not on this earth any longer cannot be analyzed. However,
we do see at least some mention of possible meteoric
iron weapons in Islamic traditions. I'll get to specific example

(09:39):
in just a second, but you know, we should remember
that medieval Arab astronomy was extremely advanced prior to the
rise of Islam in the seventh century. Pre Islamic Arabs
depended on empirical observations of constellations, and then with the
rise of Islam we see the emergence of this tradition
of five daily prayers, prayers that need to be directed

(10:01):
toward Mecca. And this creates a true incentive based on
religion for better charting of time and location. Thus there's
a reason to focus more on the movements of the stars,
and this ends up helping to foster a more robust
cultural understanding of astronomy, drawling upon other traditions in the

(10:22):
ancient world and building out new knowledge. Now, on the
other hand, I was reading a survey of Muslim materials
on comets and meteors by David Cook. According to Cook,
comets and meteors during the for a very long time
in these traditions were not considered astronomical phenomenon. They were
held to occur within the atmosphere and therefore they were terrestrial,

(10:47):
so they were largely omitted from astronomical works, while mentions
would still be found in other forms of literature, especially
when they were held as portents or lined up with
important deaths or events such as the death of the
Prophet in six thirty two, as well as events in
the lives of the Third and fourth Caliphs. Now in

(11:08):
the past, I think this was when I was writing
for How Stuff Works, and I was writing or applying
some edits to an article that dealt with iron, and
I remember reading that blades of possible meteoric iron had
been associated with seventh century Caliphs, and I look back,

(11:28):
I tried to get into this because I early wanted
to figure out where's this coming from, what specifically is
this referring to? What are the sources? And the initial
source was a nineteen forty one paper published in the
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and
Ireland titled the Use of Meteoric Iron by ta Rickard,
and at one point in the text he discusses the

(11:50):
possibility that Zeus's thunderbolts were a quote poetic expression for
the use of meteoric iron, and that later I'm going
to read a quote hear from it In later times,
we read that Attila, timor Antar and other devastating conquerors
had swords from heaven. So also the Caliphs, whose swords

(12:10):
were made of the same meteoric material as the Cobbastone
that lies in the Holy Sanctuary at Mecca. Avajo's, an
Arab philosopher of the twelfth century, states that excellent swords
were made from a meteor weighing one hundred pounds that
fell near Cordoba in Spain. Now, if you've listened to
the show for a while, you know that we did
in an episode on the Cobbastone the Blackstone of Mecca

(12:33):
a while back, probably a few years at this point,
And one of the things that we did cover there
that maybe wasn't as a parent to the author of
this paper, is that the origins of the Cobbastone are
far from a settled matter.

Speaker 3 (12:45):
Yeah, I don't remember. It's been a while, so I
don't remember exactly what we concluded there, but it seemed
like there were still plenty of room for uncertainty there,
though there were suggestions of reasons for thinking it may
have been a stone created by an impact of some sort,
whether it came from above, or maybe whether it was

(13:06):
created of like one of those types of glasses created
by impacts.

Speaker 2 (13:10):
Yeah, yeah, And I think ultimately it's just all observational
because it's a sacred relic. It's not going to be
scientifically analyzed, which is the case with many relics around
the world. In getting into this whole business about the sword,
so that was what I really wanted an answer to,
and I've got to admit that I was able to
find out precious little about Islamic swords alleged to have

(13:32):
been forged from meteoric iron. Rickard here was citing British
geologist Sir Lazarus Fletcher, who lived eighteen fifty four through
nineteen twenty one, but rooting around in available texts by
this author, I didn't really find any answers to my
questions either. I did consult a couple of sources about
the history of metallurgy in the region. And it is

(13:53):
key to note that we've already touched on islam arises.
After the end of the Bronze Age in the Middle East,
the Islamic world had access to Damascus steel, so any
meteoric weapons would be largely symbolic and or relics of
the past, and they clearly had access to what is
often held up is the best steel of the day.

Speaker 3 (14:13):
Right, steel being a product of iron, So it would
not be a question like we talked about with the
King tut example, with this being a you know, a
product from before the regional iron age, from before people
before there was large scale smelting of iron in the area.
There's plenty of smelting of iron and production of iron artifacts.
These would just be iron from a different source in

(14:35):
a place that was already rich with iron, exactly.

Speaker 2 (14:38):
Yeah. Now, interestingly enough, interestingly enough here, I don't know
to what extent, or any extent this ends up coloring
these older writings by Western writers, if this factors into
the analysis at all. But there is actually a line
in the Quran fifty seven twenty five that refers to

(14:59):
iron in a way that is sometimes interpreted as having
some connection to meteoric iron. I'm going to read the
passage here, this is of course in translation. Indeed, we
sent our messengers with clear proofs, and with them we
sent down the scripture and the balance of justice, so
that people may administer justice. And we sent down iron

(15:20):
with its great might benefits for humanity and means for
Allah to prove who is willing to stand up for
him and his messengers without seeing him. Surely Allah is
all powerful almighty ah.

Speaker 3 (15:33):
So I imagine some interpretation is hinging there on the phrase
we sent down iron, with the idea of iron somehow
coming from above exactly.

Speaker 2 (15:43):
Yeah. I was reading paper talk titled Basic Concepts of
Physics and the Perspective of the Qur'an by M. M. Karashi.
This was in a nineteen eighty nine edition of Islamic Studies,
and the author here writes that quote the implication of
the words has become fully apparent only through historical investigation
of the earliest use of meteoric iron. So I could

(16:06):
be wrong on this end. As always I invite correction
or clarity, But I believe some commentators argue that these
lines in the Qur'an reference and historical understanding of iron
meteor rights, you know, perhaps drawing on again, as we've
touched on knowledge that already existed in the ancient world
in different parts and to different degrees, that there was

(16:27):
a connection between iron and meteorites, between iron and the
sky again makes perfect sense, given everything we've discussed, but
isn't also also isn't necessarily guaranteed. Some also seem to
interpret this verse as just stating that iron in the
earth was a creation of Allah, and consideration of meteors

(16:50):
doesn't seem to always serve as part of that conversation.
You know, it was sent down just a way of
saying it came from God, which you know fair enough.
And say anything was sent down, you could, I guess
you could say a giraffe was sent down, but that
doesn't mean it actually had a re entry into the
Earth's atmosphere.

Speaker 3 (17:08):
Well, everything in this passage is said to be sent down,
and the other cases of sent down here don't necessarily
seem to imply a physical descent from space.

Speaker 2 (17:18):
Right, So again I invite correction or clarity on these points,
especially from anyone who has kroonic knowledge and so forth.
But I did find it interesting that in this passage
we see a possible reference to meteoric iron, and then
we also have these other, like more perhaps dubious mentions

(17:39):
in Western writings about meteoric swords meteoric iron swords that
were used by the Calbs.

Speaker 3 (17:55):
All right, well, I wanted to begin this next section
by looking at how big chunks of meteorc iron arrive
on Earth. Already, we've mentioned several examples of meteoroids that
at some point entered Earth's atmosphere and fragmented or shattered
in the air, separating into a series of smaller meteorite

(18:16):
fragments which can be found across an impact field. For example,
in the last episode, we talked about the Chinga meteorite,
one piece of which was probably used to make the
so called space Buddha sculpture that we talked about. And
while the artistic origins of that sculpture are highly suspect,
the physical origins are not. Really it does seem to

(18:39):
be agreed upon that this is a piece of iron meteorite.
So many fragments of the Chinga meteorite have been found
in the region of Tuva, which is in southern Siberia,
since the first recorded discovery by miners in the early
nineteen hundreds. This scattering of iron meteorite chunks over a
large area is the result of some original object coming

(19:01):
apart into pieces somewhere in the atmosphere above roughly ten
to twenty thousand years ago. Now, there are different ways
for meteoroids to come apart or lose their structural integrity
in the atmosphere. In some cases they land roughly intact,
in some cases they split up into some number of

(19:25):
smaller pieces from the original, and in some cases they
basically just explode or vaporize, and on the explosion end
of the scale, the explosions before the meteoroids reach the ground.
These explosions are referred to as air bursts. In many
such cases, the entire object, or nearly the entire object,
is burned up or reduced to dust in the process.

(19:48):
In the case of the relatively recent Cheliabinsk meteoroid, which
exploded over Russia in February twenty thirteen, an asteroid that
was originally like twenty meters or sixty five feet in diameter.
When it entered the Earth's atmosphere, it exploded a few
tens of kilometers above the ground. For some reason, I've
seen different estimates about the altitude. Some say twenty three

(20:09):
kilometers up, others say thirty kilometers up. But wherever it was,
this explosion released a huge amount of energy, expressed in
the hundreds of kilotons of TNT, maybe like four hundred
or five hundred kilotons of T and T. The explosion
way up there, damaged thousands of buildings on the ground,
blew out glass, and sent some fifteen hundred people to

(20:32):
the hospital, though thankfully no deaths were reported.

Speaker 2 (20:35):
The footage of this, like the dashboard footage that was
going around, is quite incredible, so if you haven't seen it,
definitely seek it out.

Speaker 3 (20:42):
Absolutely that is worth looking at. It is awe inspiring,
and this is a particularly big air burst in the
modern era, not of course the biggest that can happen,
but very big and recent memory, though, I was reading
if the object had impacted the ground instead of exploding
high up in the atmosphere, if it had hit the
ground or exploded lower in the atmosphere the dam the

(21:04):
damage could have been much much worse. So in a way,
the outcome was rather lucky. But despite the fact that
the Chelubenzk meteoroid entered the atmosphere as an asteroid the
size of a house, I've read estimates that well below
one percent of its mass reached the ground in the
form of solid meteorites. Again, this is something where I've
seen different numbers on the estimate. I've read like zero

(21:27):
point one percent of its mass or like zero point
zero five percent of its mass, some very small percent
of its mass actually reached the ground in solid chunks,
and the rest evaporated or was turned to dust as
the object broke apart and burned up. So this got
me wondering what actually causes a fast moving meteoroid to

(21:48):
just blow up or even vaporize like that. A key
factor is speed. So the original object, which might be
a chunk of asteroid or comet material at least a
few meters in diameter or maybe up to tens of meters,
typically enters Earth's atmosphere at great speed. According to the
American Meteor Society, meteors tend to enter the atmosphere going

(22:10):
anywhere between eleven kilometers per second and seventy two kilometers
per second. And there's actually an interesting fact concerning this
variability that you might not think about it first. The
speed with which a meteor enters Earth's atmosphere depends not
only on the speed of the comet or the asteroids

(22:31):
orbit relative to the Sun, so it has its own
intrinsic speed as it's orbiting the Sun, but it's also
affected by the movement of the Earth, which is simultaneously
orbiting the Sun at about thirty kilometers per second and
is also though this is less important, rotating at about
one thy six hundred and seventy kilometers per hour. Of course,

(22:53):
speed is always, you know, it's relative to an observer.
So even though we use language like the speed at
which a meetia enters our atmosphere, that could give the
false impression that our atmosphere is stationary and the media
is moving. In reality, both are moving, and they're moving
in their own directions, and so the speed of entry
is determined by the relative velocity of both objects to

(23:17):
each other, you know, So it could be kind of
trying to catch up with the part of the atmosphere
it hits, or it could be like slamming into more
kind of a head on kind of collision with the
part of the atmosphere it hits. And then of course,
other things about other things about the way a meteor
enters the atmosphere will determine, will determine its ultimate fate,

(23:37):
whether it burns up, what the resistance is, and so
that would include things like the angle of entry. Anyway,
whatever the speed is at that incredible speed, the air
directly in front of the meteoroid. Once it enters the
atmosphere becomes greatly compressed. It's squeezing a lot of atmospheric
gas in its path into a very small space, very rapidly,

(24:02):
so you can imagine it kind of like a pneumatic
piston that is moving so fast it doesn't need a
cylinder to squeeze the air in front of it. If
you're traveling at dozens of kilometers per second, you're going
to squeeze a lot of air into a thin layer
at your bow before it has the chance to move
out of the way. And as a result of being

(24:22):
so violently compressed, this air gets extremely hot, and then
this layer of hot compressed gas flows around the sides
of the object as it travels. This fast movement not
only compresses the gas in front, but it also creates
a relative vacuum in the space directly behind the meteoroid,
and these forces put a lot of stress on the object,

(24:44):
heating it up by thousands of degrees celsius, melting or
vaporizing parts of it. Causing pieces of it to break off.
Is just a huge amount of stress on a solid
chunk of material. These pieces that might be broken off
of the object are in turn subjected to extreme forces
of heat and pressure, and a sudden breakup of the

(25:05):
main mass of the meteoroid can release just a lot
of energy quite suddenly and resemble an explosion. Also, in
addition to all this, I came across a paper from
twenty eighteen adding another interesting mechanism, another piece of information
to the puzzle here. So this paper was by Tabita
and Malash published in Mediauritics and Planetary Science in the

(25:29):
Air twenty eighteen and the paper is called Air Penetration
Enhances Fragmentation of Entering Meteoroids. So this paper is discussing
an attempt to model the physics of a fragmenting meteoroid
with reference to the example of Chellibinsk and the authors
here argue that their model reveals a previously unrecognized but
very important mechanism in how this breakup occurs, and that

(25:51):
is the penetration of high pressure air inside the body
of the object through permeability of the material or through
tiny cracks and pores in the rock or the metal.
And as this air percolates into the solid body of
the meteoroid, it decreases its material strength. That weakens it

(26:12):
and makes it more likely to want to split apart.
One of the authors, Purdue University professor j Malash, described
the process in a press release, saying, quote, there's a
big gradient between the high pressure air in front of
the meteor and the vacuum of air behind it. If
the air can move through the passages in the meteorite,

(26:33):
it can easily get inside and blow off pieces. So
air bursts are aided by this percolation, which every time
I say that, I do think of coffee as a
kind of kitchen first thinking. But this percolation of superheated
compressed gas into the body of the meteoroid through these
tiny holes and gaps in its structure. But not all

(26:57):
meteoroids are equally vulnerable to this process. Size and density
help protect a meteoroid from fragmentation and vaporization. Iron meteoroids
are not completely immune, but since they are denser on
average than stony meteoroids, they are less likely to result
in an air burst, and thus it is more likely

(27:19):
that large solid chunks reach the Earth's surface intact. And
so I would like to talk about one such meteorite
iron meteorite that did reach the surface of the Earth
in several very large pieces, and that is the Inongenic meteorite,
also known as the Cape York meteorite, three large pieces

(27:41):
of which are now on display at the American Museum
of Natural History in New York. There's one that is enormous,
you know, it's like sort of car sized, and even
the other two that are smaller are very big. So
some thousands of years ago, we don't know exactly when
a meteoroid weighing possible like two hundred tons about one

(28:02):
hundred and eighty metric tons, but we don't know for sure,
entered the atmosphere and fragmented into pieces in the Arctic
over North America. But as several still very large pieces
of iron meteorite did make it to the ground. They
landed in what is today northwestern Greenland, probably before it
was inhabited by people, after people first arrived in the area.

(28:26):
Again we don't know for sure when this was. They
found these large caches of solid iron and began using
them to make iron tools through a process called cold forging,
essentially using heavy objects such as stones to hammer pieces
of the iron meteorite until they broke off, and then

(28:47):
you would hammer these pieces until they reached the shape
you wanted, such as a knife blade or a harpoon tip.
And this cold forging process was very energy intensive. It
took a lot of human labor. These sources of meteorite
iron became a vital mineral resource for the Inuit peoples
of the region.

Speaker 2 (29:07):
It is telling once more, we're talking about a culture
that would often be interacting with a landscape upon which
little bits of meteorites would potentially show up a lot
easier and be easier to find, you know, in this
case the snowscape, but in other cases we've been talking

(29:28):
about desert environments.

Speaker 3 (29:30):
Ice is actually a great surface for finding meteorites. This
came up in that documentary that we watched by the
Verner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer documentary where they're looking for
meteorites on the surface of ice sheets by helicopter in Antarctica,
and it was a great place to look for them

(29:50):
because otherwise, you know, you not expecting to see rocks
on the top of these ice sheets.

Speaker 2 (29:55):
That is Fireball Visitors from Darker Worlds from twenty twenty
and yeah, we actually interviewed Herzog and Oppenheimer for the
show I believe it was an anticipation of this, right,
or was it about their volcano documentary. I'm blanking because
I watched them both around the same time. At any rate,

(30:16):
we talked to Werner Herzog and it.

Speaker 3 (30:17):
Was terrifying, though I do want to have a caveat there.
I've seen some pictures I believe, of how these particular
iron meteorites were as they were originally in the places
where the Inuit people's found them, and from what I
recall seeing, it seemed like they were not just like
on top of bare ice sheets, but they were positioned

(30:39):
among a landscape more like nestled in among rocks and earth,
so I think they still would have really stood out.
They would have looked weird because they were iron meteorites,
but not just not so much like the things that
these scientists were looking for in Antarctica, where it's just
like a black rock on otherwise unbroken white ice sheet.

Speaker 2 (30:58):
Right right.

Speaker 3 (30:59):
Anyway, the tools made out of these cold forged chunks
of iron meteorite were they entered circulation. They were sourced
from these locations and then eventually traded with the communities
surrounding the Inuit peoples of northwestern Greenland. Eventually they made
it even farther. There's some evidence that some iron tools

(31:21):
made out of pieces of this meteorite were traded with
Norse Vikings sometime before in the eleventh century or before.
But by the sixteen and seventeen hundreds, explorers from Europe
started to make repeated contact with various Inuit peoples, including
the Inhuit of the far North and the Inuit are

(31:41):
a group of Inuit people also known sometimes as the
polar Inuit. They speak a language called Inukton and their
homeland is in northwestern Greenland. These European and US explorers,
such as the Scottish naval officer John Ross, recorded that
in speaking to these people, they were told about some
kind of mountain of iron that the Inehuit were using

(32:06):
to make their iron tools, but for a long time
they never saw. The explorers never saw these iron sources
for themselves. This was until the expeditions led by the
US explorer Robert Peer beginning around eighteen ninety four. Peery
is mainly known for trying to reach the North Pole.
There's some dispute about whether Peery ever actually did make

(32:28):
it to the geographic North Pole. He certainly claimed he
did in April nineteen oh nine, but it's difficult to
verify since the ice would have been over water and
is constantly moving, so the marker he placed in the
ice can't confirm it. Also, some later analysis of the
records of the expedition cast doubt on the physical plausibility
of their journey and also if Piery did make it

(32:51):
to the geographic North Pole. There's an account from Matthew Henson,
an African American explorer who lived from eighteen sixty six
to nineteen fifty five and served on multiple expeditions with Peery,
indicating that he was actually the one who made it
there first. If they did make it so, a lot
of questions remain about that, But anyway, after living among

(33:12):
the Inhuit and learning from them and trading with them,
PII eventually removed three large chunks of iron meteorite from
Inhuit lands, the largest of which is known as Anihito
or the Tent, and this one is more than thirty
metric tons and it required the construction of a rail
system just to get it to his ship in order

(33:35):
to be transported to New York. But there are also
two other smaller but still quite sizable iron masses known
as the Woman and the Dog. Later and Pieri's plan
was to sell these objects in order to finance his
future expeditions to the Arctic, and they remain on display
today at the American Museum of Natural History. Now, in

(33:56):
addition to taking away these meteorites that were so important
to the Inhuit, not just practically as tools. More on
that in a minute, there is also an incredibly tragic
story of how Pierri took away six Inuit people and
delivered them back to the American Museum as well, under
the false pretense that they would soon be sent back
home with many gifts and supplies. But in crowded New

(34:20):
York they were quickly exposed to unfamiliar pathogens and most
of them died of respiratory diseases. So in the end
that story is very sad. I think one man from
the group was able to return to Greenland, and there
was a boy among the group named Minic who did
grow up in the United States for some time, and
then I believe it sometime later tried to return to

(34:42):
Greenland and then also at some point came back to
the United States. But he passed away in the nineteen
eighteen flu pandemic. But regarding the Inhuit beliefs about these
meteorites that had provided them with iron tools for so

(35:05):
many hundreds of years, I wanted to mention a really
interesting episode of another podcast that I came across while
researching this subject. So this other podcast is called Endless
Thread and it's put out by Boston's public radio station WBUR.
I previously wasn't familiar with it, but this one episode
I listened to is really great. And this podcast generally
discusses uses of meteorite among the Inuit people. But my

(35:29):
favorite thing about it is that it includes interview material
with an Inhuit shaman named Hivshoe, and it's definitely worth
checking out that episode in full. I think the main
title before a colon and subtitle is a Meteorite in Greenland,
but I wanted to mention one interesting and important thing
that sort of comes up in it. So Hisshue is
from a place in northwestern Greenland called hira Paluk, where

(35:54):
the Inhuit people have this long relationship with metiorite fragments
in and Hipshue says that in their language, these are
known as the excrement of the stars.

Speaker 2 (36:06):
That sounds like an entirely different take on.

Speaker 3 (36:11):
What these are, but it doesn't have the connotations you
might bring to it, the thinking of it as excrement,
because these objects are quite sacred. In fact, I've read
in other contexts that a justification given for Peri's removal
of the iron meteorites from Inhuit lands is that the
Inhuit acquired other sources of iron and steel for practical

(36:34):
uses through trade and so forth. So I guess the
thinking is like, oh, they can they can get iron
from other sources now, so they don't really need these
meteorites anymore now, I think there are even if they were.
Even if these metea rites were only significant for practical
uses as a source of iron, I think there would
be reasons for doubting that that way of thinking that justification.

(36:56):
But in this interview, Hisshue makes clear that these meteorites
have significance beyond simply being utilitarian sources of metal. Though
they were that as well, their significance was sacred, and
he mentions that cutting off a piece of metal from
the source involves a ritual. There is a ritual to

(37:16):
that sort of giving the people access to the metal
from this sacred object, and the tools made from it
are not simply viewed as tools. He calls them partners
because in a way, he says, everything in their view
of the world is life. Everything is infused with life.
So a tool made from this meteorite is not just
simply a dead object to get some use out of. It,

(37:39):
is a partner in your work. So anyway, if you
want to check out that other podcast episode again, the
show is called Endless Thread. The title of the episode
is a meteorite in Greenland. But to continue on this subject,
I was reading around and I found other accounts of
Inuit people explaining that they view these meteorites as having
a sacred power and that in fact, religious significance and

(38:03):
material utility are not mutually exclusive in their view. So
just one example I came across was a paper published
in the journal Meteoritics by marden at All called Contemporary
Inuit Traditional Beliefs concerning Meteorites. This is from the year
nineteen ninety two and it records what was said about
meteorites by Inuit elders in the High Canadian Arctic in

(38:26):
nineteen eighty eight, So a few details of what the
authors here were told. They were told that Inuit people
have long come across rocks in the landscape that they
interpret as being not natural, sort of not the same
as everything else around them, and in some cases these
are meteorites, and meteorite pieces that are discovered or possessed

(38:49):
by a person can give people special powers in some cases,
or have some kind of special link to the fate
of the person who owns them. They mentioned that these
iron media have been sources of metal for the fashioning
of effective tools and weapons. But contrary to what might
be a common Western assumption, this does not mean that
they are not viewed as sacred or spiritual objects. Quote.

(39:13):
The one evident thing that became clear to the author
is that the Inuit distinctly believed that these meteorites are
religious objects of the highest order, and it brings into
question the current academic practice of sending meteorites south to
research institutes. Any seeming conflict with the traditional use of
meteoric iron is more apparent than real. The animals, the hunt,

(39:36):
the act of survival, all being bound up in the
mystic patterns of animistic belief. So what I take from
this is it's sort of pushing back against an assumption
that many Westerners might have that, oh, if people are
just using this metal to make tools that they use
for everyday chores, you know, for hunting and other things
that must be done to survive, and you know, and

(39:57):
maybe if you compensate them by trading with them some
other objects that are useful for survival, then there's nothing
wrong with taking this stuff away. And you might not
feel the same way about an artifact that has religious
significance but maybe was crafted by humans and kept in
a sacred special place and has no role in the

(40:19):
ongoing work of everyday life. But I think they're saying
that's wrong. Even though this is used to make materials
that are used in regular work, it still is also sacred.
And that kind of raises questions for me about like,
why would we have the contrary assumption to begin with?
Why would we naturally assume that if a material is

(40:40):
broken off of a mother load and hammered into blades
or harpoon tips or other tools used for everyday survival,
that material is not sacred or is not a religious object.
The conclusion doesn't actually follow from that premise. It implies
there's some other unstated premise that is driving the intuition.
That premise could be something like things you see every

(41:03):
day aren't sacred, or things you use to accomplish work
are not sacred, which, again, like where would such a
belief come from?

Speaker 2 (41:12):
Yeah, there's a lot to unwrapped there, because on one hand,
you could see this kind of viewpoint being rooted in
like clear examples of highly ornate objects that were not
intended for actual functional use, such as some sort of
a ritualistic weapon that was clearly not intended for use
on the battlefield, or some sort of ritualistic item that

(41:32):
essentially has the role of a scepter where it becomes
a symbol of power, but it is somewhat divorced from
practical applications that it may have had in its sort
of artifact based history, like, for instance, the traditional traditional
scepters in Chinese tradition. I've seen some discussion that they
they may have in an origin been backscratchers. It's one theory,

(41:57):
you know. So it's like, Okay, you have a practical
item that then ultimately becomes a thing that is completely
divorced from that tradition and so if you're looking for
those kinds of like clear examples like Okay, well this
is clearly a sacred item because it doesn't look like
it could be used every day, so you have that
going on. But then yeah, I don't know. It is
weird to think about this idea of thinking that everyday items,

(42:21):
everyday things cannot be held up as sacred because I think,
for one thing, you can see various plenty of examples
from history where things people encountered every day still took
on sacred meaning. One example that comes to mind is
the horse. Like the horse is you know, during times
of its domestication to be clear here, you know, it

(42:42):
takes on sacred connotations, mystical connotations. Like the horse. The
skull of the horse is often held up in different societies,
is having some sort of a you know, peculiar meaning
or area to it. And yet the horse was every day.
The horse was something that was just part of your
daily life and you depended upon. And then on the
other end of things, like there's just our personal experience

(43:03):
like a beloved tool. We may not really be in
the mindset of thinking about things in our immediate vicinity
as being you know, mystical or magical or sacred, because
maybe we just don't apply that mindset to our immediate world.
But I don't think that the way we consider our
tools and consider our knickknacks are completely divorced from that

(43:26):
thinking either. I mean, just think about, like whatever, if
you do engage in some sort of a craft or
a handiwork, Like, do you have a beloved tool, and
how much would you have to lean into the idea
of it being important to get to the level of
it being sacred.

Speaker 3 (43:44):
Or the source of the material from which it is
made being sacred.

Speaker 2 (43:48):
Yeah. Yeah, this also comes back to It reminds me
we were talking earlier about excrement, the idea of meteoric
iron as being the excrement of the sky or so forth.
This brings me back just something that came up in
our episodes on Dust about how there's sort of like
a modern understanding of extrement. You know, it's just pure waste, right,

(44:10):
But for people that were actually engaged in like working
the land and all like, there would have been more
of an understanding that this is not like a valueless byproduct,
this is something that then can be used to grow
something new, you know. It can be used as a fertilizer.
There are various traditions where, of course it's also used

(44:31):
and typically you know, I think we're dealing with animal
excrement in these cases, but it can be used also
as fuel for fire, So you don't have to like
lean far in that direction to see this is something
that can be that new life can be breathed into,
you know. But again, just coming back to the idea
of sacred items in everyday life, I mean, yeah, I

(44:52):
think most of us can easily admit that we very
easily imbue physical items with meaning. I mean, it becomes
a problem. So it's they're not necessarily, you know, hoarders
are not making everything sacred, I guess necessarily. But you know,
I don't I don't think it's you know, beyond the
realm of our understanding that that a tool, especially when

(45:15):
you depend upon could could you know, take on a
sacred quality. Now as we begin to close out these episodes,
I guess we're closing out these episodes on iron, I
don't know, do you think you have another one in you, Joe?

Speaker 3 (45:27):
Well, there certainly are plenty more examples we could talk about,
but I feel like maybe we're ready to move on
for for our purposes, but we could come back to it,
I guess, yeah, yeah, there, we'll come up again.

Speaker 2 (45:36):
Yeah yeah. There are a lot of examples out there.
I would love to hear from listeners about it. I mean,
for ins as we didn't touch on much in the
way of modern meteoric weapons that have been produced very
much with the understanding that these are meteors, these meteorites
and and this this is metal from the sky. And
you see various examples of this.

Speaker 3 (45:57):
Uh.

Speaker 2 (45:58):
The late Terry Pratchett, for example, had a meteoric blade
forged for himself using I believe bits of meteorite that
he himself had collected. This was for when he was knighted.

Speaker 3 (46:11):
Oh boy.

Speaker 2 (46:11):
Yeah, he wanted to make sure you had the right
sword for.

Speaker 3 (46:13):
It, really making it an occasion.

Speaker 2 (46:16):
Yeah yeah, make a feast of it. There's all. There
are also various other blades. I was reading about a
Japanese blade. This is a Japanese Samurai sword forged by
modern day swordsmith Yoshindo Yoshiwara. It is called the Tintatsuto
or the Sword of Heavenly Iron. And this particular sword,

(46:39):
which you can see is on display. It uses iron
from the Gibbean meteorite that fell in Namibia during prehistoric times.
You can look up images of it. Looks pretty cool
and I also read that fragments of this meteorite were
also traditionally used by the Nama people of Namibia for

(47:00):
many centuries in tools and in weapons. And you'll find
various meteoric swords in fiction. I don't believe this is
in like the core of books. This may be in
the additional matter, but apparently a couple of these blades
show up in the works of J. R. Tolkien and
also on Avatar the Last Airbender. I'd totally forgotten about this,
but a meteoric sword does come into play on that

(47:24):
show as well. Those are just a couple of the
fictional examples, but I'm sure there are plenty more. So yes,
we would love to hear from you out there. Write
in with your favorite examples of fictional meteoric weapons, as
well as various examples or potential examples. With that huge
caveat you know that we get into in the first
episode regarding actual weapons that may include iron of meteoric origin.

Speaker 3 (47:48):
Please do We're gonna get a lot of the fictional ones.
I think this is a rich vein to exploit here.

Speaker 2 (47:55):
Yeah, let's have it all right, We're gonna go ahead
and close out the show here. But hey again, we'd
love to hear from everyone out there, and if you
would like to help us out, if you want to
support the show, I tell you, one of the best
things you can do is make sure that you are
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be at Apple, various other places, just make sure that

(48:17):
you've hit subscribe if you have the power to do so.
Above and beyond that, throw us some ratings, you know,
give us a nice collection of stars. Maybe say a
few kind words, and you know, share, share the show,
share a word of the show with people.

Speaker 3 (48:30):
You know that's right, to invoke a cliche. We depend
upon the support of listeners like you. But all you
got to do is listen and share it. So huge
thanks as always to our excellent audio producer JJ Posway.
If you would like to get in touch with us
with feedback on this episode or any other, to suggest
a topic for the future, or just to say hello,
you can email us at contact at stuff to blow

(48:52):
your mind dot com.

Speaker 1 (49:01):
Stuffed to Blow Your Mind is production of iHeartRadio. For
more podcasts from my heart Radio, visit the iHeartRadio app,
Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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