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Wednesday April 10, 2013

Spanish farmer should strike while the iron’s hot

Most Spaniards can only dream of winning the famed lotería but lucky farmer Faustino Asensio Lopez in southern Spain seems to have hit the jackpot quite unintentionally.

Some 30 years ago while tending his family’s herds in a field near the city of Ciudad Real Mr Asensio Lopez came across a lump of iron weighing 100kg. Thinking it was military debris left from the Spanish Civil War, he took the heavy rock home and has used it ever since as a ham press. By chance he and his family watched a media report on TV about meteorite sightings in Spain and contacted geologist Juan Carlos Gutierrez Marco of the Geo-sciences Institute in Madrid to discover whether their find could in fact be a meteorite. Following scientific analysis it transpired that the specimen was a prehistoric metallic meteorite, either from an asteroid or comet.

Only three other meteorites have been discovered in Spain, in the regions of Valencia in 1898, Granada in 1912, and Zaragoza in the fifties. Although the rock in Valencia weighed only 10.75 kg, both the others proved heavier than that found by Mr Asensio Lopez.

Much as his is an interesting and substantial find, there have been larger and more noteworthy discoveries such as the Campo del Cielo iron meteorites located near Chaco in Argentina, the largest fragment of which weighed 37 tons. They are believed to be nearly 5000 years old while the Hobo meteorite in Namibia – which at 60 tons is the largest known single fragment ever found – is estimated to have landed on earth 80,000 years ago.

There’s been much excitement and speculation in the popular press about the actual worth of the Spanish farmer’s prized rock with some newspapers claiming that its market price will exceed £3.5m. I don’t want to be a party pooper but it would be interesting to learn whether an official meteoric body genuinely quoted that sum. Meteors are valued according to their type, condition, size, aesthetic appeal and authentication. After being used as a weight for curing meat for three decades, I’d be concerned about its condition and aesthetic appeal.

Most of the specialist websites about meteors suggest that this sort of iron specimen attracts $200-$300 per kilo which means that offers might be closer to $30,000. Still, I’m no expert and with such international media hype, there’s a good chance Mr Asensio Lopez will be able to milk his find for all it’s worth. One collector told me that often a meteorite’s unusual history can increase interest and heighten its value. As they say, whatever rocks your boat.

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