Ramira Santa Marta was getting dressed on the morning of Innocents’ Day in 1947 when he heard a thunderous noise, which he attributed to a military plane flying over his town, Reliegos, in León. Two loud explosions sounded immediately and everything shook. The woman ran out of her house, on Calle Real, and saw a tremendous hole just over five meters from her front. I had just fallen to the side a meteorite weighing more than 17 kilos and probably about 4,500 million years, after a trip through the confines of the Solar System. But a fragment of this extraterrestrial rock continued a bizarre journey and a few weeks ago it ended up on sale for 50,000 euros on the web Todocoleccion.net. This Wednesday, the Civil Guard announced the recovery of the meteorite and handed it over to its rightful owner, the National Museum of Natural Sciences (CSIC), in Madrid.
The man who put the piece up for sale, a resident of the Guipuzcoan town of Hernani, is accused of an alleged crime of misappropriation, according to Captain Marcos Santos, of the Nature Protection Service of the Civil Guard. The seller, identified as Juan Carlos M., even spoke with the Leon’s Diary at the beginning of October, assuring that it is a worker of a moving company who found the meteorite among the abandoned belongings of the industrial engineer Manuel Laborde Werlinden, one of the founders of the Aranzadi Society of Sciences, died in 1993. The captain affirms that this version is not accredited. A year ago, the meteorite was already on sale, for 38,000 euros, according to another Leonese newspaper at the time, The New Chronicle. “The investigation is still open,” emphasizes the captain.
The museum director, Rafael Zardoya, He recalled that his institution has just turned 250 years old. “It is a good birthday present. We are recovering a meteorite that disappeared in the 60s from our collection ”, he declared at a ceremony in Madrid. Investigations by the Civil Guard suggest that Laborde Werlinden had the piece in storage, for study, but the trail of the rock disappeared at some point and the meteorite appeared in the hands of Hernani’s individual in 2015. “Did he lose it ? It was stolen? We are investigating, ”says the captain.
The General of the Civil Guard José Berrocal has solemnly proclaimed in the act that “giving back to Spain what belongs to Spain” is one of his most gratifying tasks. The meteorite will now be part of the museum’s collection, which has more than 300 copies, including fragments that fell on January 4, 2004 in Villalbeto de la Peña (Palencia). They were the first meteorites recovered in Spanish territory from the extraterrestrial rock of Reliegos in 1947. The exhibition also shows the largest meteorite found in Spain —a 140-kilo rock that fell in the Murcian town of Molina de Segura in 1858— and the oldest known, observed on Villanueva de Sigena (Huesca) in 1773.
The Reliegos piece recovered by the Civil Guard has been exhibited in a display case since this Wednesday, along with two other sister fragments that were already part of the collection. Another of its pieces is in the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington (USA), due to a habitual exchange of meteorites between organisms.
Aurelio Nieto, curator of the museum’s geology collection, regrets the current lack of protection for meteorites and calls for legislative changes. The Reliegos piece has been recovered because it was in the institution’s inventory. “Normally, if you find a meteorite in Spain, it is yours,” criticizes the researcher. Nieto remembers the case of Retuerta del Bullaque (Ciudad Real), where the Asensio López family found a 100-kilo meteorite in 1980 and used it for many years to press hams.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.