In the early morning of October 22 and in the shape of a press release of the official Mauritanian press agency Agence Mauritanienne d’Information, the first official statement on the meteorite fall was issued. The ten line report was headlined “Chute d’un corps lumineux aux environs de la ville de Basseknou” or “Fall of a luminous body in the area of the village of Basseknou”. This report was multiplied also by several radio stations via short wave the same evening.
After the broadcasting of the report the editorial department of the AMI was flooded with calls of locals who requested additional information on the event. These callers were told that a government investigation is proceeding. Via the Mauritanian embassy in Berlin the authors tried to learn more about this investigation and offered to share their sources and the information obtained. Until present the Mauritanian embassy did not reply.
Three days after the first press release on October 25, the very same report with the omission of three words only was published in Horizons which is the leading Mauritanian newspaper based in Nouakchott. A teaser on the title page announced “BASSIKNOU : Chute d’un corps lumineux”. The article mentions the fireball of October 16, the observations from the Dhar al Nema area and the recovery of material through the Army on the morning of October 16. It also claims that parts of the impacting meteorite produced a large chasm in which remains of the meteorite have been found as well.
As expected no confirmation on this particular impact structure could be obtained from the author’s communication with locals in Bassikounou and the surrounding area. It must be assumed that the chasm mentioned was a geologic or artificial structure prior to the meteorite fall and that meteorite fragments fell on it coincidentally.
Travellers passing through the area learned that an impact pit was found from which fragments of a total weight of 10kg have been recovered. Because it was also reported that the Army visited this location and excavated another 300 g it is possible that the chasm mentioned above was in fact this impact pit.
It might as well be assumed that the original report to Agence Mauritanienne d’Information was already affected by local superstition and imagination. Many of the eyewitnesses interviewed claimed divine or satanic activity responsible for the event and more than once the “upcoming doomsday” or the “opening of the earth’s surface” and the “gates of hell” were brought in correlation with the meteorite fall.
Recovery of the masses
In the early morning after the fall detachments of the Mauritanian Army stationed at the nearby border to Mali arrived at the stage and seized an unknown number of meteorites collected by the locals. This happened at Umm Sdeira and in a number of settlements along the southern piste from Umm Sdeira to Bassikounou. It is most likely that these detachments did collect meteorites as well. After the news of the black stones that fell from the skies had spread people arrived as far as from Koussana to search for them.
Neither the locals nor the Army kept records on the find locations of the masses collected. Adherent soil and mass distribution are therefore the only indications for a reconstruction of the distribution pattern and the relative find positions within the strewn field.
The locals in the strewn field area soon started to market their cosmic harvest: “I was in Bassiknou city during the meteorite fall last year, but a friend of mine brought to me some fragments of the rocks that rained down that night. At this time they were already being sold to tourists. The majority of the pieces I saw were absolutely black and only few were colourful. When you look carefully at them you will find out that they are not normal stones”, Mohamed, the Imam of the Bassiknou mosque explained.
In a distance of 18.5 kilometres north-east of Bassikounou is the well Mousdéré or “Oume, “Oum” or “Umm Sdeira” in Arab. At the time of the fall a number of temporary nomad camps were spread around the well. Residents of these camps told the author’s correspondent Mohamed Yahya that they were alarmed by the fireballs and a deafening series of thunders that made the ground shake. Then they heard a hissing sound and several masses impacting in the closer surrounding with sudden thuds. Fortunately no one got injured. “In the early morning at about 06:00 AM they hurried to the direction of the impact sounds and found several remains of the meteorite that fell apart along the village.”
At the same day, at 13:00 hrs, local resident Mr. Ahmed Salem El Moichine found a single stone of 3165 gm 11 km south-east of Bassikounou. Coordinates for this find location are given with 15° 47’ N 5° 54’ W. Both points, Umm Sdeira and the find location of the El Moichine mass suggest a strewn field axis of 210° in south by south-westerly orientation. The find location of the El Moichine mass plots in an area with red sandstone bedrock which explains the distinct red-orange impact marks on this mass.
Because at least four larger masses than the EL Moichine mass have been recovered, one must assume that the strewn field expands well beyond the find location of the 3.165 kg mass. As no further find coordinates have been reported one can say that the strewn field axis extends over a minimum distance of 23 kilometres.