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The Worship of Meteorites in Ancient Cultures

Updated on May 28, 2017
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Shards of clear, natural glass lie scattered throughout the desert near the Dakhla Oasis in Western Egypt - their origins a mystery until a chemical analysis determined that the substance was forged by temperatures so high, there could only be one explanation: meteorites.

Around 100,000 years ago, the area would have borne a closer resemblance to the African savannah than the desert landscape it does now. The impact of the meteorite would have exterminated all life for several miles, including any human settlements unlucky enough to be caught in the blast.

One can only imagine how nearby Stone Age inhabitants might have reacted to such raw power plummeting down from the heavens. Centuries later, as civilizations begin to emerge; there's less of a need for us to 'imagine' their reactions, as the reverence they had for meteorites is clear from the records they left behind.

Libyan Desert Glass: Believed to be the result of meteorite impact
Libyan Desert Glass: Believed to be the result of meteorite impact | Source

Star Metal

There's evidence to suggest that Ancient Mediterranean cultures believed iron came from above rather than below. In fact, the Old Kingdom Egyptians may have forged their first iron implements using materials harvested from fallen meteorites.

This theory is supported by the high levels of nickel present in these implements; a characteristic of products derived from meteoric ore. Furthermore, the Egyptian word for iron (Bja) is the same word they used to describe the material they thought the heavens to be made of. The Pharaoh – a god made flash - was decreed by Egyptian texts to be made of iron and “imperishable stars”.

One such Egyptian artefact believed to have been derived from meteoric substance is the mysterious Benben stone, which was held within the Temple of Ra at the city of Heliopolis. Plato wrote that the priests of Heliopolis – caretakers of the Benben stone – were masters of astronomy, with knowledge gleaned from 10,000 years of observing the stars.

This stone was of immense cultural significance to the Egyptians. In fact, it was the basis for the design of their pyramids. Ancient Egyptian traditions held that the stone marked the spot where the first rays of the sun ever fell; and that anyone who approached it could receive powerful visions, or be driven insane if they did not have divine protection (which, of course, could only be provided by the priests).

The Obelisk of Hatshepsut: Believed to be modelled on the mythical Benben Stone
The Obelisk of Hatshepsut: Believed to be modelled on the mythical Benben Stone | Source

The Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaton was said to be obsessed with the Benben stone. Perhaps he believed it to be the source of the conviction that drove him to abolish the traditional pantheon of Egyptian gods, and decree that from thenceforth the people of Egypt would worship only one god, named 'Aten' (sun disc).

This makes Akhenaton's regime the earliest recorded case of monotheism as a state religion, though it didn't last long. Upon his death, the priesthood promptly restored the old ways, and claimed that the stone had not given the pharaoh insight, but rather driven him to madness and heresy.

Inuit Lance with a Head Forged from Meteorite Iron
Inuit Lance with a Head Forged from Meteorite Iron | Source
“Scarface” Statuette of an Anthropomorphic Dragon-Snake: Discovered in Iran. Head is circled by a band of meteoritic iron
“Scarface” Statuette of an Anthropomorphic Dragon-Snake: Discovered in Iran. Head is circled by a band of meteoritic iron | Source

Sacred Stones

The Benben stone is not the only rock to have earned the worship of an ancient culture by falling from the sky. A stone in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi was said to have been cast down by Cronos - father of Zeus; and followers of the goddess Diana claimed that her temple also held a gift sent down from above.

Native American tribes about to embark on a hunt would ritually dip their spears in the pools of water that had gathered on the surface of the Willamette Meteorite (the 6th largest meteorite in the world); and a 250 pound meteorite was discovered at an ancient druidic burial site near Stonehenge, where it had probably been unearthed by druids searching for materials to use in the construction of their monuments.

One of the Kaali Craters: formed between 4,000 and 7,500 Years ago. A sacred lake in regional folklore, and may have been used for ritual sacrifice
One of the Kaali Craters: formed between 4,000 and 7,500 Years ago. A sacred lake in regional folklore, and may have been used for ritual sacrifice | Source

Hitler's obsession with the occult led him to try to acquire the Benben stone. He failed, though he did manage to obtain a religious artifact similarly derived from meteoric material. In 1938, the Nazis discovered a Buddhist statue of the god Vaisravana - guardian of the north, and chief of the four heavenly kings.

The statue is 1000 years old, and was forged from the remnants of a meteorite that landed between Mongolia and Siberia 15,000 years ago. No doubt the Nazis were enamored with the swastika branded on its center, though the symbol would have meant something entirely different to the statue's creators. Now associated with the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime; the origins of the swastika go back at least as far as Ancient India, where it signified the pursuit of the higher self, enlightenment and eternity.

The Hoba Meteorite: Largest known meteorite found on Earth, and the largest naturally occurring mass of iron found on Earth
The Hoba Meteorite: Largest known meteorite found on Earth, and the largest naturally occurring mass of iron found on Earth | Source

Ancient cultures would naturally have held anything that fell from the heavens in high esteem, and it certainly helps that meteorites were their first source of precious iron - a substance that would later play a critical role in human advancement.

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    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 2 years ago from Essex, UK

      Interesting Darryk, and I'm sure you're right about much of this. Anything associated with the heavens would have been a source of magical awe for ancient civilisations - be it thunder and lightning, comets, eclipses and the movement of the planets, and indeed meteors and meteorites. The idea of an object coming from the realm of the Gods and striking the Earth would clearly have held great religious significance in many cultures.

      No doubt such as event may have had an impact on cultural developments even greater than the impact it made on the surface of the Earth!

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