Sunday, April 16, 2006

Markets in Meteorites

The Seattle Times has the latest prices:

McMINNVILLE, Ore. — The Grand Ronde tribes tried to get it back. The American Museum of Natural History still has it.

But bit by bit, tiny pieces of the 15-ton Willamette Meteorite, discovered by a Welsh miner in 1902 on a West Linn hillside, are finding their way back to Oregon.

Last week Delford Smith, owner of Evergreen Aviation, bought a 4.5-ounce piece at auction for $12,000, more than four times the price of gold, and will put it in his company's museum.

Willamette University donated a piece from its collection to the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde a few years back. The Clackamas Indians, who are a part of the confederation, had long considered it sacred.

Oregon chiropractor David Wheeler paid $3,375 for a thumbnail-size piece in Arizona and gave it to the tribe in 2002.

"I have a lot of respect for the native cultures," he said.

While the pieces are coming back to Oregon, they aren't really coming home.

The meteorite, the largest found in the United States and the sixth-largest in the world, probably landed in Montana and came here on the crest of the Missoula Floods of 12,000-15,000 years ago.

The miner, Ellis Hughes, found it near where he lived and padded his income for a time by charging 25 cents a look until the landowners, Oregon Iron and Steel, claimed the object belonged to them, denounced him as a thief and went to the Oregon Supreme Court to get it back.

Hughes died broke.

The company displayed it at the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland in 1905, where it was bought for $26,000 by New York socialite Sarah Dodge. She donated it to the American Museum of Natural History, where it has been on display since 1935.

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