May 14, 2011
Photograph Credit: American Museum of Natural History/D. Finnin
Summary Author: Michael Walker
The Willamette Meteorite, featured above, is one of the treasures of the American Museum of Natural History’s permanent collection. Visitors are able to see and touch this 15.5 ton (14.1 metric ton) remnant of the ancient cosmos -- the largest meteorite ever found in the U.S. It’s thought to be the iron-nickel core of a planet or moon that was shattered in a stellar collision more than a billion years ago. It crashed into the Earth thousands of years ago, traveling at more than 40,000 mph (64,374 km/h). The Museum purchased the Willamette Meteorite in 1906 and since then it’s been on almost continuous display and viewed by millions of visitors from around the world.
Known as "Tomanowos" to the Clackamas Chinook people, who lived in the Willamette Valley of Oregon before the arrival of European settlers, the Willamette Meteorite is revered by the Clackamas and their descendants as a sacred object. According to tribal legend, Tomanowos was sent to Earth as a representative of the “Sky People,” exemplifying a union of sky, earth and water with power to heal and empower the people of the valley. Today, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, a federally recognized Indian tribe, is the successor to the Clackamas. Through a historic agreement between the museum and the tribe, the tribe continues its special relationship with the meteorite through annual ceremonial visits.
Thanks to Chris L. Grohusko for his help with this.