‘Organised’ thieves steal museum’s space rocks

THIEVES stole the East London Museum’s entire meteorite collection when they broke in during the early hours of yesterday.

The seven meteorites had an estimated combined value of over R1-million, although they would only be worth this to a collector. Some of the iron and nickel-containing space rocks are believed to have crashed into earth as early as 1934.

When the Dispatch arrived at the scene police were gathering evidence and inspecting damage, although it was business as usual for the museum as schoolchildren arrived for a tour.

Pieces of broken glass lay next to the case that housed the meteorites – and so did a hammer, which Smit thinks was used to break the case.

Outside, police were brushing for fingerprints from other items apparently left by the thieves, which included a backpack, a torch and two pairs of pliers.

Smit said he did not think ordinary criminals were responsible for the break-in.

“This was an organised crime. Even the tools look expensive.

“The person behind this knows a great deal about antiques and collectables. Your ordinary thief looking to score a quick buck would not know what a meteorite is or what it is worth – it just looks like a piece of burnt rock,” he said. “They would have taken the TV or something else that would be easily sold.”

Cole said the meteorites were only of value to a dedicated collector and the gram value of the rocks varied according to the abundance or scarcity of a registered meteorite.

“The largest weighs about 20kg and the remainder are smaller meteorites varying between 60g and 818g,” he said.

Of the stolen meteorites, two were from Namibia, the rest from Zambia, Russia, Lesotho and north west Africa. All represented the three meteorite classification types – irons, stones and stony-irons.

Cole said BCM could clean the open space at the Oxford Street entrance to the museum.

The overgrown vegetation was a source of concern as it was an ideal hiding place for criminals.

East London police spokesman Captain Stephen Marais said a housebreaking and theft case was being investigated. — ziphon@dispatch.co.za

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