Wasson has recently expressed his views about ways to ‘optimize both the scientific and exhibit value’ of the Old Woman meteorite (Eos, 60 (28), July 10, 1979). This is a question that we at the Smithsonian Institution have had under active consideration for many months. I would like to answer his criticism of our plan by briefly describing the decision-making process and outlining a little of the scientific and curatorial thinking behind it.
The meteorite was found by two prospectors in 1976 in the Old Woman Mountains of Southern California. It was accessioned into the collections of the National Museum of Natural History in December of 1976 and arrived in Washington in March of 1978. Before and after its arrival, the meteorite was the subject of protracted litigation in the federal courts—which continues to this day—and of substantial political controversy abundantly discussed through the press. In late September of 1978, the way seemed clear to proceed with the study of the meteorite. Opinions were solicited by letter from members of the scientific and museum communities on the best approach to its study. Among those individuals with a history of productive research and creative curation of iron meteorites, whom I considered to be particularly well qualified to make a judgment, there was a strong consensus calling for a major cut through the meteorite to reveal as large a surface area as possible.