Rebuttal for NY Times Article

For Sale

    This is a rebuttal for the recent New York Times article which has been reprinted elsewhere.  Rather than make a personal statement which might be seen as self-serving the comments here are from other individuals in the meteorite field both from the scientific and dealer side.  I will say though the pejorative term "Black Market" couldn't be farther from the truth as everything is dealt openly on eBay and various websites.

From Dr. Carl Agee 

      Since I am quoted in this article, here’s my reaction to it. The reporter seems very confused, in that he lumps together a story about the Gebel Kamil crater in Egypt and the legal meteorite trade (NWA) based primarily in Morocco. During the interview with him I spent a fair amount of time trying to explain to him how beneficial the NWA’s have been for planetary science research. For example, I mentioned how the number of rare Angrite meteorites has more than doubled due to African finds – a huge enhancement to our understanding of the early solar system, and of course I mentioned all the lunars and martians, and other rare classes. I told him that I was not terribly well informed about the Gebel Kamil crater situation, but in my opinion the highest priority would be to protect the impact structure from degradation as these are quite rare on Earth. I also told him, that the Gebel Kamil meteorites on the other hand, are probably not hard to come by, and I’m sure if I wanted to study one for research, I could get a sample at a reasonable price or even get one as a donation from a collector, which museums benefit from frequently. I did get the feeling that he was hoping to hear something negative from me. As such he ended the interview rather quickly, but said something like “oh, the NWA meteorites sounds like an interesting story, I need to come back to that at a later time”. So of course I was disappointed to see what mess the final NYT version was.

Carl B. Agee
Director and Curator, Institute of Meteoritics
Professor, Earth and Planetary Sciences
MSC03 2050
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131-1126


From Michael Farmer, Meteorite Dealer

I am dismayed at the least after reading the diatribe from the NYT and also want to respond to various things quoted there and on the met-list in general.

With regards to Gebel Kamil, so many people in the world and on this list are so fast to take any grain of something said and immediately accept it as fact, certain members on the list who constantly cry, you are the problem. I can not count the times on this list I have read such statement at "OMG everything is illegal to take from Egypt" or "Our collections are overflowing with stolen meteorites"! Do you people have the education needed to research for yourself to see if what you are spewing is based in fact? I am sick of reading this crap. Egypt has very strict laws regarding ARTIFACTS, and until I find a meteorite shaped into a scarab, a meteorite is NOT an artifact. Egypt DOES NOT have any law forbidding the removal of "ANYTHING" which is an asinine statement I have read on here recently. I have been to Egypt several times and I took my toothbrush with me, so call the police as it is something" thus under so-called facts that is an object and since it was removed from Egypt, it must be stolen right? Do yourselves a favor, and if you want an answer go find it yourselves and stop being so lazy and demanding that someone else do your homework for you.

The Italian scientists are obviously so incompetent that it boggles the mind but does not surprise me. They are great in the laboratory or writing papers, but in the field many of them seem to be clueless on issues of the most common-sense nature. Take the discovery of a lifetime, the Kamil crater. On their own web-page they state that they went there 2 times, once per year before this crater was announced. They took more than 10 vehicles each time and 20 or 30 people along with guides. Of course, paid for by grants, taxpayers, and universities, not likely a penny out of pocket. In those two trips they found more than 1.5 TONS of meteorites, and yet they only took about 50 KILOS of them out of the desert, the rest they stacked in a pile! Now they cry that most of them were removed from the site by EVIL meteorite hunters. LIE

Not a single meteorite hunter has been to that crater, too far, too dangerous, and too expensive when one has to cough up the expedition money alone and not via grants and university checkbook. (I checked on it and was looking at a $30,000 expedition). The meteorites were taken by the very EGYPTIAN guides who took them to the crater. Those people have the common-sense that WOW, these must be valuable since all these people keep coming here and stacking them up, let's take them and sell them. Give them credit, they are not so stupid as to leave them sitting in the open, stacked up like firewood and expect them to be sitting there for eternity while you come on your yearly free vacations to Egypt. I mean, on the second trip, if you were planning it, would you not take one or two extra trucks into the desert to haul out the meteorites? Doesn't take me much thinking to plan that part. I fought with one of the Italian scientists who cried that with so many people and so much equipment they had no room for meteorites. AWWWWWWWWWWW take another truck, not hard when you have 20 already. It just did not occur to them that someone might want to sell them and make some money. Normal for people who never earned a penny outside the academic environment where you are trained very well to beg for money and it magically appears in your "Budget".

And regarding those lumps of iron, they are not illegal, they are meteorites and Egyptian law does not mention meteorites. Anyone who can show me an Egyptian law that mentions meteorites, I will give a very nice meteorite to as a gift. And I don't want to see it lumped with ores, mining, or arrowheads. None of which they belong to.

Why don't we stop the crying. If you think it is stolen, then produce the law and make your case, that is how civilized societies work, make the accusation based on law, not newspaper articles which as we can all see, are almost total BS.

Michael Farmer


From Martin Altmann, Meteorite Dealer

Money, profit motifs, that is a bugaboo of not so knowledgeable people.  Compared to quite any other university research or museums collecting activities, we're speaking with meteorites about peanuts. Neither any "black market" does exists, simply due to the lack of mass.

Those articles always suggest, that the private collectors would buy up all new finds before the scientists could do that. After Calcalong was forgotten, which two meteorites angered the scientists most? The two DaG-Moons. Still today - after so long times and these two rocks were everything else than of the size of a mountain, you can still buy them without problems, and at a rate 200, 300 times lower than 15 years ago.

What was the most devastating article before that one now? It was, when Dr.Smith, the highest meteorite boss of the Commonwealth cried in BBC, that science wouldn't be able to compete with private collecting. Nja well, I would cry too if I would have bought the Ivuna main mass, because it was simply the most expensive meteorite specimen of the World of these years around. But I'd rather would have said: Girl, what are you crying, you could have bought so much fine desert instead.

Back to that NYT article - what is the name of that "journalist". Mr.Broad simply only would have had to go to the Natural History Museum in New York and if he have had a little talk with the meteorite curator there, Denton Ebel, he would have learned not only, that meteorite dealing and trade is as old as meteoritics, but also, that the main load of meteorites in the NY collection and the great stones and irons, the collection was founded with, were simply purchased from a big meteorite dealer: Henry Augustus Ward. Half of his private collection - the other half plus before some more was purchased from the Field museum, which was founded hence also solely with purchased material. That Fields, where the curators seem to have a problem to purchase desert meteorites, because they think, meteorite dealing would be a new phenomenon and that in former times their meteorites had fallen from the sky directly into their stock. And Ebel would have him perhaps too, that for their crown jewel, the fat Cape York, they had paid a million USD to the owner.

These articles, that yelling, it comes always from single persons, mostly standing outside of meteorites. These are single opinions.  In fact the overwhelming majority of scientists, private collectors, hunters and dealers - they are all very content, how things are going with meteorites, because such paradisiacal times never existed before.   Dr. DiMartino. He is no meteoricists. He hasn't directly clues about that field, he is an astronomer. And he is silly. If you look in the Bulletins, there you find, that he once purchased an eucrite in Algeria (and the Algerians made a much larger drama than the Egyptians) and there isn't listed his institute as holder of the stone, but he as private person.  Now back. Look market, black market. These articles and those who are fanning the flames, they always try to raise the impression, that millions of people after quitting time would go out and would dig up millions of meteorites, selling them for billions of dollars.   

They want to create a problem, where no problem is at all. (Why they are doing that? I can imagine).    And that is the dangerous thing. Laws are made by politicians and administration. They read that bullshit in NYC, New Scientist, BBC.  and think - uuuuh - there seems to be an urgent problem, we have to do something!

Of course - all people occupied with meteorites know, that this is a titanic humbug - but they can't know it.

Profit. I never met a person, who became wealthy during the last 10 years in dealing with meteorites. The times are long over and gone. Look today, we all, from the ominous goatherd up to the collectors who are financing that all, we made it possible that any provincial university or even college today can make serial examinations on such rare classes like mentioned above and that on more different samples, as they would get from the Antarctic leaning system, cause there weren't found so many.

Here and there might be curators moaning about having no budgets, but that's their job, to get things straight. Because most institutes have their budget in best order. And I always recommend, just browse a little bit around and check the budgets not only of meteorite institutes, but for other research projects and check the purchase budgets of other, also small museums, galleries and collections. And check the prices of the specimens on the major arts fairs. You will find out, that the annual World meteoritic turnover doesn't exceed the prices of one or two or high-end artifacts or pieces of art. So that debate is vain.

More important are to answer the questions. If one would accede to the wishes of these yellers and if one would introduce such laws, what would that bring for an improvement for these yellers?  Where would be the advantage?

Would their budgets grow then?

Would be meteorite then become cheaper?

Would then more meteorites found on Earth?

What would that mean for the recovery of the rare and scientifically especially interesting types?

Would then end more material in the labs and national collections?

Would you have then still that influx of material for free due to the classification process system?

THOSE are the questions to be answered, before one thinks about banning all commerce.  And partially they are already answered. In Australia. In Oman. In Libya. In South Africa. In Algeria.   Where finds of new meteorites dropped dramatically.

One can like it or not - it has proved that there is simply and by far no such economic and efficient way for meteoritics to get the objects for their research - than to buy them from the professional private specialists.

Martin Altmann