Before we embarked on our journey to Denmark, Andi Gren and I were aware of the Danekrae, the Danish law governing meteorites and other objects of natural History. According to the law introduced in 1989, meteorites discovered in Denmark are dispossessed of the finder and considered property of the Danish state a priori. For us, this meant that, even if we succeeded, it was doubtful whether we would be able to keep any of the material discovered. In compliance with the Danekrae, and quite curious how this cooperation would work out, we handed our find to Dr. Daniel Wielandt of Naturhistorikse Museum on Sunday, February 14.
In the case of other objects of scientific and museal interest, such as fossils and minerals, the Danish government reportedly handled individual cases foresighted and with a quite liberal approach: In many cases, natural objects had been returned to the finders after it was decided that national Danish collections already kept specimens of equal quality and that further scientific research could be conducted without a need for additional specimens.
With meteorites, there had only been one precedent in the past: The case of the Maribo / Lolland meteorite, discovered by German Thomas Grau. This Meteorite fall had, however, consisted of a single individual only. The meteorite was therefore received by the government and a reward was paid to the finder.
Ejby is difficult to compare, as numerous fragments and individuals have been recovered and handed over to Naturhistorikse Museum Denmark, there is already sufficient material for research and exhibition available. Modern chemical, petrographic and isotopic meteorite research can be undertaken with very little sample material and many methods even work destruction free. Museums can exhibit a limited number of specimens only. Given a total mass of ~ 7 kg, there might be hope after all, that finders like us, who prefer meteoritic material over a financial “reward”, eventually are able to keep their discoveries, or at least are compensated with material from other recovered masses of the same fall.
It remains to be seen, how the Danish government handles the issue in the present case. Without doubt, its verdict will have a strong signal effect to the international meteorite community. Given the skill, time, money and effort that is necessary for the purposeful and timely recovery of meteorite falls, any compensation that fails to honour the finder’s engagement appropriately, will severely affect the willingness of future finders to cooperate with the national institutions and hand over their finds.
Meteorite recovery is only effective as a collaborative effort of both private individuals and institutions. Institutions alone, rarely have the manpower, capacity, funding and flexibility to field effective recovery campaigns on short notice, as required with meteorite falls. Thus, in the case of meteorite falls, professional researchers are dependant on the cooperation with amateurs and the public. The application of the Danekrae in the case of the Herlev / Ejby meteorite fall will become a litmus test whether the law in place is sufficiently flexible and foresighted to advance this cooperation in the future. As finders concerned, we hope that the decision will benefit the interests of both, privately funded meteorite enthusiasts and public institutions alike. We will report here, how the case ends.