The oldest objects at Amgueddfa Cymru are in the collections of the Department of Geology. The most familiar are the fossils, ranging in age from approximately 550 million years old down to a little over 10,000 years old.

The Beddgelert meteorite
The Beddgelert meteorite, cut to reveal its internal structure. The dimensions are approximately 9cm x 7cm.

However, there are a group of objects that are considerably older than our most ancient fossils. Unlike fossils, they come not from the Earth, but from outer space.

Many of these extraterrestrial objects fell from space and landed in distant regions of our planet, but one of particular interest was witnessed falling to Earth in north Wales.

Bright lights and shattering slates

In the early hours of 21 September 1949, many people in north Wales and Cheshire saw a brilliant light travelling rapidly across the sky. At 1.45 am a guest at the Prince Llewelyn Hotel, Beddgelert heard a series of dull explosions, followed by three or four seconds' silence, ending with a buzzing sound 'like a light aeroplane' which grew in intensity until a sound of shattering roof slates was heard.

The hotel manager was woken by the barking of his dog, and heard a series of irregularly spaced bangs 'like a naval broadside', but then went back to sleep. The next morning, in an upstairs lounge, his wife found a jagged hole in the ceiling, with plaster and a dark-coloured stone about the size of a cricket ball on the floor. Neither the manager nor his wife knew what this was, nor if it was to do with the sounds heard during the night. However, it was recognised as a meteorite by an old miner in the bar that evening, who had seen some in a museum. A neat, round hole was later found in the slates of the hotel roof.

Meteorites

A meteorite is a natural object that survives its fall to Earth from space. As it passes through the atmosphere the outer layers are heated by friction, causing it to glow brightly and giving rise to the visual phenomena of a shooting star. Meteorites can fall anywhere, at any time, but the chances of being hit by one are (fortunately!) very, very remote indeed.

The Beddgelert meteorite is only the second ever known to come from Wales - the other fell at Pontlyfni, near Caernarfon in 1931. The majority of meteorites probably originate from a cloud of small rocky objects called the Asteroid Belt, which lies between the orbits of the planets Mars and Jupiter in our solar system. Collisions or gravitational forces alter some of their orbits, putting them on a collision course with Earth.

Once found, nearly all meteorites are passed to scientists for examination and analysis, although the Pontlyfni specimen apparently resided under someone's bed for over forty years before being acquired by the Natural History Museum in London!

Both the Beddgelert and Pontlyfni meteorites have been examined by being carefully cut up and distributed between various museums, universities and research institutes. As a result, Amgueddfa Cymru is lucky to have a small piece of the Beddgelert meteorite that fell to Earth in September 1949. This can be seen in the exhibition Evolution of Wales at National Museum Cardiff.

Extraterrestrial rocks older than Earth itself

By dating radioactive isotopes of chemical elements contained in them, the ages of most meteorites, including those from Beddgelert and Pontlyfni, have been determined at approximately 4,560 million years old. This is close to the calculated age of the Earth and the rest of the Solar System. In comparison, the oldest-known rocks formed on the Earth itself are roughly 3,800 million years old (in Wales the oldest rocks are about 700 million years old).

For this reason meteorites are of great scientific interest and importance in studying the earliest history of the Earth and the Solar System, and in giving clues to their primitive condition and how they might have been formed.

One particular class of meteorites (but not Beddgelert), of which there is also an example in the Museum, contains chemicals that were generated with the explosion of huge stars; these include samples of some of the chemical elements that form the 'building blocks' of life, and from which all life - including ourselves - ultimately developed.

Comments(7)

Stewart Walker
8 June 2020, 19:42
Good afternoon,

I am a metal detectorist, and on my permission (location will be supplied confidentially) I have uncovered what I believe to be a lunar meteorite.

It has a stone like structure with white flecks, it has the pitted surface with one side having significantly less pitting. I have tried the "tile test" and I leaves a streak reminiscent of heavy pencil lead. It is slightly smaller than a ping pong ball and weighs approx 60 grams.
It was unearthed in pyle, bridgend, south wales on 7 june 2020 at approx 11am.
It gives a metallic signal on both of my metal detecting machines, yet it is not magnetic as I've put it on my neodymium magnet and there is no reaction/force at all.
Please do email back asap as I'd like to bring it to you to investigate further.

Many kind regards

Mr S Walker.
Nia Meleri Evans Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
27 December 2019, 11:04

Hi Gwynant,

Thank you very much for your enquiry. I've passed it on to one of our Curators, who will be able to advise you further.

Kind regards,

Nia
(Digital Team)

Gwynant maxwell
24 December 2019, 12:39
I think iv got a metior ? It’s heavy and not metallic iv had it tested and came back inconclusive what does that mean is it or not . Black in colour and verry hard and heavy iv tryed drilling but masonry bit seam to perish upon contact what have I got ?
Dan davies
19 April 2019, 21:53
I was visting the beach down barry island in south wales when i came across an odd looking rock its black in colour with white clusters and rust looking colour too its smooth to hand i took it home and had a look on thr internet and it came up meteorite

I have done the magnet test its stuck
Weighed the density of the rock
How do i come about getting it checked out ??
Tom Cotterell Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
3 April 2018, 08:29

Hi Steve,

If you would like me to take a look at it you can always bring it in to National Museum Cardiff. If it is almost impossible to break then it sounds like it could be something manmade, but I would have to see it in person to provide you with an accurate identification.

Kind Regards,

Tom
Senior Curator, Mineralogy

Sara Huws Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
26 March 2018, 10:18

Hi there Steve

Sounds intriguing! I'm going to pass on your message to one of our Curators, who will be able to give you advice on how to identify your rock.

Best wishes

Sara
Digital Team

Steve hawker
23 March 2018, 16:35
I was taking the garden last year to put some shrubs in anyway my speed hit this rock I pulled it from the ground and it's really heavy so I wondered what it was I've tried an electric grinder to cut into it and a proof of lead I've tried a soul it made this all Blunt I've tried to burn it it won't shut your break I've hit it with a hammer that just made a dent in a concrete underneath the stone I wonder if you're interested in trying to find out what it is it looks like a rock but it's not I just can't seem to break it with any machine or Hammer that I've got

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