No artistic representation, the Gibeon Meteorite Fountain sculpture is comprised of genuine lumps of iron-rich meteorite from what is thought to have been the largest meteor shower ever to have hit the planet, some six hundred million years ago. It was named after the place in southern Namibia where the meteors fell, covering an area around 13,000 square kilometres. Although Nama populations had been fashioning tools and weapons out of the extra-terrestrial rocks for many years, it took the “discovery” by a British explorer, James Alexander, in 1838, and subsequent tests by a London chemist, to determine the meteoric origin of the samples. More than 25 tonnes and 120 specimens have been recorded over the years, ranging from a tonne to several grams in weight. After being displayed in the Zoo Park for many years, 33 meteorite fragments were put into temporary storage in the Alte Feste in 1975, prior to their installation in Post Street Mall. Two lumps went missing, however, and a third was swiped from the sculpture once in place – their three empty plinths still stand forlornly alongside the other 30 specimens on display. Other pieces of the meteorite are displayed in the National Earth Science Museum.

Despite the Namibian government’s 2004 ban on the removal of any meteorite material from its site, and the threat of a hefty fine, pieces continue to make their way out of the country. Some end up in museums, others in private hands, which is no great surprise as meteorite smuggling is big business. Large chunks of Gibeon meteorite can fetch several thousand dollars, which a quick look at eBay can confirm. In 2016, an 81kg lump was put up for auction at Christie’s, in London, with an estimated US$230,000–380,000 price tag. The notion of wearing a bit of outer space on the finger or round the neck has also made Gibeon meteorite jewellery very popular, especially since an attractive lattice-like patterning – known as Widmanstätten – stands out once the stone has been cut, polished and acid etched. One of the more extraordinary Gibeon meteorite products, however, which failed to sell at auction in 2015, is a life-sized sculpted human skull known as “Yorick”.

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