The Curious Lore of Precious Stones
II On Meteorites and Celestial Stones
IS somewhat difficult to obtain trustworthy accounts ^ regarding the occurrence of meteorites in medieval and
ancient times, as there was a strong tendency to confuse the real meteorites with flin t arrow-heads and hatchets
derived from the stone age. A number of interesting facts bearing on the history of certain real or supposed
aerolites were given in a recent lecture delivered by Prof. Hubert A. Newton in New Haven, Conn.^ Some of the
more striking instances are here presented.
As an illustration of the way in which meteorites may have come to be reverenced in former times, we have the
modern instance of a stone that fell in the region north of Zanzibar, on the East African coast, and was seen and
picked up by some shepherd boys. At first all the efforts of the German missionaries to buy this stone were
fruitless, because the neighboring Wanikas looked upon it as a god, and, after securing possession of it, proceeded
to anoint it with oil, clothe it with apparel and decorate it with pearls.
They also built a temple wherein the stone received divine honors. This worship endured for some time, but when,
three years later, the nomad tribes of the Masai swooped down on the Wanikas and burned their villages and
massacred many of the inhabitants, the "Wanikas lost all respect for the stone and were glad to part with it. This conduct was, after all, not entirely unreasonable, since the fetish had failed to prove its divine power.
This occurrence in the nineteenth century may well be
American Journal of Science, 4th Ser., vol. lil, pp. 1-13, New Haven, 1897. 72 By courtci,} Sotile Photu C".
THE "MADONNA DI FOLIGNO." BY KAPHAEL
In the Vatican Coliection, Rome. The white curve in the middle uf the background shows the passage of the meteor to the earth.
typical of what must have happened in past times. A case from the fifteenth century, narrated by Professor Newton,
is very interesting, since the treatises on precious stones of that period and somewhat later contain many notices
of supposed meteorites. We are told that, on November 16, 1492, a stone weighing 300 pounds fell at Ensisheim,
in Alsace. Emperor Maximilian, who was then in Basel, caused the stone to be brought to the neighboring castle
and summoned a state council to determine the character of the divine message associated with its fall. The
council decided that the event signified some important occurrence in the approaching conflict between the French
and the Turks, and the stone, with an appropriate inscription, was suspended in the church, the strictest injunctions being given that it should not be removed. Conrad Gesner, in his: treatise, "De figuris lapidum," ^ states that a fragment of this stone was given to him by a friend and that it resembled ordinary sandstone.
We are told that nineteen years later a shower of stones fell near Crema, east of Milan ; these stones fell in
French territory and at that time the Pope was engaged in hostilities with the French. During the following year,
the French, who had long threatened the States of the Church from their possessions in Lombardy, were forced to withdraw from Italy. In the celebrated painting by Raphael, known as the Madonna di Foligno, one of the greatest treasures of the Vatican, this Crema fire-ball is depicted.
Naturally the recitals from ancient times are not as easily controlled as the more modem accounts and it is always possible that stones other than meteorites were given a celestial origin by superstitious zeal. The black stone of
the Kaabah, which is probably noted by early Greek writers and was an object of adoration for the Arabian tribes
'Tiguri, 1565, f. 66.
fore the time of Mohammed, was believed to have dropped from heaven together with Adam, and in many Greek
legends images were said to have fallen from heaven. Of course in the ease of real statues this is simply a vague
superstition, but the stone venerated in Phrygia as an image of Cybele may possibly have been a genuine
The following facts in relation to this stone are presented by Professor Newton:
It was a conical mass bearing a rude resemblance to a human head, and was said to have fallen near Pessinus. It
was placed in the Temple of Cybele and worshipped as her image. During the second Punic war, in 205 B.C.,
because of Hannibal's prolonged invasion of Italy, the downfall of the Roman state was feared, and the Romans
were terrified by a shower of stones from the sky. On consulting the Sibylline books, some verses were found to
the effect that a foreign enemy could be driven from Italy if the Idsean mother (Cybele) was brought from
Pessinus in Phrygia to Rome.
An embassy was sent to King Attalus of Pergamos to request his consent to the transfer of the stone, and although
he even refused obedience to the commands of the Delphic oracle, which required him to surrender the stone as
an act of hospitality, he at last yielded when a violent earthquake shook the country, and the voice of the goddess
was heard, enunciating these words: "It is my will. Rome is a worthy place for any god; delay not." '
Herodian, who relates this story, proceeds to narrate the arrival of the stone at Eome, where Scipio Africanus was chosen to bear it to the Temple of Victory. A silver image of the goddess was made, the conical stone serving as
the head. For five hundred years this image, later transferred to the Temple of the Great Mother of the Gods, was
an object of Eoman worship. It has been described very fully by Amobius (fl. 300 a.d.) .* He states that it was a
small stone which could be easily and lightly carried in the hand; it was of a black hue and of rough surface, and
had many irregular projecting angles. As it was naturally marked
'Titi Livi, "Ab urbe condita," lib. xxix, cap. 11.
'"Adversua Gentes," lib. vii.
with the form of a mouth, it was inserted in the face of an image of the goddess to flgnre that feature.
As the stone was valueless, modern explorers long hoped that it might not have been carried off from Eome by the
spoilers, but the search for it has been in vain. In a rare volume describing excavations made in the Palatine hill in
1730, Professor Lanciani is stated to have found a stone that had been unearthed at that time in a chapel, lacking
any inscription to indicate the divinity to whom it was dedicated.
This stone was said to be "of a deep brown color, looking very much like a piece of lava, and ending in a sharp
The similarity of this description to that of Amobius indicates that the Cybele stone may really have been found in
1730, but it has since disappeared. It would have been extremely interesting for mineralogists if they could have
been enabled to examine this supposed meteorite, perhaps the very earliest regarding which we have such definite
To throw it into greater relief it was surrounded by a silver rim. When first brought to land from the ship on which
it had been transported to Rome, the sacred stone was confided to the care of a company of Eoman matrons who
passed it on from one to another as it was solemnly borne to the Temple of Victory.^
Whether this stone was really a meteorite, as tradition taught, or whether it was a fossil of the type later known
as hysteriolithus, as was conjectured by M. Falconnet, in 1770,® remains doubtful. Its light weight, upon which
quality Amobius lays stress, and its peculiar form seem to favor somewhat the latter supposition. A similar stone
to which divine honors were paid was in a temple on Mount Ida.
"Prudentius "Hymnus X," 11, 156, 157. This writer was born in 348 a.d. and died about 410.
* " Dissertation sur la pierre de la Mere des Dieux," in Mem. de I'Acad. des Inscrip. et Belles Lettres,
vol. xxicviii, p. 370; Paris, 1770.
In prehistoric times meteorites were quite naturally supposed to possess a special sanctity, and were indeed
regarded as animated by the very essence of some divinity.
The name baetylus, given to these stones by Greeks and Komans, is derived from the Hebrew (bethel)
or "house of God," a term indicating clearly enough the belief held by the ancient Hebrews in regard to
meteorites, or supposed meteorites. However, long before this designation had reached the Greeks, certain
meteorites had been accorded a peculiar reverence, and even worship. One of these was a black stone, called the Omphalos of Delphi.
This was said to be the stone given by Ehea to Kronos when she substituted a stone for her offspring Zeus, to save
him from being devoured by his father, Kronos. Zeus himself (or Kronos) threw it down to the Earth and the spot
where it struck was supposed to be the centre of the Earth, hence the name Omphalos, or "navel-stone."
Meteorites probably played an important part in the development of civilization, for it is believed that the earliest
iron tools and weapons were made from meteoric iron, apparently the only supply available before the art of
treating iron ores had been evolved.''
While there is admittedly but scant evidence of the existence of a Stone Age in China, and still less to indicate
that Chinese civilization passed through such a period, a certain number of stone artefacts, all polished, have been
found within the limits of China. However, curiously enough in view of this state of things, we find that here, as
almost everywhere else, these objects were popularly regarded as "thunderbolts." Thus Chien Tsang-Ki, the
author of a Materia Medica, composed in the first half of the eighth century of our era, states that objects of this
'Miers, "Fall of Meteorites in Ancient and Modern Times," Science Progress, Tol. vii. No. 8, July, 1898, p. 351.
kind "have been found by people who explored a locality over which a thunder-storm had swept and dug three feet
in the ground"; and he adds that some of these stone implements have two perforations. They were named
pi-li-chen, "stones originating from the crash of thunder," and a still earlier writer, Chang (232-300 a.d.) applies a similar designation to stone axes and wedges "frequently seen among the people." Several centuries later Shen
Kun (1030-1093 A..D.) testifies that the people of his time found many stone "thunder-wedges," in all cases after
a thunder-storm; these were unperforated. It is generally believed that most of these stone implements had been
made by a Tungusian tribe, akin to the Manchus.®
This is partly due to the fact that it was natural, after a thunder-shower, for a search to be made. Then again, as thunder-showers are usually heavy rains, they were apt to loosen the soil and leave on the surface heavy objects,
more especially such materials as jade, of the density of 2.9, or jadeite, of the density of 3.3. These are much
heavier than the quartz, feldspar and other ingredients of the soil, which vary from 2.6 to 2.7 and are washed away. Finally, there is the natural disinclination on the part of the Chinese to dig, from their belief that it is wrong to
explore the soil, and this disinclination on their part has done much to prevent a better knowledge of the Stone
Age, and our knowledge of the races which must have preceded the civilization of China; many facts of mining
interest have been neglected, as well, on account of this prejudice. Perhaps within the next twenty years we may
learn something about a prehistoric race in China, for as traces of the existence of such races have been found in
every other country of the
•Laufer, "Jade: A Study in Chinese Archaeology and Religion," Chicago, 1912, pp. 54, 55, 57, 63, 64; Field
Museum of Natural History, Pub. 154, Archeological Series, vol. z.
world, there can be little or no doubt that such a race existed in China, although as yet we have no distinct
evidences of it.
The Babylonian royal astrologers taught that the mere fact of the passage of a meteor across the heavens, whether
its course were from east to west, or from north to south, was a good omen, portending victory and the successful
issue of the royal projects. Especially favorable was the augury when the meteor was very brilliant and left behind
it a trail that might be likened to the tail of a scorpion.
This not only foretold joy for the ruler and his house, but for the entire country; evil would be overcome,
righteousness would reign supreme, and prosperity would prevail. A meteor of this type is recorded as having
appeared at the time Nebuchadnezzar laid waste Elam about 1150 b.c. This refers to the elder Nebuchadnezzar.®
A curious series of cuneiform texts treats of the prognostics to be drawn from the transformations of stars into
various animals, metals, stones, etc. This is explained as referring to the apparent form or hue of the meteor
itself, or of the trail it left behind. The transformations into stones concern the dushu-stone, porphyry
(or some other dark red or purple stone) and lapis lazuli. This omen is invariably a favorable one.^"
The Old Testament offers abundant testimony of the ancient belief that certain stones were animated by a divine
spirit. In regard to this, Benzinger writes: ^^ "It was not Tahweh who found Jacob at Bethel but rather Jacob who
found Yahweh there. He anoints the stone; that is, he sacrifices to it, for the divinity residing in the stone has
caused his dream." According to Benzinger 's opinion the Ark of the Covenant originally served as receptacle for
• Morris Jaatrow, Jr., "Die Religion Babyloniens und Assyriens," vol. ii, Pt. II, Gieseen, 1912, pp. 689, 690.
" Ibid., pp. 692-694.
"Benzinger, Hebraische Arch^ologie, Freiburg i. B., 1894, p. 370.
stone of this type, and was hence regarded as sheltering a divinity.
One of the very earliest references to meteorites appears in the Book of Joshua (chap, x, verse 11), where we
read, in the account of the battle fought by the Israelites against the Amorites and their allies, that "the Lord cast
down great stones from heaven" upon the Amorites, so that more of the latter were killed by these stones than by
the weapons of the Israelites. Admitting the historical character of the account, this fall of meteorites probably
took place in the twelfth century b.c. In an Assyrian cuneiform inscription, there is mention of the seven black
stones of the city of Urka in Chaldea. These were bcetyli and were regarded as representations of the seven
The fall of meteors is noted frequently in Chinese records, the first instance dating from 644 e.g. Of a meteor that
fell in 213 e.g., we are told that it descended as " a star which turned to a stone as it fell."^^ A meteorite that fell
in China in 211 e.g. is said to have been the indirect cause of many deaths. The event took place during the reign
of the tyrannical emperor Chi Hoang-ti, who had incurred the resentment of all the Chinese litterati by his
wholesale burning of books. Some believer in the power of sorcery caused an inscription to be cut on this stone predicting the death of the hated emperor within a year, and when news of the act came to the monarch's ears he
gave orders to have the stone split up, and to put to death all the inhabitants of the place where it was found, this
being no doubt looked upon as a most effective conjuration of the spell."
In 405 E.G., Lysander won his great victory over the
•^ Lenormant, "Lettres Assyriologiques," Paris, 1872, vol. ii, p. 118.
" Miers, "Fall of Meteorites in Ancient and Modern Times," Science Progress, vol. vii, No. 8, July, 1898, p. 349.
"E. F. F. Chladni, "Verzeichnisa der herabgefallenen Stein- und Eisen- massen," p. 5; Gilbert's Annalen der
Physik, vol. 1.
Athenian fleet at ^gospotanai in Thrace, and Plutarch writes, in his life of Lysander,^^ that a stone which fell from
the heavens a short time before the battle was regarded by many as a portent predicting the dreadful slaughter
that was to ensue. At the time Plutarch wrote (circa 150 a.d.) this stone could still be seen at ^gospotami, where it
was regarded with great veneration by the Chersonites. The Greek philosopher Anaxagorus is said to have
predicted the fall of this meteorite, as he had observed certain perturbations in the movements of the heavenly
bodies. As Anaxagorus died in 428 b.c, his prediction must have long ante-dated the fall of the meteorite.
A detail given in one of the early recitals might possibly have constituted the basis of a prediction by some
contemporary physicist. In the latter part of his account of the phenomenon Plutarch quotes from a Treatise on
Eeligion, by a certain Daimachus, to the effect that, for seventy-five days before the fall of the meteorite, a vast
fiery body was seen in the heavens, in appearance "like a flaming cloud." This well describes the appearance of
a great comet, and might be regarded as significant when we consider the latest modem theory of the origin of
meteors, according to which these bodies are detached particles of a cometary aggregation. Of this meteoric mass
said to have fallen at ^gospotami, Pliny states that it was as large as a wagon and of a dusky hue, adding that a
brilliant comet was visible at the time of its fall. Eegarding the assertion that Anaxagorus predicted the occurrence, Pliny declares that this prediction, if true, was a greater miracle than the fall of the meteor. A portion of the stone
was preserved as a venerated relic in the town of Potidsea.*^
"Plutarchi," Vite," Lipsise, 1879, p. 394; Lysander, 12.
** C. Flinii Secundi, " Historia naturalis," Venetiis, 1S07, fol. 8, recto; lib. ii, cap. 60.
The site of the city of Seleucia is said to have been de- termined by the fall of an aerolite, and this stone is figured
on some of the coins of the Seleucidae, a thunderbolt appearing in its stead on other coins.
In the Temple of Diana, at Ephesus, there was a stone partly fashioned into the conventional form of the Ephesian
Diana. This, it was asserted, had fallen down from the heavens. The stone is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles
(xix. 35), where we read that the city of the Ephesians was "a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the
image which fell down from Jupiter." In this text the word "image" has been supplied by the translators, a more
literal rendering being "that which fell down from the sky." This clearly shows that the stone only faintly
indicated the human form.
Tacitus says of the stone sacred to the Astarte (or Aphrodite) of Paphos, that it was a symbol of the goddess, not a human effigy, since it was an obscurely formed cone."
In his life of ApoUonius of Tyana, Philostratus, also, mentions this stone and tells us that when ApoUonius visited
Paphos, he admired there "the famous symbolic figure of Aphrodite."" These "living stones"
were often covered with ornaments and vestments, and it has been conjectured that these adornments were, in
some cases, changed so as to accord with the garments appropriate to certain special festivals of the respective gods.^"
The colossal emerald of the temple of Melkarth at Tjrre is designated in the fragments of Sanchoniathon as an
or star fallen from heaven. It was said to have been raised up by Astarte, and this last 'myth is
"Cornelii Taciti, "Opera," Lipsise, 1885, p. 52.
" Philostratus, "ApoUonius of Tyana," trans, by Baltzer, Rudolstadt 1. Th., 1883, p. 143 (lii, 59).
"Lenormant, in Daremberg and Saglio's Diet, des antiq. grecques et romaines, vol. 1, Paris, 1873, p. 645. 6
represented on the silver coins of Marium in Cyprus. Here the radiance and splendor of the object suggested a
stellar or celestial origin, and we see the same tendency at work in the application of the name ceraunice (thunder-stones) to certain brilliant gems by Pliny. 90
Virgil 91 seems to confound with thunder the detonation of a bolide, followed by a train of light, and he seems also
to confound the bolide itself with a lightning flash, for he says that its fall diffused a sulphurous vapor far and wide.
Seneca was more critical, for he regarded the fact of thunder sometimes accompanying the fall of a meteorite as
merely a coincidence.
Although, in the absence of exact and trustworthy contemporaneous accounts of the fall of these sacred stones, we
cannot be absolutely certain that they were meteorites, the testimony in several cases is sufficient to render this
almost certain, while in many other cases there is no reason to doubt the substantial accuracy of the tradition.
The choice of some of the baetyli, however, was determined by their form alone, to which was ascribed a religious significance, not exactly compatible with our religious ideas of to-day, but quite easily understood when we
remember that the divine creative energy was concretely represented in ancient times by many symbols offensive
to our sense of propriety.
In the treatise "On Rivers," attributed to Plutarch, a stone is said to have been found on Mount Gronius, which
bore the name of "cylinder." When Jupiter thundered, this stone, terrified by the noise, rolled down from the top
of the mountain.22 This passage is interesting as suggesting one of the reasons which caused the name
" F. Lenormant, in Daremberg and Saglio's Diet, des antiq. grecquea et romaines, vol. i, p. 645, Paris, 1873.
See Pig. 739.
"Aen. ii, 692-698.
"De M61y," Le traite des fleuves de Plutarche "; in Revue des Btudes Grecquea, vol. v (1892), p. 334.
to be given to certain stones, for stones adapted to orna- mental use might easily be exposed by the weathering of
the rocks, and then detached by the concussion produced by heavy thunder. Of course, the cylinder-stone here
mentioned must have more especially signified one of the prehistoric celts, but it is not unlikely that the name
was also given to other, unworked stones, having a similar form.
Before Galba was chosen emperor, and when he was acting as governor of the Basque provinces in Spain, a
thunderbolt descended upon the shore of a lake in that region.
Search was made for the stones which were supposed to have fallen, and Suetonius tells us that twelve axes were
found. This was regarded as a sure augury of Galba's elevation to the imperial dignity ,33 but for the
archaeologist the presence of the axes merely signifies that this was the site of a lake dwellers 'village.
In some cases, the stone which was held to be a dwelling-place of the divinity was also regarded as a
representation, or epitome, of some sacred mountain. In the earliest stage of this belief, the god was supposed to
have his abode in the mountain, and later he was thought to animate the stone which had a fancied likeness in
shape to the mountain. A coin of the Roman emperor Elagabalus (204-222 a.d.)24 bears on its reverse a
representation of one of the sacred stones of Astarte, namely, that worshipped at Sidon. This is shown resting
upon a car, and it seems probable that it was transported from place to place, so that large numbers
"Suetonii, "Opera," Lipsise, 1886, p. 203; Galba, 8.
"This name signifies " Mountain-God " and its assumption by the emperor marked his devotion to the worship
of the divinity animating the stone of Emesa, El Gahal, which Elagabulus had conveyed to Home, where it
remained until 222 A.D. This stone was regarded as a miniature representation of the sacred mountain near
Emesa. The stone is figured on the aureus of the emperor Uranius Antonius. See Ch. Lenormant, Rev.
Numismatique, 1843, p. 273. sq., PI. IX, No. 1.
of people could have the privilege of paying reverence to it.
There seems to be fairly strong reasons for the belief that the Black iStone of the Kaaba at Mecca is an
If the conjecture be correct, this stone occupies a unique place among meteoric masses, for it was an object of
worship for many centuries before the advent of Mohammed, and is to-day regarded with the highest reverence
by one hundred and twenty millions of Mohammedans. One of the most solemn acts performed by the pilgrims at Mecca is the kissing of the Black Stone, and should any one doubt that true religious enthusiasm is aroused by
this act, he should read the following words of Ibn Batoutah: 36
The eyes perceive in it a wonderful beauty, similar to that of a young bride; in kissing it one feels a pleasure that delights the mouth, and whoever kisses it wishes he might never cease to do so; for this is an inherent quality in it
and a divine grace in its favor. Let us only cite the words of the Prophet in this connection: "Certainly it is the
right hand of God on earth."
For centuries before Mohammed's time the Kaaba at Mecca had been a famous sanctuary and a religious centre
for the nomadic Arabs. It is stated that there were 360 idols in the temple, a number which suggests a connection
with the year of 360 days in use among the Arabs. The most celebrated of these idols bore the name of Hobal, and
was the figure of a man cut out of red agate. There was a tradition to the effect that this idol had been brought
from Belka in Syria. As one of the hands was broken off, the Koreish, the Arab tribe having charge of the Kaaba,
repaired this defect by attaching a golden hand, in which were held seven arrows, plain shafts without heads or
feathers, similar to the arrows used for divination by the
26 Lenormant, " Lettres Assyriologiques," Paris, 1872, vol. ii, p. 123.
27 Voyages d'lbn Batoutah." Translation by C. Defremery and B. R. Banguinette, vol. i, 3d Ed., Paris, 1893, p. 314.
LA TEMPLE DE LA MECQUE
THE KAABA AT MECCA
The letter A indicates the place where the Black Stone ia inserted in the wall of the building.
From " Histoire generale de cerernonies religieusea de tous les peuples du monde," by Abbe Banier and
Abbe Mascrier, Paris, 1741.
Arabs. For some occult reason the agate was supposed to exercise a certain control over meteorological
phenomena, for in Persia it was believed to ward off tempests, while prayers for rain in time of drought were made
to this agate image of the Kaaba.27
Much has been written regarding the Black iStone, but perhaps the most satisfactory description is that given by
Burckhardt, who writes: 28
At the North-east comer of the Kaabah, near the door, is the famous "Black Stone"; it forms part of the sharp
angle of the building at from four to five feet above the ground. It is an irregular oval, about seven inches in
diameter, with an undulated surface, composed of about a dozen smaller stones of different sizes and shapes, well
joined together with a small quantity of cement, and perfectly smooth; it looks as if the whole had been broken into many pieces by a violent blow, and then united again. It is very difficult to determine accurately the quality of this
stone, which has been worn to its present surface by the millions of touches and kisses it has received. It appears
to me like lava, containing several small extraneous particles of a whitish and of a yellowish substance. Its color is
now a deep reddish-brown, approaching to black.
This description seems to support the conjecture that the stone is a meteorite. The injuries it has sustained are
attributed to various accidental or intentional causes. In the early part of the Mohammedan era the Kaaba was
damaged by fire, and the intense heat caused the stone to break into three pieces. This injury was repaired, but
some years later (926 a.d.) the heretic sect of the Carmates captured and sacked Mecca. Hoping to divert to
another place the tide of pilgrims, and the riches they brought with them, the leader of the sect caused the stone
to be wrenched from its place and borne away to Hedjez. During the sack of Mecca, or possibly in its violent
removal, the stone was broken into two pieces, — perhaps along the line of one of
"Sale, "The Koran" (Preliminary Discourse), Phila., 1853, p. 14. =» Burckhardt, " Travels in Arabia," London,
1829, p. 137.
the old fractures. At first an offer of 50,000 dinars ($125,000) was made for the return of the stone, but before
many years had passed the Carmates restored it voluntarily, having been disappointed in their hope of attracting
the pilgrims. The Black Stone was destined to suffer still greater injury. In 1022 a.d., Hakem, the ruler of Egypt,
who suffered from megalomania and was disposed to claim divine honors for himself, dispatched an emissary to
Mecca to destroy the stone. Mixing with the crowd of pilgrims, this man approached the revered relic, and crying
out "How long shall this stone be adored and kissed?" struck it a tremendous blow with a club. The story runs
that only three small pieces were broken from the stone, but as it is also stated that these pieces were pulverized
and the powder made into a cement to fill up the cracks, the injury was probably much greater than the pious Mohammedans were willing to admit.19
Mohammedan tradition teaches that the Black Stone was sent from heaven and was once pure and brilliant; it
only grew black because of the sins of men. Legend relates that Abraham stood on this stone during the
construction of the Kaaba. This edifice was erected in a miraculous way, for the stones came of themselves, all
cut and polished, from the Mountain of Arafat. However, no place was found for the Black Stone, and it was
afflicted and said to Abraham: "Why have not I also been used for the House of God?" "Be comforted," replied
the Prophet; "for I will see that you are more honored than any other stone of the edifice. I will command all men,
in the name of God, that they shall kiss you when they pass in the procession." 20
A fragment of the Black Stone of Mecca was brought to Bagdad in 951 a.d. by order of the Khalif Moti Lillah, and
19 Burckhardt, " Travels in Arabia," London, 1829, p. 167.
20 Cliardin, " Voyage en Perse," Amsterdam, 1735, vol. iv, p. 171.
was inserted in the threshold of the main entrance to the royal palace there. From a balcony directly above the
entrance was suspended a piece of tapestry taken from that in the Kaaba, and it was so hung that its lower border
was about on a level with the face of anyone entering the portal. All who passed in were strictly enjoined to touch
their eyes with this tapestry and also to kiss the piece of the Black Stone, upon which no one was permitted to
tread. These details are given in Khondemir's life of Abu Jafer Al Mostasem, the last of the Khalifs, who died in
1258 A.D. 31
The Kaaba at Mecca offers to the adoration of faithful Mohammedan pilgrims to the shrine, not only the famous
Black Stone, which is set in the eastern comer of the building, but also another sacred stone inserted in the
southern corner at a height of five feet from the ground. This is designated as the "Southern Stone." The Kaaba
itself is a small rectangular structure, built of stone from the surrounding hills, and having a length of 12 metres
(39.4 feet), a width of 10 metres (32.8 feet) and a height of 15 metres (49.2 feet). One of the few Europeans who
have been permitted to enter the sacred enclosure, Dr. Snouck-Hurgronje, does not believe that the Kaaba owes
its origin and sanctity to the Black Stone, but that its foundation was rather due to the presence of the well
Zemzem, whose waters were already reported to have a therapeutic quality in the early days of Islam, and which
may have earned its repute on this account. If, however, we admit that the medical properties (of a purgative
nature) are due to contamination or percolation posterior to the primitive time when the well Zemzem first
attracted the reverence of the Arabs of this region, then the purity of the water may account for its
"Giovanni B. Rampolli, "Annali Musulmani," vol. viii, Milano, 1824, p. 589, note 104.
high place in the esteem of the Arabs. Of the Black Stone, a native of Mecca who saw the stone when it had been
taken out of the wall of the building, in the course of the latest restoration of the structure, states that its inner
surface is of a grayish hue.32
The Kaaba also contained the Maquam Ibrahim, a sacred stone preserved from pre-Islamite times, and brought
into connection with the history of Abraham by the Mohammedan legends. This stone, enclosed in a receptacle of
like material, was at one time buried in the ground underneath the building, but receptacle and enclosed stone are
now set within the iron gratings which partition off a part of the space inside the cupola over the pulpit of the
Mosque of Mecca. 33
An Oriental poem by Assmai detailing the wonderful exploits of the hero Antar, describes the way in which he
became possessed of a matchless sword. One day he came upon two knights in desperate encounter; on seeing him
they paused in their strife and to his question as to its cause one of the combatants told him that they were
brothers, sons of a great Arab emir, recently deceased. Their father had once found a black stone, in appearance
like a common pebble, but possessed of such penetrative power that when a herdsman threw it at a camel it
traversed the animal's body, inflicting a gaping wound. The emir immediately recognized that the stone must be a "thunder-stone," as meteorites were called; he therefore secured possession of it and commanded his most skilful smiths to forge a sword from it. When this task had been successfully performed the emir clothed the smith in a
robe of honor, and then, drawing the new sword from its sheath, cut off his head with a single stroke. This served
at once as a test of
32 Dr. C. Snouck-Hurgronje, " Mekka," Haag, 1888, vol. i, pp. 2, 4, 5.
33 Op. cit, p. U.
the weapon's quality and as an assurance that it would not soon be duplicated. On his death-bed the emir called to
him his youngest son and said to him: "My son, take the sword and hide it from your brother, and when you shall
see that he has seized my goods and is squandering them in riotous living, and sends you away, without reverence
for the Lord of Heaven and Earth, take the sword away with you. If you bring it to the court of the Persian King,
Khusrau Nushirwan, he will heap gifts and honors upon you, or if you elect to go instead to the court of the
Byzantine Caesar, monarch of the Servants of the Cross, he will give you as much gold and silver as you may ask
This was the tale told by the younger knight, who added that when, after the father's death, the brother had sought
in vain for the famous sword, he had resorted to torture to extract from the favored son the secret of its hiding
place, and had brought the latter to this spot commanding him to find it and give it up, and when he refused so to
do, had attacked him. The hero Antar, like a veritable knight-errant, took up the quarrel of the oppressed brother
and slew his opponent, securing as a free-will offering of gratitude the magic sword. 35
The forging of swords from meteoric iron was, in the opinion of the Orientalist Hammer-Purgstall, the origin of the characteristic surface given to the famous Damascus blades. A most interesting modern example of a meteoric-
iron weapon is a dagger made by Von Widmanstadt for Emperor Francis I of Austria, out of the famous Bohemian
siderite long preserved in the Eathaus at Elbogen and known as the "Verseihnschte Burggraf." On the surface
of this blade, however, the lines were angular, while on the
" From Hammer-Purgstall's " Fundgrube des Orients," vol. iv, Heft 3; cited by B. F. F. Chladni, " Neuea
Verzeichniss der herabgefallenen Stein- und Eisenmassen," p. 55 ; Gilbert's Annalen der Physik, vol. I.
true Damascus blade the lines are wavy.35 An unsuccessful attempt to forge a sword from a piece of meteoric iron
is reported by Avicenna in the case of a siderite that fell at Jurgan in 1009 a.d., from which swords that were
ordered to be made by the Sultan of Khorassan could not be executed.36
In an Arabic work bearing the name of Avicenna and entitled ''The Cure," the writer mentions a meteorite which
fell in the Jordan, and of which Sultan Mohammed Ghazni wished to have a sword made for him, thus proving that
the Sultan believed that meteorites possessed marvellous properties.37
A number of Greek and Eoman coins bearing representations of these sacred meteorites have come down to us,
and more than two hundred specimens may be seen in the section of meteorites in the Natural History Museum
(Koniglich-kaiserliches naturhistoriches Hof museum) in Vienna. These coins are of great value in determining the
history of those aerolites which were preserved in the temples of certain divinities.
The Viennese collection of meteorites is the finest in the world, and this is largely due to the zeal and intelligence
of the late Dr. Aristides Brezina, while superintendent of the department of mineralogy and meteorites in the
Museum. In regard to the impression made upon the mind of man in ancient times by the fall of meteorites, Dr.
Brezina writes: 38
35 E. F. F. Chladni, " Neuea Verzeichniss der herabgefallenen Stein und Eisenmaasen," p. 58; Gilbert's Annalen
der Phyaik, vol. 1.
36 Ibid., p. 5.
37 Berthelot, " Histoire des Sciences: La Chimie au Moyen-age," Paris, 1893,
vol. iii, p. 225.
38 Brezina, "The Arrangement of Collections of Meteorites"; Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society,
vol. xliii, Jan.-Dec, pp. 212, 213.