Iron from the Sky
When Robert’s meteorite hunting career first began, his fascination with historic witnessed falls led to the incorporation of the Egyptian hieroglyph that means “iron from the sky.” It is one of the oldest recorded references to the fall of meteorites having been witnessed by humans, and Iron From The Sky became the name for his website and even his private collection itself.
Robert has been to the pyramids at Giza and has long been fascinated with the Egyptian culture and hieroglyphic symbology. That such a symbol was developed in the first place is an indication of the significance these events must have had to the Egyptians, and symbols from other early civilizations indicate the same importance. Looking ahead, Robert believes that the fall of meteorites is likely to have an even larger impact on the path humankind will take through modern science than such events had on religion and other beliefs in ancient cultures.
This article, published a few years ago in METEORITE! Magazine, tells the story of Roberts fascination with meteorites from the earliest days and includes some adventures he experienced hunting for meteorites over the years. We thought it would also make for a thorough About page for Iron from the Sky.
Iron from the Sky, by Dave Gheesling
Published in METEORITE! magazine, August 2009
A PERFECT “10”
On the evening of November 18, 1989, a boy witnessed an epic fireball from his driveway in Bullhead City, Arizona, on his 13th birthday. In nearly vertical flight and westward from his perspective, the fireball first had a short tail, then the plasma dissipated and soon young Robert Ward was watching a cherry-red object fade to solid black as it flew through the sky against a California sunset.
He went to the local library the next day and checked out Harvey Nininger’s Find A Falling Star – a book he’d check out again so many times in the coming months and years that the library card became fully stamped on both sides, even though he was the only reader of that copy. Similar to the case of Nininger’s own first encounter with a fireball some six decades earlier, Ward was never able to determine which side of the mountain range on the horizon was impacted by this flying rock from outer space. But the hook was set, and what would become a most remarkable meteorite hunting career had been rolled out to the launch pad for countdown.
Ward’s family then had a long tradition of visiting an annual mineral and gem show in Quartzsite, Arizona, and on his next trip there he met local treasure hunters Pieter Heydelaar and Debra Morrissette. Ward fondly recalls Heydelaar’s kindness, as he was more than willing to put up with the litany of “dumb questions” and subsequently sold Ward his first meteorite. There would be many more acquisitions to come from Heydelaar, and soon Ward was buying meteorites from Bob Haag in Tucson as well.
As the son of a big game hunter – and a quite successful big game hunter himself (his home in Prescott, Arizona, in fact looks more like an exotic zoo frozen in time than a house) – merely buying meteorites would soon not be enough for Ward. In the late 1980s, he actually found his first meteorite and started building a collection of incredible personal recoveries which is now fast approaching some 500 locations and many thousands of individual specimens.
JUST OUTSIDE THE COIL
I find it remarkable that while his contributions to the world of meteorites are already innumerable, Robert Ward is not yet exactly a household name throughout the international meteorite community. Though this will no doubt change in due time, the explanation is quite simple: Ward is the antithesis of a shameless self-promoter. While many (albeit certainly not all) hunters in the meteorite arena are in it for profit and/or exposure, he hunts and collects meteorites for one reason: he loves it. He is probably one of the best-kept secrets in all of meteorites, and he is right now living one of the most exciting stories yet to be told in the field.
Every person should be so lucky as to find his or her life’s calling in the way Ward has, and perhaps this is in part why he is one of the kindest, most easy going and humble human beings anyone could ever have the pleasure of meeting. Ward has never been even remotely concerned about plaques and accolades for his achievements, and his enthusiasm, passion and infectious laugh are beyond catching. I was fortunate enough to meet him purely by chance while visiting with Bob Haag in Tucson not so very long ago, and a terrific friendship for which I’m most grateful has been unfolding ever since.
My first meteorite find came under the guidance of Ward on a hunt in Arizona, and we’ve now been hunting together on several occasions. It is interesting to note that he is genuinely and completely excited about every meteorite find regardless of who actually recovered it (and, therefore, gets to keep the piece); again, it’s the experience and not the money that drives Ward. I hope not to offend anyone in writing this, but I can’t imagine there is a more complete meteorite hunter on the planet. He has incredible tenacity, immeasurable enthusiasm, the stamina of youth (and the drive to hunt areas which would give pause to a mountain goat), a broad and deep knowledge base, and is extremely creative in implementing what has become a suite of resources at his disposal (from time to time he even invents new tools and methods altogether).
Ward has already achieved a lifetime of successes, yet he has many decades ahead of him to accomplish much more. To have the passion that Ward has for meteorites and to have connected so successfully with active participation in that field would be a most incredible gift to anyone in ANY field whatsoever. Of course, by virtue of his humble nature, Ward would never say any of these things about himself; in fact, he would probably dispense with much of it altogether.
IN THE FIELD
His considerable catalog of recoveries features specimens as “small” as Dhofar 1428, a 213 gram lunar meteorite he found in Oman, to a huge 500 pound Muonionalusta individual he found using equipment he modified himself in Sweden. The list runs the gamut in between and is far too long to detail here, but suffice it to say he’s already seen most of his home planet in a wildly successful pursuit of fragments from other worlds.
It seems like every time I speak with Ward when he isn’t hunting in the field somewhere, all he can talk about is how he’s “itching to get back in the field.” Best I can tell, it seems to take somewhere between five and seven minutes for the phenomenon of this itch to develop upon his return from an expedition. Having given up big game animal hunting for the more elusive arena of big game meteorites, the field is where Ward is happiest. It is where he belongs.
I asked Ward what it is about meteorite hunting that inspires him to dedicate much of his life to such an endeavor, and he replied, “The drive and thrill that comes from knowing that right now something is travelling at 20,000 miles per hour towards Earth and that we might find it is indescribable.” He added, “An unbelievable chain of events in recent years has led to the recovery of so many wonderful witnessed falls, and I’ve been thrilled to have been part of it. My life’s dream has already come true many times over.”
It is more the rule than an exception that his name appears in headlines related to witnessed fall recoveries across the globe. Think of Moss, Carancas, Cali, and Puerto Lapice, of late and just to name a handful – and this omits countless finds from known strewn fields all over Earth. Another gift Ward receives from his tedious and persistent efforts is the benefit science derives from it. “Seeing the fruits of the research done on my finds is extremely rewarding,” he notes with a great sense of pride. Realizing what too few in the field today understand, Ward places “preservation of priceless material” above all other priorities.
NOT THE END, BUT THE BEGINNING
Ward’s long-term goal with meteorites is “educating people to hunt for and recognize meteorites in the field, and thereby to expand the science of meteoritics and our understanding of the solar system.” Along the way he wants to continue building what is already one of the most fascinating private meteorite collections in the world with the aim of finding a way to keep it intact such that future generations might be inspired by it.
It has been the highest honor to write this story about Robert Ward, and it is with great anticipation that I await stories of many, many successful recoveries in his future. In the meantime, check out www.ironfromthesky.com to read more about the adventures of Robert Ward and to see some of his absolutely amazing – and for the most part self-acquired – collection of meteorites.