We’ve seen meteorite knives, and meteorite swords, but here’s a new one: a space-rock skull is up for sale at Los Angeles’ Bonhams auction house. The sculpture was carved by Bali-based artist Lee Downey from a hulking 105 pound (47.6 kg) chunk of the Gibeon Meteorite, which was found in Namibia in 1836.
Despite reports that the piece is made from “one of the rarest” forms of meteorite found on Earth, some 25 tons of Gibeon space rocks have been recovered to date. And while specimens can no longer be exported from Namibia, it’s still one of the most commonly available meteorites on the market. Before you start reaching for your Benjamins, you should know that you’ll need a lot of them. Four-billion-year-old celestial objects don’t come cheap, rare or not. We estimate that the original piece the skull was cut from would have fetched somewhere around $150,000.
Gibeon meteorites are typically composed of iron, nickel and small amounts of cobalt, but every so often, other minerals make their way into the mix. These inclusions can increase the piece’s value, and as you can see in the photos, Downey’s skull, dubbed “Yorick” after the fictional character in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” has one just above the right eye. The yellow-orange stripe is a block of tridymite, a morph of silica (glass) that forms when the element fuses at high temperatures.
Speaking of temperature, you’ve no-doubt noticed those beautiful lines running across the skull. That crystalline pattern, known as the Widmanstatten pattern, is characteristic of meteorites that have cooled over millions of years in the vacuum of space. By brushing the skull in a nitric acid wash, Downey was able to tease the pattern out – much in the same way that Bourdain did with his space knife.
Source: Jim H./Flickr
So, which is better? A piece of space-rock art or an original meteorite? This is largely subjective. We’ve been carving meteorites for thousands of years. In fact, the Egyptians even used the cosmological treasures to make jewelry. I personally prefer to see specimens left intact, but to Downey, the carving represents “the human aspiration to comprehend the mysteries of the universe.”
Check out more amazing images of the skull in the gallery below.