Ancient meteorite coming to VVAC

The Verde Valley Archaeology Center will have the Camp Verde Meteorite on loan for a short-term exhibit beginning on Sunday, March 1. Courtesy photo

The Verde Valley Archaeology Center will have the Camp Verde Meteorite on loan for a short-term exhibit beginning on Sunday, March 1. Courtesy photo

CAMP VERDE - The Verde Valley Archaeology Center has announced the receipt of a grant from Arizona Humanities to assist in a new exhibit entitled Return of the Camp Verde Meteorite.

Beginning Sunday, March 1, VVAC will have the meteorite on loan for exhibit. VVAC will also give monthly talks on the importance and uses of meteorites among ancient Native American cultures during the exhibit, which will run through Monday, Aug. 31.

VVAC will also hold a members-only preview at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 28.

In 1915, an amateur collector of Indian relics uncovered a stone-lined cist in a ruin along Clear Creek, east of Camp Verde. It was described as "a little pocket in the earth walled and covered over with flat rocks." Covered in about 15 to 18 inches of loose dirt, he found a feather cloth and inside the cloth was a large oak leaf-shaped object that was eventually determined to be a nickel-iron meteorite.

In 1935, Dr. Henry Nininger of Sedona, a self-taught meteorite scientist and collector, heard about the item. He visited the location of the find. Dr. Nininger recounted how they "reached the crumbled walls of a small room, in the corner of which there was a slight depression and several flat stones protruding from the drifted dust and debris."

After visiting the site, Dr. Nininger purchased the meteorite for $75 and named it the Camp Verde Meteorite. The meteorite weighs 135 pounds. and is about 23.6 inches long, 11.8 inches wide, with a maximum thickness of 5.5 inches.

Subsequent studies confirmed that the Camp Verde Meteorite is a coarse octahedrite from the Canyon Diablo fall east of Flagstaff that created Meteor Crater about 50 thousand years ago. When the first cattlemen settled in the plains, this feature was then known as Coon Butte, or Crater Mountain. It consists of a deep bowl-like pit in the desert about 1,333 yards across, surrounded by a rugged ridge of uplifted sediment rising from 39.9 to 66.7 yards.

Evidence from the crater established that Native American not only visited the site, but had dwelt at the crater. Four ruins were mapped on the south side of the crater by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1891-92. Camp sites with abundant pottery sherds and flint chips with some arrow points were found on the plain to the north of the crater.

Dr. Nininger's fascination with meteorites began in 1923 when he saw a fireball in the sky. Eventually he quit his job as a teacher to focus on hunting meteorites. In 1946, he founded the American Meteorite Museum near Winslow, close to Meteor Crater. By this time, he had assembled an enormous collection of material.

The museum moved to Sedona after the new Highway 89A was built. When business began to fall away, he was forced to close the museum and sell his collection. The Sedona museum is now part of the Arroyo Robles Hotel. The British Museum purchased 21 percent of the collection amounting to 1,200 specimens.

Arizona State University (ASU) bought the remainder of the collection of 1,300 meteorites weighing 7.5 tons. The ASU purchase included the Camp Verde Meteorite. The collection became the nucleus for the new university-sponsored Center for Meteorite Studies.

Dr. Lawrence Garvie, research professor at the ASU School of Earth & Space Exploration, has studied the meteorite and has confirmed that its chemistry is identical to other Canyon Diablo meteorites. But how did a 135 pound meteorite make its way 100 miles from Meteor Crater to Camp Verde without the use of wheeled conveyance or beasts of burden over mountainous trails?

It is not inconceivable that it could have been carried, but Dr. Garvie believes that it is more likely a fragment of the original 300,000 ton meteorite that separated from the main mass as it broke apart in the atmosphere and landed closer to Camp Verde. This is possible since Canyon Diablo meteorites have been found in an area of about 70 square miles from the crater.

VVAC will host Dr. Garvie for a free talk on meteorites in Arizona at 7 p.m. March 3 in the Phillip England Center for the Performing Arts, located at 210 Camp Lincoln Road in Camp Verde. A free exhibit guide will be available to visitors.

The guide was made possible through a grant from Arizona Humanities. Founded in 1973, Arizona Humanities is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization and the Arizona affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Arizona Humanities supports public programming in the humanities that promotes understanding of human thoughts, actions, creations, and values. Arizona Humanities works with museums, libraries, and other cultural and educational organizations to bring humanities programs to residents throughout Arizona. For more information about Arizona Humanities, visit www.azhumanities.org or call (602) 257-0335.

VVAC is located at 385 S. Main St. in Camp Verde. Hours are noon to 4 p.m. Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. Admission is always free. The exhibit can be visited during regular business hours.

Additional details of this exhibit and the monthly talks is available on the VVAC website at www.verdevalleyarchaeology.org, or by calling (928) 567-0066.

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