For the First Time, We Have Evidence of Death by Meteorite

Researchers in Turkey found archived records from 1888 alleging the death of a man from a meteorite.
Brad Bergan

At last, researchers have discovered credible evidence of someone killed from the fateful fall of a meteorite, reports Science Alert.


Meteorite killed a human, Turkish sources say

Multiple documents from August 22, 1888, and found in the General Directorate of State Archives of the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey claim a falling meteorite hit and killed one man, and then paralyzed another in what's now called Sulaymaniyah, Iraq.

Researchers say this is the first-ever known proof of death from a genuine meteor strike. And the documents also hint at the existence of supplemental meteor death material hiding in the depths of archives, awaiting their first read in what could be more than a century.

It's apt to note that the Earth is not a human-centric fortress, and — despite the rise of the Anthropocene — it's also sobering to note that millions of meteors per day strike the Earth's atmosphere. While most of them die, no one wants the few that make it through to kill people. But with 17 meteors possibly making landfall every day, it's bound to happen eventually.

This is why the lack of recorded deaths-by-meteor baffled many, as historical records have had nothing to say on the matter.

Chelyabinsk meteor explosion killed no one

Even the cataclysmic fall of the Chelyabinsk meteorite in 2013 — which dramatically exploded in the atmosphere and rained chunks up to 654 kilograms (1,442 pounds) — killed no one; all reported injuries were from the shockwave, not the meteorite itself.

A 1951 paper published in Popular Astronomy argued that the difficulty in providing historical evidence "arises not from any dearth of apparently relevant incidents but chiefly from the lack of material evidence that the missiles involved in the accidents were genuinely meteoric and the impossibility of subjecting to critical questioning either survivors or eyewitnesses of the sensational events described."

One man died in a 2016 explosion, in India — and it was widely reported as the first death by meteor. However, NASA experts rebutted that the explosion was not of extraterrestrial origin.

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This means our knowledge of meteorite-caused deaths is vanishingly minimal; the only known meteorite strike victim is a woman named Ann Hodges, who was having a nap on her couch in the year 1954 when an allegedly space-hailing rock fell through her roof and slammed into her hip. The rock, once retrieved, was confirmed to be from space. Hodges survived the incident.

Verifying death by meteor strike

There's no space rock left with which to verify the 1888 incident — although there was in a previous time, the researchers can't find it. However, the archival documents are convincing enough to be credible, according to the researchers.

They found three separate documents that described the incident. Only recently transferred to a digital archive, the original copies were written in a difficult-to-translate Ottoman Turkish language, which helps to account for why they weren't recovered. Until now.

As the world spends more time than ever inside, researchers are discovering that the past holds worlds within worlds of discoveries, lying in wait for the curiosity of the modern world's best scientific minds.

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