First Solid Evidence of Someone Being Killed by a Meteorite Discovered by Scientists

Scientists have uncovered what may be the first reliable evidence of a person being killed by a meteorite.

According to a study published in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science, a team of researchers have uncovered documentary evidence that a man was struck and killed by a meteorite on August 22, 1888 in what is now Iraq.

Our planet is constantly being bombarded by debris from space. A small proportion of this debris survives its passage through the atmosphere and strikes the Earth's surface—these are known as meteorites.

Throughout history, there have been various claims of people being struck and killed by meteorites, however, the researchers say that, to date, no one has found concrete proof of this in the historical record.

This doesn't necessarily mean that the evidence doesn't exist, but perhaps the documents have not been uncovered yet or are written in a difficult-to-translate language.

But now, the researchers say they have found convincing evidence of such an event, in the records of the Ottoman Empire—which ruled over much of southeastern Europe, western Asia and North Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries.

meteorite death map
The original map showing the meteorite fall area. O. Unsalan et al./Meteoritics & Planetary Science

"To the best of our knowledge, we show the first proof of an event ever that a meteorite hit and killed a man and left paralyzed another on August 22, 1888 in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, based on three manuscripts written in Ottoman Turkish that were extracted from the General Directorate of State Archives of the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey," the authors wrote in the study.

"This event was also reported to Abdul Hamid II (34th sultan of the Ottoman Empire) by the governor of Sulaymaniyah. These findings suggest other historical records may still exist that describe other events that caused death and injuries by meteorites," they said.

In the study, the researchers analyze the three documents, which were all written by local authorities, providing separate and consistent accounts of the same event. These documents were recently transferred to a digital archive but they are written in Ottoman Turkish—a difficult-to-translate language—which would perhaps explain why they haven't been examined before.

According to the Ottoman documents, a meteor struck a pyramid-shaped hill in Sulaymaniyah—which is now part of Iraq—creating an airburst and throwing up fragments that struck the two men. There were also reports of damage to crops, which would be consistent with the shockwave that would be expected from such an event.

Despite the fact that there is no material evidence of the meteor itself—some rocks from the impact site were reportedly sent to Ottoman authorities—the researchers say that the documents provide sufficient evidence that the the man's death was indeed caused by a piece of space debris.

"This event was reported on September 13 by the local governor and it reached the central administration on October 8, then was forwarded to the sultan himself on the next day. Due to the fact that these documents are from official government sources and written by the local authorities, we do not have any suspicion on their reality," the authors wrote.

"At this stage, it is obvious that we cannot speculate these stones sent to the administration are really meteorites since we do not have any real physical evidence and even a real samples," they said.

However, the researchers are still scanning the digital archive regularly and they say that they have encountered documents stating that some meteorite samples were delivered to what is now the Archaeology Museum in Istanbul, Turkey.