By Tamara Jager Stewart

The Bloody Basin meteorite was in the Red Creek Ruin in the Tonto National Forest when it burned down around 1385. It’s not known if the ruin’s occupants venerated the meteorite. | Credit: Lawrence Garvie, ASU

Brilliant meteors streaking across the sky have mesmerized people and sparked their imaginations since ancient times. Meteorites, the remains of meteors that crash into the Earth, have been venerated as powerful medicine stones or gifts from the gods, and they served as useful material for the creation of various objects. “When a star falls from the sky, it leaves a fiery trail; it does not die, but its [spirit] goes to the place where it dropped to shine again. The Indians sometimes find the small stars in the prairie where they have fallen,” according to a nineteenth-century account of a Menominee myth.
A fragment of the Camp Verde meteorite, which was found wrapped in a turkey blanket and buried in a cyst at a ruin. | Credit: Lawrence Garvie, ASU
“Meteorites have long been recognized by ancient cultures as sacred objects from the heavens,” said Kenneth Zoll, the executive director of the Verde Valley Archaeology Center in Camp Verde, Arizona. Zoll studies how ancient cultures tracked celestial events. He recently re-examined meteoritic fragments found in or near several twelfth-through-thirteenth century Sinagua culture sites in the Verde Valley near Flagstaff to try to understand how they came to be placed there and their possible significance to the ancient inhabitants. Chemical and structural analyses have demonstrated that most of the meteoritic fragments found in these sites originated from the Canyon Diablo meteorite, which was a so-called swarm meteorite composed of many fragments. When the Canyon Diablo meteorite struck Earth some 50,000 years ago the impact created the Meteor Crater in east-central Arizona.
These objects were made from meteorites. A meteorite found in a burial chamber at Paquimé in Mexico was used to make the knife. The bead was recovered from the Hopewell Mound Group in Ohio. A meteorite discovered in Charcas, Mexico, was used to make the rectangular object, which was given to Ulysses Grant. The medallion was fashioned from a meteorite found in Egypt. | Credit: Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution
Originally discovered in the 1920s, the 135-pound Wingate meteorite was found at Wingate Ruin in central Arizona’s Verde Valley. The meteorite had been carefully wrapped in an ornate turkey feather blanket and buried in a stone-lined cist built into the eastern wall of a structure that surrounded a large, open plaza. This structure has been attributed to the southern band of the Sinagua, a group of farmers and foragers contemporaneous with adjacent Ancestral Pueblo, Salado, and Hohokam cultural groups. It appears to have been built in one episode rather than in phases, as was more typical for other Sinagua sites that were gradually enlarged as the communities grew over time. Zoll said that this singular construction event, along with the labor-intensive turkey feather blanket used to wrap the meteorite, suggests the meteorite had ceremonial significance to the Sinagua.
Tim McCoy displays two pieces of an iron meteorite that was found in Anoka, Minnesota. Fragments of this meteorite were fashioned into beads by the Hopewell people. Researchers found the beads in a 2,300-year-old burial mound in Havana, Illinois. | Credit: Michelle Donahue
This is an article excerpt from the Spring 2022 edition of American Archaeology Magazine.  Become a member of The Archaeological Conservancy for your complimentary subscription.  


| The Archaeological Conservancy 2022


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