Greenland – The Cape York Iron Meteorites

Greenland - The Cape York Iron Meteorites

Although Robert Peary was not the first person to traverse Greenland he did succeed in locating the first examples of the remarkable Cape York iron meteorites.

The history of these meteorites up to the time of their discovery by me is comprised in the statement that, when Capt. Ross in 1818 discovered the existence, in the vicinity of Cape York, of a previously unknown tribe of Eskimos, he found in their possession rude knives and harpoon points with cutting edges of iron.

The metal in these implements, as well as could be determined from the imperfect communication with these people, had been obtained by them from an “Iron Mountain” on the northern shore of Melville Bay.

An analysis of the metal showed the presence of nickel, and led to the inference that the source of iron supply of these northern people was meteoric.

One of the objects of almost every expedition which has gone north in that region since 1818 has been the solution of the mystery of the “Iron Mountain”.

In the ’40’s the King of Denmark authorised an expedition for the purpose of discovering and determining the character of the “Mountain”, but nothing came of the effort.

The officers of the North Star, one of the Franklin search ships which passed the winter of 1849-50 in Wolstenholm Sound, north of Cape York, were unsuccessful in locating the iron, and the same may be said of the various expeditions, English, American, and others, and the whalers, which visited these waters during a long series of years after Ross’s voyage. None of these came any nearer than Ross himself to clearing up the mystery.

From the fact that the existence of this iron was discovered by an English officer, the British Museum has been specially interested in the subject, and one of the objects of the splendid English Arctic Expedition of 1875-76 was to clear up the question of its location and character if possible. This desired result, however, was not accomplished.

Baron Nordenskjold’s ship in 1883 went to Cape York for the express purpose of discovering and, if practicable, bringing away the iron, but the ice did not permit her to penetrate Melville Bav, and this expedition, like previous ones, returned unsuccessful.

Up to the spring of 1894, the information already noted above comprised the sum-total of our knowledge on this interesting subject.

It was fortunately reserved for me to settle the question finally and definitely, after I had gained the confidence of the entire little tribe of Smith-Sound Eskimos, Tellikotinah, one of the hunters, in May of 1894, guided me to the “Iron Mountain”, where I found, not a mountain or vein of iron, but three large masses of homogeneous metal, the peculiar and unmistakable characteristics of which, and especially the nature of their surroundings, proved them to be, beyond the possibility of doubt, true meteoric irons.

The Cape York meteorites

Northward over the Great Ice – Volume 2 – Robert E. Peary – 1914

A very accessible version of this story can be found in the Eagle Island Journal.

Agpalilik outside the Geological Museum in Copenhagen

Ahnighito fragment of the Cape York meteorite

Widmanstätten pattern of Cape York

Five additional Cape York meteorites have been located since Robert Peary’s initial discovery.

Cape York Meteorites summary

Cape York Map

Vagn F. Buchwald – Handbook of Iron Meteorites – 1975
Page 410 – Cape of Good Hope to Cape York

Greenland Context Map,_Greenland

The eight Cape York iron meteorites totalling over 57.83 metric tons represent the largest meteor shower ever recorded.

We know now that we are dealing with the largest shower ever recorded, comprising at least eight specimens and totalling 58 tons, and we also know that the fall must have taken place in the distant past, probably long before the Melville Bay region became inhabited by the Eskimos around 1000 AD.

Vagn F. Buchwald – Handbook of Iron Meteorites – 1975
Page 410 – Cape of Good Hope to Cape York

However, the original weight of the meteorites would have been greater because some of the meteorites were used as a source of iron by “countless generations”.

The Polar Eskimos, called “Arctic Highlanders” by Ross (1819) and “Thule Eskimos” by
Rasmussen (1914), comprise only about 300 individuals, and live a nomadic hunting life on the barren north western coast of Greenland between Savigsivik in Melville Bay and Siorapaluk and Etah at Smith Sound.

Cut off from regular supplies of wood and iron they learned at an early date to make their hunting weapons, such as harpoons, arrow heads and knives, from walrus, narwhale tusk and reindeer stag, and to provide them with cutting edges of meteoritic iron (Ross 1819; Peary 1898; Buchwald & Munck 1965: figures 1-7).

In order to secure the iron they regularly visited the site of the iron masses, which lies 50 km east-northeast of Cape York.

It must be assumed that, in due time, they combed the area of the smaller easily transportable blocks.

Indirect proof of this assumption is the discovery of small specimens in Eskimo possession and in the recovery of small blocks by archaeological excavation of Eskimo settlements (Holtved 1944).

A small fragment of a few hundred grams, covered with vivianite, was recognized by the author among material excavated by Danish anthropologists at Dundas, 100 km northwest of Savigsivik.

In 1928 another small fragment of 292 g was obtained by Dr. Knud Rasmussen from an Eskino on Northumberland Island, 250 km northwest of the fall area.

Perhaps the most impressive transport of a block is provided by the discovery in 1914 of Akpohon, a 1.6 kg mass, near an ancient settlement on Ellesmere Island, about 500 km by sledge in a north westerly direction.

The Eskimos also worked the large blocks known to them, particularly the 3 ton Woman and the 400 kg Dog, see table, page 416.

Evidence of this is seen on the blocks themselves and on the ground around the finding places.

While only a few dozen hammer stones are present around Savik I, Ahnighito and Dog, an estimated total of 10,000 rounded blocks or fragments of blocks, each weighing 1-10 kg, has been accumulated around Woman and now form a pile 8-10 m in diameter.

For countless generations the Eskimos must have travelled to the distant place in order to renew their stock of iron for implements.

Each sledge party brought new hammer stones of hard and tough basalt with them because the hunters knew that the gneissic boulders at the site were too fragile to be of any use in the tedious work of wrestling small pieces from the Woman.

Vagn F. Buchwald – Handbook of Iron Meteorites – 1975
Page 410 – Cape of Good Hope to Cape York

Intriguingly, none of the Cape York meteorites are associated with impact craters.

I relocated the four major meteorite sites, recognizable by the bluish-black basalt hammers, and found a new 20 ton mass, Agpalilik, unknown even to the Eskimos (Buchwald 1963; 1964a; Meteoritical Bulletin, No . 28, 1963).

It rested on a slope between large, gneissic boulders and was partly covered by them; the lower part was solidly anchored in the permafrost ground, which formed a concrete-like matrix of gravel, silt, clay and ice.

No vegetation was possible in the block field which is covered by snow 11 or sometimes 12 months of the year.

A small, hanging glacier was located about 100 m further south.

No rocks crushed by impact could be identified, and no crater or even impact hole was present.

There were no Eskimoic hammer stones around it, and the mass had apparently never been known to the Eskimos, probably because it was covered by snow and ice most of the year.

Vagn F. Buchwald – Handbook of Iron Meteorites – 1975
Page 410 – Cape of Good Hope to Cape York

Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that additional Cape York meteorites may still be lurking at the bottom of the bays or hidden beneath ice.

The overall nearness to the sea suggests that several other masses are to be found at the bottom of the bays which are mostly ice covered.

There is no systematic distribution of the blocks, so it has been proposed that they were transported by glaciers.

An examination of the surface of the masses does not reveal any damage from glacial transport, and my field survey did not support the idea but rather indicated that the masses fell at a date when the region was completely covered by a thick sheet of ice and snow which later receded, leaving the meteorites where they fell.

The random distribution of the masses is probably due to the fact that only a small amount of the total shower has been located.

Vagn F. Buchwald – Handbook of Iron Meteorites – 1975
Page 410 – Cape of Good Hope to Cape York

This view is further supported by the Thule iron meteorite[s] which Wikipedia classifies as a Cape York meteorite which “collided with Earth nearly 10,000 years ago”.

The meteorite collided with Earth nearly 10,000 years ago.

Wikipedia - Cape York Meteorite

A mass of 48.6 kg was found in Northwest Greenland in 1955 by a group of American glaciologists who surveyed the glacier flowing from Blue Ice Valley into the Moltke Glacier.

The meteorite was resting as a boulder between gneissic boulders on a nunatak protruding through the glaciers which are heading for Wolstenholme Bay (Leonard 1955).

Thule Meteorite

During field trips to the region in 1961, 1963, 1964 and 1965, I had the opportunity to search the area for additional specimens.

The foreground of the Store Landgletsjer (i.e., Big Landglacier) and also the nunatak were searched but with negative result.

I was told, however, that another iron meteorite had been found in 1962 during road construction at a spot which was approximately 10 km west of the first one.

The mass was estimated to weigh 50 kg, but had been divided among various military and civilian personnel on the U.S. Thule Air Force Base.

Further attempts to locate the cut specimens, distributed as curios, were in vain, but there is reason to believe that the Thule meteorite fell as a shower.

Thule is a well-preserved medium octahedrite which has been exposed to a severe shock in space.

Additional inhomogeneous straining occurred in our atmosphere when it burst.

It is a normal member of the resolved chemical group IIIA, and closely related to Trenton, Tamentit, Thunda, Kyancutta and Drum Mountains.

It is also related to Cape York, from which it is primarily distinguished by the slight differences in nickel, phosphorus and trace elements; the almost complete absence of carlsbergite, rhabdites and daubreelite; and by its better state of preservation, suggesting a somewhat lower terrestrial age.

Vagn F. Buchwald – Handbook of Iron Meteorites – 1975
Page 1,191 – Tawallah Valley to Thule

Sadly, there seems to be minimal mainstream interest in searching for additional Cape York meteorites whose “parent body must have been the largest ever to enter our atmosphere and survive in sizable fragments”.

When Cape York hit the atmosphere with a mass of perhaps 200 tons, it split into several fragments of which eight totaling 57.8 tons have been recorded.

It is possible that the fracture was initiated by pre-existing fissures already induced when the mass was dislodged from its parent body.

As far as we can say, the shower covered an area extending at least 20 km in an east-west direction, and 10 km in a north-south direction.

The area may well have been larger, but the field work is seriously hindered by glaciers, perennial snow sheets and ice-covered bays that make up more than 50% of the area.

An estimate of the fall direction is difficult for the same reasons.

However, this much is certain: that the parent body must have been the largest ever to enter our atmosphere and survive in sizable fragments.

Vagn F. Buchwald – Handbook of Iron Meteorites – 1975
Page 410 – Cape of Good Hope to Cape York

This is not really surprising because the mainstream mindset prefers to bury any evidence that indicates these iron meteorites are the fragments of “a parent planet with a gravity field”.

The structural examination indicates that the Cape York material has been through a molten stage on a parent planet with a gravity field.

Vagn F. Buchwald – Handbook of Iron Meteorites – 1975
Page 410 – Cape of Good Hope to Cape York

Comprehending the scale [and importance] of the Cape York meteorites is not easy.

However, comparisons with the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor event may be of assistance.

Largest fragment

Cape York:  30,880 kg 
Chelyabinsk:   654 kg

Iron content

Cape York:      90 % 
Chelyabinsk:    10 %

The Chelyabinsk meteor was a near-Earth asteroid that entered Earth’s atmosphere over Russia on 15 February 2013 at about 09:20 YEKT (03:20 UTC), with a speed of 19.16 +/- 0.15 kilometres per second (60,000 – 69,000 km/h or 40,000 – 42,900 mph), almost 60 times the speed of sound.

It quickly became a brilliant superbolide meteor over the southern Ural region.

The light from the meteor was brighter than the Sun, even at 100 km distance.

It was observed over a wide area of the region and in neighbouring republics.

Eyewitnesses also felt intense heat from the fireball.

Due to its enormous velocity and shallow atmospheric entry angle, the object exploded in an air burst over Chelyabinsk Oblast, at a height of around 29.7 km (18.4 miles, 97,400 feet).

The explosion generated a bright flash, producing a hot cloud of dust and gas that penetrated to 26.2 km, and many surviving small fragmentary meteorites, as well as a powerful shock wave.

The atmosphere absorbed most of the object’s energy, with a total kinetic energy before atmospheric impact equivalent to approximately 500 kilotons of TNT (about 1.8 PJ), 20–30 times more energy than was released from the atomic bomb detonated at Hiroshima.

Meteorite shower over Chelyabinsk - 15 February 2013

In the hours following the visual meteor sighting, a 6-metre (20 ft) wide hole was discovered on Lake Chebarkul’s frozen surface.

It was not immediately clear if this was the result of an impact, however, scientists from the Ural Federal University collected 53 samples from around the hole the same day it was discovered.

The early specimens recovered were all under 1 centimetre (0.39 in) in size and initial laboratory analysis confirmed their meteoric origin.

They are ordinary chondrite meteorites and contain 10% iron.

Fragment of the Chelyabinsk meteorite

In June 2013, Russian scientists reported that further investigation by magnetic imaging below the location of the ice hole in Lake Chebarkul had identified a 60-centimetre (2.0 ft)-size meteorite buried in the mud at the bottom of the lake.

Following an operation lasting a number of weeks, it was raised from the bottom of the Chebarkul lake on 16 October 2013.

With a total mass of 654 kg (1,442 lb) this is the largest found fragment of the Chelyabinsk meteorite.

Initially, it tipped and broke the scales used to weigh it, splitting into three pieces.

The Cape York iron meteorites are “closely related” to the Willamette meteorite.

Cape York is a normal medium octahedrite with no indications of cosmic annealing.

It is a type member of the resolved chemical group IIIA and, as such, is important because what we can learn from it may be extrapolated to cover all other irons of the very common group III.

Chemically, it is closely related to Casas Grandes, Rowton, Willamette, Merceditas and Sacramento Mountains.

In structural details there are, however, numerous differences due to secondary shocks and reheatings in space.

Vagn F. Buchwald – Handbook of Iron Meteorites – 1975
Page 410 – Cape of Good Hope to Cape York


The observation made by Vagn Buchwald that “the Cape York material has been through a molten stage on a parent planet with a gravity field” provides strong support for The Other Big Bang Theory.

The structural examination indicates that the Cape York material has been through a molten stage on a parent planet with a gravity field.

Vagn F. Buchwald – Handbook of Iron Meteorites – 1975
Page 410 – Cape of Good Hope to Cape York

The Other Big Bang Theory

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19 Responses to Greenland – The Cape York Iron Meteorites

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  2. will says:

    It’s a shame that the Europeans exploring for the meteorite were able to gain the confidence of the native peoples and steal something they had been using for generations as a resource. Now it sits in a European museum as spoils of exploitation.

    • malagabay says:

      I wondered long and hard about the appropriation of the meteorites.
      I hope there were other meteorites in the area that were not discovered by Europeans.
      But hope is not a strategy… so your comment is very valid… and very strong.

      Ahnighito was in the Brooklyn Navy Yard until 1904 when it was transferred to the American Museum of Natural History. Hovey (1907: 23) briefly described and figured the masses after they had been installed in the museum.

      The acquisition was made possible through a gift of $40,000 from Mrs. Morris K. Jesup (Reeds 1937: 522).

      Peary certainly needed the money for the provisioning of further expeditions.

      Vagn F. Buchwald – Handbook of Iron Meteorites – 1975

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  5. And the impact craters of these meteorites were ???????

  6. Jim Coyle says:

    The impacts occurred on the ice fields of Greenland and were probably transported down to their discovery location by glacial activity. If these meteorites came in low and slow they may not have made a large crater plus the fact they were extremely hot they also melted into the ice remodeling the crater further. There hasn’t been any interest in looking for any more of these meteorites. Further research may find new specimens and give a more scientific look at their locations and conditions.

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  11. Carsten says:

    Interesting thing is the refilling of the impact crater to a thickness of 1km of ice happened within 12.000 years. During a time when glaciers generally were on the retreat.
    According to Wikipedia the ice sheet of Greenland being 2-3km thick was formed 18 million years ago; though here this have been reduced to 3 million. Ice sheet would only require some 36.000 years at most if just using the referred reforming time of Hiawatha glacier ice sheet.
    So with an ice sheet formation optimum this would happen much faster.

  12. johnm33 says:

    Persian stories assert a time when it was possible to sail from the Caspian to ‘beyond the north pole’. Other ‘myths’ which I’ve never tracked down but recall being mentioned by a couple of authors claim that at some point Greenland was two major and some smaller islands surrounding an inland sea. I spent a half day in Stanfords [map shop] looking for a map that the authors may have derived that notion from and at that time [82-3] there seemed to be none. I stll suspect that maybe someone had the inside track on military mapping of Greenland but – . The Fomor who invaded Ireland from the north were an ancient seagoing race and there’s mention of them sailing back after a great disaster to find what had happened to their homes and came back with various reports of it being lost beneath the frozen sea and buried beneath miles of ice.
    The crater has a coarse ice layer at it’s base, just as the rest of Greenland does, evocative of an ocean frozen in motion as it raged across the landscape. This is reflected in permafrost across the north, wave motion frozen in action, levelled by pink [ meteoric dust?] ice and clearer ice above. With an underlying salt layer flash frozen out of the flowing ocean. from

  13. johnm33 says:

    Your welcome, and thank you for all the thought provoking work here.
    On this image, but none of the others I’ve found, there’s a possible small crater on the rim which some schools of thought suggest indicates the crater was formed by arcing.

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