World’s Largest Known Meteorite Carving Comes to Auction

The Gibeon meteorite fell in Africa during prehistoric times.

Lee Downey, Yorick. Photo: courtesy Bonhams.
Lee Downey, Yorick. Photo: courtesy Bonhams.

A sparkling, life-size skull on offer at Bonhams Los Angeles this month could be the largest carving ever made from a meteorite. The handiwork of artist Lee Downey, the 46.5-pound skull, titled Yorick, is carved from an iron-based Gibeon meteorite that crashed to earth in Namibia, Africa, some 1,000 years ago.

The skull, which is estimated to sell for between $300,000–400,000, is part of Bonhams’ November 24 “Lapidary Works of Art, Gemstones and Minerals” sale. Only one in seven meteorites are made of iron, and the condition of this particular specimen is exceptional, free of pitting or cracks, according to the auction house.

Lee Downey, Yorick. Photo: courtesy Bonhams.

Lee Downey, Yorick.
Photo: courtesy Bonhams.

Gibeon meteorites are thought to be from the core of an unstable planet that once orbited between Mars and Jupiter, the remains of which are now part of the asteroid belt. The coppery colored slash on the forehead of the skull is a large, rare tridymite inclusion only discovered once Downey cut the original specimen—which weighed over 615 pounds—to its current size.

Downey called the skull “a symbol of death, of eternity, of immortality, of demise and rebirth.” He added: “Of any material I could think of to fashion an accurate human skull out of, this Gibeon meteorite best embodies the ‘mystery’ most acutely.” Yorick is named for the deceased court jester in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, whose skull is exhumed by a grave digger.

Lee Downey, Yorick (detail). Photo: courtesy Bonhams.

Lee Downey, Yorick (detail).
Photo: courtesy Bonhams.

The striking striations on the sculpture, revealed after an acid-etching bath, are the mark of the metal’s journey through space, as the molten core slowly cooled during a four billion-year journey to earth. The octahedral crystalline structure, called a “Widmanstätten pattern,” is impossible to replicate on earth—crystallized iron is literally out of this world.

“I call him ‘The Traveler’… a true time traveler,” said Downey of his sculpture. “Coming in from the asteroid belt, 4 billion years old and counting… crossing over and crystallizing in the pure vacuum of space… then crashing onto the face of earth… collected by tribesmen in Africa… lavishly transformed by human hands… into a thing of exquisitely rare beauty.”

Lee Downey’s Yorick will be for sale in “Lapidary Works of Art, Gemstones and Minerals” at Bonhams Los Angeles on November 24. 


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