The 1516 Nantan Meteorite ~ Guangxi, China

"During summertime in May of Jiajing 11th year, stars fell from the northwest direction, five-to-six-fold long, waving like snakes and dragons. They were as bright as lightning and disappeared in seconds..."

Large nickel-iron Nantan meteorite for sale at Bali Charm

Large Nantan meteorite specimen at the Bali Charm Studio, Ubud © 2016 Bali Charm.

And so the ‘Nantan’ Meteorite fell to earth in May 1516 – exploding mid-air as it burst through the atmosphere – and showering more than 9,000 kilos of nickel-iron shrapnel over 216 square kilometers of mountain and forest in South-Central China’s Guangxi Province.

It was a dramatic entry.

Close-up of large nickel-iron Nantan meteorite from Guangxi Province, China

Close-up of Nantan meteorite specimen at the Bali Charm Studio, Ubud © 2016 Bali Charm.

Man, Meteorites and Religion

Man’s fascination with Space – and things that fall from it – is as old as the stars.

Egyptians led the way with beads hammered from meteoric iron that date from 3200 BC. The Iron Age English followed, with a stone meteorite placed deliberately down a pit at an ancient hill fort in 1200 BC.

And Native American Indians – from New Mexico to Illinois – placed meteoric remains next to their dead in burial chambers and crypts, the largest being a mammoth 62-kilo nickel-iron specimen found wrapped in feather cloth in Camp Verde, Arizona. The burial site is a thousand years old.

Meteoric Rise of the Iron Age

The Inuit people who came across the three meteorites known as the ‘Tent’ (31 metric tons), ‘Woman’ (3 tons) and ‘Dog’ (400 kilos) were more practical with their celestial gift.

After deciding that the Evil Spirit Tornarsuk had thrown the woman and her belongings out of heaven, they set about dismantling her over the next thousand years by chipping away with rocks and beating the iron flat to give it a sharp edge. Shards of meteorite ended up as arrowheads and flensing knives, were traded halfway to Alaska, and ushered in Greenland’s Iron Age 300 years before Icelandic farmers brought new, earthly iron to the south of the world’s largest island.

The 31-ton 'Tent' meteorite being loaded aboard Robert Peary's ship in 1897

The 31-ton 'Tent' meteorite being loaded aboard Robert Peary's ship in 1897 on its way to the American Museum of Natural History © Photograph by Robert E. Peary, National Geographic.

The Nantan Meteorite

Man also had designs on the strange meteorites that showered the forests near the Chinese city of Nantan in 1516.

Fast-forward to Communist China, 1958.

Chairman Mao Zedong has ordered his people to hunt for iron – from pots and pans to bicycles – to smelt into steel for his ‘Great Leap Forward’ into a new, utopian, industrialized society. 442 years after the fiery ‘snakes and dragons’ had landed, the farmers of Nantan had an idea: they would collect the strange metal rocks they had found in their fields and save their pots and pans from the 'backyard furnaces' of the revolution.

Backyard furnaces during China's Great Leap Forward

'Backyard furnaces' used for smelting iron during Mao's 'Great Leap Forward', c.1958.
(Source unknown)

It didn’t work. The melting point of the meteoric, nickel-rich iron proved too high for the local blast furnaces, and the Nantan meteorites were spared. The pots and bicycles were not.

And this is why you can hold a piece of Nantan meteorite in your hand today.

Nantan meteorite composite held in model's hands

Model holding Nantan meteorite specimens at Bali Charm © 2016 Bali Charm.

From Space Rock to National Treasure

The choice specimens we have for sale at Bali Charm were hand-picked by us in China in 1995, three years before a new Chinese government banned all further export of Nantan meteorites from their shores. They have now been declared a national treasure.

Classic Nantan meteorite specimen for sale at Bali Charm

Classic Nantan meteorite specimen for sale at Bali Charm. © 2016 Bali Charm.

Our specimens are classic Nantan – fragments from the core of the meteorite that super-heated during their entry into the atmosphere and rapidly cooled on their fall to earth – creating the tell-tale octahedral crystals with clear, cross-banded Widmanstätten lines 1mm to 3mm in width.

Cleaning and preservation of our meteorites

Nantan meteorites are made up largely of iron – and as such are prone to rust. Our first step in the cleaning and preservation process was to soak each piece in full-strength vinegar to loosen up any dirt and limestone.

We then lightly micro-brushed the specimens with a rotary Foredom tool to bring out the meteorites' natural metallic shine and remove any existing oxidation. They were finally sealed with a single, highly-diluted coat of polyurethane to prevent any further oxidation while preserving their patina.

Polished, sealed Nantan meteorite

Polished, sealed Nantan meteorite. © 2016 Bali Charm.

Sealed, polished Nantan meteorite preserved against oxidation

Sealed, polished Nantan meteorite preserved against further oxidation. © 2016 Bali Charm.

Composition of Nantan Meteorites

They have an average composition of 92.35% iron and 6.96% nickel, and were reclassified by scientists in 2000 from an IIICD coarse octahedrite to an IAB-MG coarse octahedrite in 2006. As well as the dominant minerals of kamacite and taenite, there are also less commonly occurring traces of cliftonite, graphite, lawrencite, limonite, plessite, schreibersite, akaganeite and troilite.

Pick one up in your hand. You'll feel the difference.

Model holding Nantan meteorite specimen in her hand at the Bali Charm Studio

Model holding Nantan meteorite #8. © 2016 Bali Charm.

Do you own a Nantan meteorite specimen? Do you use it for personal or public display, or do you use it for its apparent crystal-healing properties? We would love to hear about your experiences.

Please feel free to leave your comments below.

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