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Tunisia (january 2013)

A daunting task awaits us for this second expedition to the Beni M’hira strewn field.

The first trip was only a foretaste. On this second expedition we aim to conduct a more rigorous systematic search and draw a better map of this fall.

A key objective is to find the points of impact of the larger masses, which, we believe, should be to the south. This would provide the overall direction of the fall, roughly outlining the area to be surveyed. However, as these masses are the most visible on the desert ground, maybe they were already collected shortly after the event.

JANUARY 4, 2013

We arrive at about 10 pm in Djerba, as usual. We are three hunters for this second research campaign as Guillaume, Fabien’s brother, couldn’t come. We stay for the night in a nice little hotel in the north-east of the island of Djerba. We have not rented a 4WD this time. The tracks around the search zone can be negotiated with any type of vehicle, as long as one is cautious.

JANUARY 5, 2013

This morning we are dying to find our first Beni M’hira stones for this trip. Heading south towards Medenine and Tataouine, we arrive at 11:30 am at the search area. Marie finds the first stone after ten minutes! This is a magnificent oriented 171 gram specimen (ref. M001). Then it’s Fabien’s turn to find one, then a second quickly after. Pierre-Marie then finds his first specimen. Everyone is happy, getting one or two stones. We do not stop – the discoveries are exhilarating. A shepherd who tends his camels wants to talk with us but we do not understand a single word of what he says because his French is as fluent as our Arabic. We continue the search until 4:30 pm.

The trip is looking great In five hours of exploration, we found nine specimens for a total weight of 607 grams.
We are tired but excited when we reach our usual hotel in Tataouine. This is our base camp where we weigh and pack the specimens, where we update the map of discoveries on our computers and write this book. We do this after long and painful hours of walking, but it must be done.

JANUARY 6, 2013

The second day is a letdown. Willing to extend the search area, many questions have arisen. Prospecting in the north of the area (the rim of the plateau), only a single 22 gram Beni M’hira meteorite is discovered before evening!  The question arises : “is there really nothing, or have we just looked in a bad area?”

We have one consolation, nonetheless. Returning to the site of the Beni M’hira (b) find, Marie and Fabien find three new stones, almost doubling the initial total known mass (93.30g).

JANUARY 7, 2013

Today we go about two kilometers south of the shepherd’s hut, where the man who showed us the big stone during the previous trip lived. We go on foot from this location to the place where Marie found a 206g stone in October 2012.
After several hours of walking, we stop for a tea. We have not found a single stone. We change to searching north of the track. In just two hours, Pierre-Marie finds three specimens for a total of more than one kilogram (482g, 302g and 249g specimens). We are surprised to find such large masses in this area based on the ellipse that we have constructed.

The study of the area is progressing well but we find it difficult to define a clear path for the fall. The very low masses and large masses are mixed. Logic would dictate that the larger masses fall at the end of the ellipse because they have a higher kinetic energy than smaller masses, which are more easily constrained and would fall to the rear of the ellipse.

JANUARY 8, 2013

Today we are a little more reasonable and walk fewer miles. We know that we will have some difficulties keeping in good shape if we continue at our earlier pace (even so, the daily average exceeded 15 km at journey’s end). The map is filled with new discoveries and we have a first conclusion – we need to search each area several times. A specimen of more than 100g was found a stone’s throw from of a series of important findings from the first trip, and Marie found the two smallest individuals, so far, from the fall (11g and 13g) when joining Fabien on the Beni M’hira (b) strewn field.

The harvest today is very satisfactory with a total of nine specimens. Fabien would like to explore the area surrounding the discovery from the first day of this trip (Marie’s 171g). The land remains a terra incognita until now. It really is ideal for exploring and the lack of quick finds made us think of stones moving because of heavy rains and strong winds, but mostly we didn’t search quite well enough.

Finally, we celebrate the 12th anniversary of the fall of Beni M’hira with a find.

JANUARY 9, 2013

Fabien and Pierre-Marie find no specimens this day. Marie gets two stones with a beautiful one weighing 246 grams. Each one of us keeps his or her own findings, which motivates everyone to find more in a sort of unofficial and friendly competition.

JANUARY 10, 2013

We park in the east of the area with the aim of extending the ellipse but also to explore the rim of the plateau, overlooking a vast dry lake. The first hours of exploration do not give many results, but eventually the findings come. Beautiful small specimens dot the area. Did we find the back of the strewn field ? Anyway, this is a great day, with 14 discoveries.

JANUARY 11, 2013

While Marie, who leads on the number of discoveries since the beginning of the stay, goes back to the car to get some rest, Fabien and Pierre-Marie decide to go inspect a very flat area, faded with a gentle slope leading to the lake. No large stones were ever found there. The ground is colored red by the dominant gypsum deposit. This is where Pierre-Marie had found the northernmost discovery area during the previous expedition in October 2012. We had left Marie for just a few minutes when we find the second meteorite of the day, then the third, the fourth, and more. This made up for a disastrous morning with only one discovery high on a slope of alluvium, inclined more than 45°. These are small masses but this is the most prolific day of the trip. Pierre-Marie discovers our most important Beni M’hira stone ever, a 503g fragment (the original stone may have exceeded the kilogram). This specimen still surprises us, and also challenges our trajectory assumptions, as did the mass of 482g found on January 7. These two large stones should have been found in the south of the strewn field, not here.

A total of 18 specimens are found today. One of them is a specimen that has a different look than the common Beni M’hira. We give it the P054 inventory reference. This one was finally an Impact Melt Breccia specimen of the 2001 Beni M’hira meteorite.

JANUARY 12, 2013

When heading back to the strewn field this morning, we couldn’t imagine how great this day would be.

Great finds galore, punctuated by a nice little break in the middle of the area, just to make tea and greedily swallow the petites fours bought the day before in Tataouine.

Ultimately 23 new stones were found for a total of more than 800g in an area that looks like the landscapes of the American West. We also found a 17g specimen, literally embedded in the track across the salt lake. The track is used by shepherds in pickups and for a gypsum mine located nearby, and is as hard as concrete. We extracted the stone with difficulty and at the cost of shoe that did not recover.

JANUARY 13, 2013

On January 13, we decide to take a day off. We want to pick up some fossil wood near the village of Chenini. We find some crystallized gypsum, also. Before returning to Tataouine, we visit the beautiful old village of Douiret, mostly consisting of cave houses. We know for sure that some footprints of dinosaurs have been found near the village, but we can not find anyone to show us the way. We return to Tataouine early in the afternoon and stop at a marble shop where we can cut thick slices of calcified wood. Pierre-Marie also gets to cut our strange meteorite, the famous P054. The cross section displays the structure of IMB (impact melt breccia). It is certainly a melt specimen of the 2001 Beni M’hira meteorite, the first of this kind we have found.

Later in the day, we decided to go for a ride on the Tatahouine strewn field. After a few minutes of searching, Pierre-Marie discovers a first fragment of a few milligrams. In about an hour, we collect hundreds of fragments near it, some exceeding a gram but the majority being below 0.5 g.

We end the day by being invited to dinner by a Tunisian friend in Tataouine, who always cooks an excellent couscous.

JANUARY 14, 2013

Back on the ground this morning, we are lucky to find 19 stones today. We meet a shepherd in the desert who offers us camel milk that tastes like salted skim milk (animals here eat plants that grow in ground saturated with gypsum and halite). We wonder what cheese made from it would taste like.
Fabien chanced to find what is probably another IMB specimen of Beni M’hira, far from the first IMB specimen found by Pierre-Marie.   Impact melt breccia specimens from this fall are mixed with chondritic individuals on the ellipse.

We still have two full days of exploration in the area. We now believe that nothing will be found west of discovery M001. Tomorrow, January 15, we will go to the east and north of the theoretical ellipse.

JANUARY 15, 2013

Always heading further to the north on the salt lake, not far from the town of Beni M’hira, we keep on searching diligently. We meet a young shepherd in the desert. He does not speak French but is very talkative. In fact, he’s a real chatterbox. Since we can’t communicate with him we explain in detail the theory of relativity, both special and general. After ten minutes of explanations and numerous demonstrations, his response to our monologue is a categorical “No”. Apparently he does not agree with Einstein’s hypothesis, but what is his own hypothesis? This will remain a mystery.

Fortunately, his boss comes and invites us to drink tea in the makeshift camp. He speaks French a little. But with this very quiet and charismatic character no actual words are necessary. It’s just a moment of pure happiness and tranquility in the middle of the desert. We teach him to play “pétanque” with gourds. On sandy soil it’s very funny, and it transcends cultures.

In the evening, in Tataouine, the wind picks up and turns into a sandstorm. The power is off for several hours. We dine by candlelight in our usual small restaurant.

JANUARY 16, 2013

Wednesday, January 16th is the last day in the field. Marie stays at the hotel. She is smart because the weather conditions are very difficult in the desert today. The sandstorm goes on and makes it very challenging to hunt for meteorites. We take a track that is supposed to bring us closer to the dry lake but it is impractical for our vehicle. We now have a one hour walk to the strewn field. Despite the difficult conditions, we find twelve specimens, most weathered and corroded by the salt. Exhausted, we have to stop the search in the middle of the afternoon and return to the car.

JANUARY 17, 2013

It is with a feeling of accomplishment that we head to Djerba the next day, but not without performing a last hunt on the Tataouine strewn field, where we find a few small ones. We meet a Tunisian friend in Djerba who invites us to eat a delicious couscous, as usual, and we spend the spare time visiting the museum of local traditions.

The second research campaign in Beni M’hira was successful beyond our hopes.

We can not wait to go back there as soon as possible for a third meteorite hunt..