Ten meters in front of our Land Cruiser, a small speck of stone, merely the size of a hazelnut, catches Souleymane’s attention. At first sight this pebble has no affinty to the meteorites I know from the museum cabinets. It is neither smoothed from its fiery passage through Earth’s atmoshere nor is it abladed by blowing sands or crusted with desert varnish like our previuos finds. Nevertheless there are fine grains of metal embedded in its charcoal colored matrix. And the grain lumps are strikingly uncommon for any terrestrial rock, at least the ones I am familiar with. “A thunderstone?” Souleymane asks. “Inschallah”, “so God will”, Aoutchiki answers.
A month later, during the analysis in Hamburg, we will find out that we found a fragment of the famous Tafassasset primitive achondrite. Despite minor terrestrial oxidation, the metorite dating 4.5 billion years contains almost unaltered matter of the presolar nebulae. As a witness of the birth of our solar system it throws light on the genesis of our world.
Cut surface of the Taffassasset meteorite. Green crystals are diopside. Tafassasset has been linked to both the CR chondrites and the primitive achondrites. According to Gardner-Vandy etl al., Tafassasset is a primitive achondrite and likely evolved on a parent body that experienced incomplete melting, and never reached isotopic homogeneity, and was from the same oxygen isotopic reservoir as the CR chondrite parent body
At the day of our return to Agadez, a tall Tuareg who camps in the dunes outside the city visits me. He is well informed about our mission. News spread quickly among the desert nomads. He introduces himself as Abu Selima and wants to serve us as a guide to a very special place. What he reports reminds me on the chimerical story of Emir Mûsa’s quest for the City of Brass. A legend from the Book of Treasures, which must be considered among the most inspiring expedition reports ever written. Abu Selima embellishes his story well and truly, but the landmarks he mentions, especially his naive geologial descriptions of them, rouses our curiousity. We encourage him to continue.
“Peace be on thee, O Sidi. I know what you came here for, so you may listen what I have to tell you O Sidi. In the caravansaries across Fachi the Tibbu tell of a place none of the unbelievers has ever got to see. It’s the Mesa of the Thunderstones, Inschallah you may have heard of it. Many have tried to get there but Al Dschumdschab, the glooming breath oft the Erg has devoured them all. Death hath come upon them; and Allah is the terminator of delights and the separator of companions and the devastator of flourishing dwellings; so He hath transported them from the comfort of their homes to the dust of the graves. Their bones parch in the valleys of the Great Sand Sea while far away in their countries their mansions are void of their presence. As Dschinns they stray through the desert and shall find no rest. But you are young and strong O Sidi, together with me you can dare the challenge. Inschallah my people will recall your name still in a hundred years and those who went with you will know you as “Abu Teckak”, “The Father of Thunderstones”. We will cross the desert and climb the mesa of thunderstones, and your rejoicing will be great when we load our camels with the black thunderstones – Allah to whom be ascribed might and glory be my witness.”
Even though Abu Selima’s information will barely withtstand a verification by proper sciences, he receives an engagement for next year’s expedition. Not because he promises me a Mehari, a white Taureg camel, for the journey. But rather because there is something of the lost myth of the Sahara with him that most of his enterprising colleages lack.
The French aviator and poet Saint-Exupéry knew what he was talking about when he said, the magic of the desert ended with the invasion of civilization:
“We lived from the magic of the sand, others will come and drill oil wells in it to enrich with bargain. But they all come too late. The forbidden palm woods, the untouched white sands gave us their best. The Sahara had only one holy hour of elevation to offer and we have experienced it. “