The Search for Siberian Meteorite Craters

By Roy A. Gallant
240 pages, 6 1/4 by 9 1/4 inches, hard cover
Numerous black & white photographs
Published, 2002  Out-of-print

ISBN 0-07-137224-5

Book review by Geoffrey Notkin
(Originally published in "Meteorite" magazine)

Veteran Meteorite readers will already be familiar with the work of author, astronomer, and adventurer Roy A. Gallant — often described as “The Indiana Jones of Astronomy.” A frequent contributor since the magazine’s inception, Roy’s account of his journey to Tunguska was the cover story for the very first issue in 1995. With back issues of the magazine now largely out-of-print and sought-after by collectors, Roy’s latest book: Meteorite Hunter: The Search for Siberian Meteorite Craters, is a welcome arrival. Its eight chapters consist, in large part, of expanded versions of Roy’s previously published articles.

A consummate writer/adventurer, Roy ranges across the magnificent expanse of Siberia, examining vast impact craters and forgotten strewn fields, pulling iron meteorites out of freezing mountain streams, and peppering it all with his observations of, and commentary upon, the land, its people, and its history. I was lucky enough to participate in Roy’s 1999 expedition to the Pogigai crater in Siberia (recounted in Chapter 6), and observed his enthusiasm and relentless energy first hand — two traits with which his writing is infused.

The colorful characters who accompany Roy on his missions: Chief of Staff and translator Katya Rossovskaya, and eminent Russian astronomer and meteorite hunter Valentin Tsvetkov, for example, are well described. Along with them, we encounter a cavalcade of wandering geologists, Russian soldiers, hardened farmers and loggers eking out a living on the Tundra, nomadic Tungus who still relate folk tales of the 1908 explosion, a voracious dog named Bill Clinton, and the Mayor of Kulcheck who is astonished by the arrival of an American in “his territory” — the first such visitor in living memory.

Roy works details of rural life into the stories, but also finds time to comment upon Chekhov, Pliny, physicist Ernst Chladni, and where to get the best deal on red caviar. However, it’s in the descriptions of the actual hunt that the book really shines. During arduous forays to Chinge, Sikhote-Alin, Tsarev, and other sites, a combination of good research, luck, and perseverance pays off with some impressive meteorite finds, but harsh weather, wild animals, and rough terrain must be dealt with, as well as other unexpected encounters:

“‘This has to be the end of the world,’ I say to Katya as I climb down onto our damp oasis. ‘I want to see the tiger,’ she says peering through the trees. Moments later we are greeted by a Russian man and woman who are startled to see us. The night before, Alexander told us that a party of seven meteorite ‘pirates’ was at the site [Sikhote-Alin] and had been there for three weeks. The woman cook quickly begins banging on an anvil that resounds through the forest. One by one, the other ‘pirates’ appear and eye us silently and suspiciously. They are dressed mostly in military garb, and each carries a heavy and cumbersome metal detector.”

A discussion of advances in the understanding of strewn fields — through the work of Krinov and Tsvetkov at Sikhote-Alin — will be of interest to the specialist, while an introduction to the main types of meteorites is illuminating for the casual reader. Fellow adventurers, as well as those who prefer the comfort of their homes to the buzz of angry Siberian mosquitoes, will enjoy this fine addition to both the literature of meteorite history, and adventure travel.

This review originally appeared in Meteorite magazine and is © by Pallasite Press.
Reprinted by kind permission of the publisher.