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Ottoman records reveal first case of a person being killed by meteorite in Iraq

May 15, 2020 at 1:37 pm

A meteorite displayed at a museum, 15 May 2020 [Cheryl Colan/Flickr]

A team of researchers are believed to have discovered the earliest known evidence of a person being killed by a meteorite in what is today’s Iraq in the year 1888.

The documents chronicling the event were found in Turkish state archives and were first reported on 22 April in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science. The team, consisting of two Turkish scientists and one American, came across the evidence in newly digitised archives from the Ottoman caliphate, known for keeping meticulous records.

On 10 August 1888 at around 8:30pm, a bright fireball is said to have illuminated the skies above a mountain village near modern-day Sulaymanyiah in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, leaving behind it a trail of “smoke”. The explosion levelled crops and stones rained down for ten minutes. The falling debris killed one man and paralysed another according to the manuscripts.

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One of the scientists, Ozlan Unsalan of Ege University, explained that the team had been on the look out for a number of relevant translated keywords such as “meteorite”, “fireball” and “stones from the sky”.

Out of millions of documents, they managed to identify ten – three of these were separate letters from high-ranking officials each corroborating the same event, including the regional governor who then forwarded the account to Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the last Ottoman caliph.

According to Unsalan, fragments of the meteorite were recovered and collected from the impact site and sent to the central government. However, he believes these may be sitting in forgotten archives in a museum.

Up until the findings, there had been no credible, well-documented accounts of human fatalities caused by meteorites, although there are several historical claims. The odds of getting killed by a meteorite are roughly one in 250,000.

READ: Plague and Empire… is a timely look at the Ottoman experience of epidemics