Monday, May 26, 2008

'Space metal' pistols raise questions

The BBC reports that a pair of historic pistols are raising all sorts of interesting questions.

They were a gift to President Madison (fourth President of the USA, 1809-1817) from General Ignacio Alvarez Thomas of Argentina.

The intricately decorated guns were said to have been forged from the iron of a fallen meteorite.

They were a unique gift from the commander of a South American region, which would later become Argentina, to the fourth US president, James Madison.

"Permit me therefore to present to your Excellency... a specimen of the first essays of the manufacture of arms established in the provinces of Buenos Ayres and Tucuman," wrote General Ignacio Alvarez in an accompanying 14-page letter.

Over time, they passed into the hands of Madison's successor - James Monroe - and are now on display at a museum dedicated to him.

Scientists have recently subjected the pistols to a battery of tests to determine whether the story of their origin is correct - and found that they're not made of meteoritic metal after all. Moreover, the intricately decorated handles aren't made of silver, but of an alloy unique to that part of South America at the time. Also, the pistols proved to be fully functioning weapons, not the decorative imitations they'd been presumed to be for so long.

"It brings up all kinds of questions," said Ms Budinger.

"What exactly was General Alvarez's motivation? He wrote this very flowery letter saying how much he admired the United States and how much he admired Madison but then he gives them a gift that was not where he said it was from and it was made from cheaper materials."

There is a possibility that the General was duped - that he was told the pistols were made of meteoritic iron and gifted them in good faith.

"He may not have known what he was giving to Madison - at the time there would have been no way to prove it one way or the other," said Ms Budinger.

The partially solved mystery could stop there; but the research team have one further avenue to explore.

A third pistol is mentioned in General Alvarez's letter that was also supposedly forged from Campo del Cielo iron.

"We're trying to track that down," explained Ms Budinger.

If it is located and can be put through the same battery of tests as the first pair it could finally give historians clues to the real origin of the pistols.

"If it looks exactly the same that tells us that all three pistols were manufactured by the same person and that either General Alverez was duped or that it means he was lying and that none of the pistols were made from the Campo del Cielo crater.

"If the third pistol is different entirely then I think we have fairly good evidence that our pistols may not be the Madison pistols at all," said Ms Budinger

"In which case it's a whole new mystery."

I'll look forward to hearing the results of the investigations.



Anonymous said...

meteoric iron high in nickel content was widely used in the forging of Indonesian kris- etched with acid it revealed the laminates between the nickel iron and mild steel used in the blades- lovely wood grain like structures.

Dont Recall said...

Or .... in the black world where nothing is ever as it seems, the US Gov't discovered these pistols were in fact made from outer space rock and removed them to "Area 51" with the rest of the loot. Then substituted fakes for public consumption. Well? One theory's as good as another ....... and more fun, too.