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Willamette Meteorite

Coordinates: 45°22′N 122°35′W / 45.367°N 122.583°W / 45.367; -122.583
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Willamette Meteorite at the American Museum of Natural History
Structural classificationMedium octahedrite
Composition91% Fe, 7.62% Ni, 18.6ppm Ga, 37.3ppm Ge, 4.7ppm Ir
CountryUnited States
Coordinates45°22′N 122°35′W / 45.367°N 122.583°W / 45.367; -122.583[1]
Observed fallNo
Found dateUnknown
TKW14,150 kilograms (15.60 short tons)[2]
Related media on Wikimedia Commons

The Willamette Meteorite, officially named Willamette[3] and originally known as Tomanowos by the Clackamas Chinook[4][5] Native American tribe, is an iron-nickel meteorite found in the U.S. state of Oregon. It is the largest meteorite found in the United States and the sixth largest in the world.[6][7] There was no impact crater at the discovery site; researchers believe the meteorite landed in what is now Canada or Montana, and was transported as a glacial erratic to the Willamette Valley during the Missoula Floods at the end of the last Ice Age (~13,000 years ago).[8] It has long been held sacred by indigenous peoples of the Willamette Valley, including the federally recognized Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon (CTGRC).

The meteorite is on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, which acquired it in 1906.[7] Having been seen by an estimated 40 million people over the years, and given its striking appearance, it is among the most famous meteorites.[9][10][11] In 2005, the CTGRC sued to have the meteorite returned to their control, ultimately reaching an agreement that gave the tribe access to the meteorite while allowing the museum to keep it as long as they are exhibiting it.[10][12]

Physical characteristics and formation

Close-up of the meteorite

The Willamette Meteorite weighs about 34,200 pounds (15,500 kg). It is classified as a type III iron meteorite, being composed of over 91% iron and 7.62% nickel, with traces of cobalt and phosphorus. The approximate dimensions of the meteorite are 10 feet (3 m) tall by 6.5 feet (2 m) wide by 4.25 feet (1.3 m) deep. Most iron meteorites like Willamette have originated from the differentiated core of planetesimals or asteroids that collided with another object. Willamette has a recrystallized structure with only traces of a medium Widmanstätten pattern; it is the result of a significant impact-heating event on the parent body.[7][13] The Willamette Meteorite contains higher concentrations of various metals that are quite rare in Earth's crust. For example, iridium, one of the least abundant elements in Earth's crust, is found in the Willamette Meteorite at a concentration of 4.7 ppm, thousands of times more concentrated than in the crust.[14]

Emplacement and erosion

Glacial Lake Columbia (west) and Glacial Lake Missoula (east, in blue) were south of Cordilleran Ice Sheet. The areas inundated in the Columbia and Missoula Floods are shown in red. The meteorite was rafted by the floods embedded inside an ice block.

The lack of an impact crater at the discovery site was only explained after the 1920s, with the new understanding about the Missoula Floods, one of the largest floods documented, caused by the collapse of an ice barrier during the last deglaciation. The meteorite presumably landed on an ice cap in what is now Montana or western Canada, and was dragged by the glacier ice to the vicinity of an ice barrier that formed across the Clark Fork River. This barrier had ponded a huge amount of water at Lake Missoula right at the time when the meteorite reached the area and the ice barrier became unstable and breached. The resulting flood involved up to 10 million cubic meters per second of water discharge, with large blocks of ice rafting down the Columbia River and the Willamette Valley at the end of the last Ice Age (~13,000 years ago).[8] Some of these ice rafts included boulders (known as 'glacial erratic' by geologists) like the Willamette meteorite, which eventually sank in the flood waters and settled where they were found by humans.

The deep crevasses of the meteorite resulted from both its high-speed atmospheric entry and its subsequent weathering. Exposed to the elements for thousands of years, rainwater interacted with the mineral troilite, resulting in a form of sulfuric acid which slowly dissolved portions of the meteorite. This resulted in the gradual development of the hollows that are visible today.

Modern history


The Willamette Meteorite has been venerated by the Clackamas people since long before it was removed from its location in the Willamette Valley near the modern city of West Linn, Oregon.[citation needed] In 1902, Ellis Hughes[15] was the first European settler to recognize the meteorite's significance. At that time the land was owned by the Oregon Iron and Steel Company. Hughes attempted to claim ownership of the meteorite, and secretly moved it to his own land. This involved 90 days of hard work to cover the 34 mile (1,200 m) distance. The move was discovered, and after a lawsuit, the Oregon Supreme Court held that Oregon Iron and Steel Company was the legal owner.[16][17]

Willamette Meteorite in the early 20th century

In 1905, Sarah Tappan Hoadley, wife of William E. Dodge Jr., purchased the meteorite for $26,000 (around $920,000 in 2024). After displaying it at the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, she donated it to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where it has been on display since 1906.[18]

The Clackamas people have long used the meteorite, which they call Tomanowos, in ceremonies.[citation needed] In 1999 the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon (CTGRC), a confederation of Native American tribes, demanded that it be returned and filed an action pursuant to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) against the American Museum of Natural History. In response, the Museum filed a federal lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment against the CTGRC in 2000. An agreement with the Museum was reached later that year in which the meteorite would remain at the museum with tribal members being able to conduct a private ceremony around the meteorite once a year, and that ownership will be transferred to CTGRC should the museum cease to have the meteorite on display.[12]

In response to a student's request in 2007, Representative John Lim introduced a resolution that would demand that the museum return the meteorite to Oregon. The tribes said they were not consulted, they did not support the resolution, and were content with the current arrangement with the museum.[19]

The 28-pound (13 kg) crown section of the meteorite that had been traded to the Macovich Collection for a Martian meteorite in 1997, was planned to be auctioned in October 2007, which led to claims by the CTGRC of insensitivity.[20][21][22] Bidders dropped out when an editorial in the Portland Oregonian newspaper asserted the CTGRC would file a lawsuit against the new owner, but the CTGRC disavowed the editorial and said they had no such intent, and that they could not stop the sale. While the newspaper printed an apology, the specimen was withdrawn.[23][24][25] A lawsuit was filed against the newspaper in Oregon Circuit Court and failed.[26]

A 4.5-ounce (130 g), 7.5-inch (19 cm) piece of the meteorite, also with a Macovich Collection provenance, was purchased in a 2006 auction and was displayed at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, until it was returned to the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde on February 22, 2019.[27][28][29]


A historical marker in the Willamette area of West Linn, Oregon. The plaque reads: "In 1902 Ellis Hughes discovered the 15+12 ton Willamette Meteorite, the largest ever found in the United States, about 2 miles N.W. of this place. Marker erected August 4, 1962 by West Linn Fair Board."

Different sources report different weights of the Willamette Meteorite, ranging from 15,500 kilograms (34,200 lb)[30] to 12,700 kilograms (28,000 lb).[31] Circa 2008, pages of the American Museum of Natural History website stated both "15.5 tons"[32] and "14 tons".[33][34] There are differences between the metric ton (1,000 kilograms, 2,204.6 lb), short ton (2,000 pounds, 907.18 kg), and long ton (2,240 pounds, 1,016.0 kg), each of which may simply be called a "ton". In 1906, the American Museum of Natural History stated that the weight of the meteorite was "at least 31,200 pounds, or about 15.6 tons",[2] consistent with American usage of "ton" usually meaning the short ton. As of 2023, the American Museum of Natural History website gives the weight as "15.5 tons".[35]



A replica of the meteorite is in Eugene, Oregon, outside the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History on the University of Oregon campus.[18] A 15 size replica stands in Fields Bridge Park in West Linn, Oregon.[36] The only exact replica in existence is currently installed in the Chachalu Museum at the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde (CTGR) in Grand Ronde, Oregon. The aluminum replica was CNC-milled from a 3D model produced through photogrammetry[citation needed] by artist Garrick Imatani, working in conjunction with the CTGR. Imatani also created an interpretation of this meteorite that is on permanent display at the University of Oregon in Straub Hall.[37]

See also



  1. ^ Willamette meteorite, West Linn, Clackamas Co., Oregon, USA. Retrieved on October 30, 2008.
  2. ^ a b The American Museum Journal, American Museum of Natural History, 1906.
  3. ^ Meteoritical Bulletin Database: Willamette. The Meteoritical Society. Retrieved on August 16, 2008.
  4. ^ Alaimo, Michelle (30 June 2016). "Tribal members visit Tomanowos" (PDF). Smoke Signals. The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. Retrieved 8 July 2018.
  5. ^ "Willamette Meteorite Agreement". American Museum of Natural History. Retrieved 8 July 2018.
  6. ^ O. Richard Norton. Rocks from Space. USA, Mountain Press, 1994.
  7. ^ a b c "Cullman Hall of the Universe: The Willamette Meteorite". American Museum of Natural History. Archived from the original on 2007-12-21. Retrieved 2007-11-02.
  8. ^ a b Pugh, R. N.; Allen J.E. (1986). "Origin of the Willamette Meteorite". Abstracts and Program for the 49th Annual Meeting of the Meteoritical Society. 600: 208. Bibcode:1986LPICo.600E.208P.
  9. ^ "The Willamette Meteorite". Houston Chronicle. October 26, 2007.
  10. ^ a b Weiser, Benjamin (February 29, 2000). "Museum Sues to Keep Meteorite Sought by Indian Group". The New York Times.
  11. ^ Science Channel's "Top Ten Meteorites". Retrieved on November 29th, 2010.
  12. ^ a b Sullivan, John (June 23, 2000). "Pact Leaves Meteorite With Museum". The New York Times.
  13. ^ ^ Vagn F. Buchwald: Handbook of Iron Meteorites, University of California Press 1975.
  14. ^ Scott, E. R. D.; Wasson, J. T.; Buchwald, V. F. (1973). "The chemical classification of iron meteorites—VII. A reinvestigation of irons with Ge concentrations between 25 and 80 ppm". Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. 37 (8): 1957–1983. Bibcode:1973GeCoA..37.1957S. doi:10.1016/0016-7037(73)90151-8.
  15. ^ Lange, Erwin (1962). The Williamette Meteorite • 1902 - 1962. Portland State College.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link) CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  16. ^ Oregon Iron Co. v. Hughes, 47 Or 313, 82 P 572 (1905).
  17. ^ Preston, Douglas. Strange Journey: Further Travels of The Willamette Meteorite. Meteor Treasures. Retrieved on October 31, 2007.
  18. ^ a b Geology Tour. Archived 2005-12-14 at the Wayback Machine University of Oregon: Museum of Natural History. Retrieved on October 31, 2007.
  19. ^ Walsh, Edward (March 26, 2007). "Oregon's Pet Rock". Retrieved 2010-10-23.
  20. ^ Chang, Kenneth (February 14, 2002). "Uproar Over a Sliced, and Revered, Meteorite". The New York Times.
  21. ^ "Tribe: Sale of space rock 'insensitive'". CNN. 2007-09-14. Archived from the original on September 14, 2007. Retrieved September 15, 2007.
  22. ^ "Cow-killing meteorite sells for $1,554". CNN. 2007-10-29. Archived from the original on October 30, 2007. Retrieved October 31, 2007.
  23. ^ The Oregonian, Saturday, October 20, 2007 – Apology/retraction on the editorial page
  24. ^ Chan, Sewell (September 14, 2007). "Tribe Alarmed by Auction of a Meteorite Fragment". The New York Times. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
  25. ^ Tims, Dana (October 22, 2007). "For sale: 30 pounds of controversy". The Oregonian. Retrieved April 18, 2014.
  26. ^ Darryl Pitt v. Advance Publications, et al., Oregon Circuit Court, 0810-14798 (2008)
  27. ^ "Willamette Meteorite to Return to Oregon as Part of Evergreen Aviation Museum's Collection". Salem-News.com. 2006-04-14. Retrieved 2008-06-06.
  28. ^ Tims, Dana (2008-06-06). "Space history stands tall in museum". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2008-06-06.
  29. ^ "A Piece Of Sacred Meteorite Is Returned To An Oregon Tribe". Oregon Public Broadcasting. 2019-02-22. Retrieved 2019-04-15.
  30. ^ Meteoritical Bulletin Database: Willamette
  31. ^ Harry Y. McSween. Meteorites and Their Parent Planets. Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  32. ^ Planets Zone, Rose Center for Earth and Space. Archived 2007-12-21 at the Wayback Machine American Museum of Natural History. Retrieved on August 16, 2008.
  33. ^ Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites. Archived 2008-07-05 at the Wayback Machine American Museum of Natural History. Retrieved on August 16, 2008.
  34. ^ AMNH Special Collections: Astronomy slides. American Museum of Natural History. Retrieved on August 16, 2008.
  35. ^ "The Willamette Meteorite". amnh.org. Retrieved January 28, 2023.
  36. ^ "The Willamette Meteorite, Information Sources and Links". Clackamas County Oregon History and Genealogy. Retrieved on August 16, 2008.
  37. ^ Bull, Brian (10 May 2018). "A Sacred Meteor To Be Celebrated, Blessed, Through New Art Installation". www.klcc.org. Retrieved 2019-03-06.