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Prims: a possible Holocene meteorite impact crater in the Saarland region, West Germany

by Werner Müller, edumueller@t-online.de

Abstract. - Finds of various glasses, melt rocks and other peculiar rocks suggest a possible young meteorite impact in the region of the Saarland Prims river. Indications of shock metamorphism and meteoritic matter are subject to detailed analysis.

Introduction

In 2009 during honorary archeological field work, abundant finds of a greenish, bluish and bluish black glass-like material so far unknown in the region under consideration (Fig. 1) attracted some attention. Originally ascribed to Celtic - Roman glassworks, the in part significant magnetization of the samples however puzzled with regard to simple glass from early history. Nevertheless, researchers from a few universities who were asked about the origin of the strange material instantly insisted on an anthropogenic formation. This estimation initiated more detailed field work in the course of which far more strange material and peculiarly deformed rocks partly featuring influence of strongly enhanced temperatures were discovered obviously not compatible with the common and well-known archeological and geologic scenario of the region.

archeological and geologic scenario of the region. Fig. 1. Location map for the supposed impact site

Fig. 1. Location map for the supposed impact site (arrow).

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When a preliminary investigation of a specimen showed evidence of shock metamorphism, and other samples in a first approach were speaking in favor of meteoritic components, the idea of an impact in young geological times, probably in the Holocene, got contours, all the more many of the peculiar finds showed surprising affinity to meteorite impact features that have been reported for the Holocene so-called Chiemgau impact event (Rappenglück et al. 2004, Ernstson et al. 2010 a, Hiltl et al. 2011, Rappenglück et al. 2011).

In recent times, young, Holocene meteorite impacts have controversially been disputed (e.g., Bobrowski & Rickman 2009, and references therein) with a tendency to underestimate their frequency and resulting threat to mankind. In this debate statistics plays a major role, and it is evident, that newly discovered very young impacts may significantly alter statistics.

Here, with regard to this increasing interest in Holocene impacts, the existence of a possible new impact site is brought to the knowledge of the scientific community, and a few basic data are reported.

It is intelligible that for the time being the exact location of the proposed impact site is kept under wraps in order to prevent rock and meteorite hunters from predation. Scientists showing serious interest in the topic under consideration may contact the author by e-mail.

Observations

The host of peculiar finds is done on an area a few hundred meters wide without exhibiting a morphologically clear crater structure. This may be explained by post-impact alluvial overprint on low ground or by special conditions in the course of the proposed impact event.

The peculiar material under consideration may be divided into three groups:

-- strongly magnetic metallic chunks reminding of iron shale of heavily weathered iron meteorites (Fig. 2). A rapid nickel test proved to be positive, and a polished slab gave evidence of Neumann lines.

-- various glasses and glass-like matter: glass in the form of dense bluish, greenish and bluish black fragments (Fig. 3); brownish impure vesicular glass (Fig. 4) reminding glasses from other meteorite impacts like, e.g. Chapadmalal (Fig. 4); glass scraps as components in polymictic breccias (Fig. 5); glass forming the matrix of melt rocks containing various rock fragments (Fig. 6) reminding of impactites like those from the Monturaqui meteorite crater, Chile, (Fig. 6); glass containing organic matter like charcoal and probably splinters of bones (Fig. 7); glass-like carbon (Fig. 8). It should be noted that the term glass is used in a broad sense also including recrystallized glass.

-- pebbles and cobbles showing mechanical load and high-temperature signature in the form of glass coating and interspersing the in most cases sandstone samples (Figs. 9-11).

In the following, images of typical samples from the suspected impact site are shown accompanied by an in each case short description.

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Fig. 2. Strongly magnetic iron-metallic chunks reminding of iron shale. Coin diameter 21 mm. Fig.

Fig. 2. Strongly magnetic iron-metallic chunks reminding of iron shale. Coin diameter 21 mm.

chunks reminding of iron shale. Coin diameter 21 mm. Fig. 3. Dense, slightly magnetic glass fragments

Fig. 3. Dense, slightly magnetic glass fragments with lots of vesicles. Millimeter scale. The greenish, bluish and bluish black colors probably originate from iron oxide. A very similar glass has been reported from the Pleistocene Zhamanshin impact crater in Kazakhstan (Koeberl 1988). Koeberl describes the !"#$%&'()$**'$*'+,'-!*&!.%&'/)01'%+)+2'*3+4!.('$')$5121-' *&20%&0 21'4!&3'.0"12+0*'*"$))'61*!%)1*7'$.-'& 31'/)01'%+)+2' !*' *$!-'&+'2$.(1 '/1&411.'&31' )$512*',2+"'+#$801'&0280+!*1'&+'6125'-$29'/)01:';)+*1 < 0#'+,'&31'=2!"*'()$**'!.'>!(:'?'@'$.-' ?'A: '

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Fig. 3 A. Close-up of a glass fragment from the Prims area showing banded color.

Fig. 3 A. Close-up of a glass fragment from the Prims area showing banded color. Millimeter scale.

from the Prims area showing banded color. Millimeter scale. Fig. 3 B. A glass fragment from

Fig. 3 B. A glass fragment from the Prims area with distinct layering. Width of image 3 cm.

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Fig. 4. Vesicular slag-like glass (to the left) similar to the Chapadmalal, Argentina, impact glass
Fig. 4. Vesicular slag-like glass (to the left) similar to the Chapadmalal, Argentina, impact glass

Fig. 4. Vesicular slag-like glass (to the left) similar to the Chapadmalal, Argentina, impact glass (so-called "scoria", to the right).

impact glass (so-called "scoria", to the right). Fig. 5. Polymictic breccia with rock and glass particles

Fig. 5. Polymictic breccia with rock and glass particles in a dominantly sandy matrix; cut surface. The aligned reddish glass fragments may point to flow texture. Detail in Fig. 5 A.

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Fig. 5 A. Close-up of the polymictic breccia. Most components are glass particles partly exhibiting

Fig. 5 A. Close-up of the polymictic breccia. Most components are glass particles partly exhibiting spherulitic shape.

are glass particles partly exhibiting spherulitic shape. Fig. 6 A. Melt rock with polygenetic rock particles

Fig. 6 A. Melt rock with polygenetic rock particles in a glass matrix. Cut surface.

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Fig. 6 B. Melt rock with monogenetic rock particles (quartzite) in a glass matrix. Cut

Fig. 6 B. Melt rock with monogenetic rock particles (quartzite) in a glass matrix. Cut surface.

rock particles (quartzite) in a glass matrix. Cut surface. Fig. 6 C. For comparison: Impactite from

Fig. 6 C. For comparison: Impactite from the Monturaqui, Chile, meteorite crater. Cut surface, 22 mm wide.

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Fig. 7 A. Probably splinters of bones in vesicular glass matrix. A charcoal fragment embedded

Fig. 7 A. Probably splinters of bones in vesicular glass matrix. A charcoal fragment embedded on the rear side is shown in Fig. 7 B. Width of image 3 cm; cut surface.

side is shown in Fig. 7 B. Width of image 3 cm; cut surface. Fig. 7

Fig. 7 B. Charcoal fragment in the glassy matrix of the sample in Fig. 7 A. Arrows point to spots of beginning conversion to glass-like carbon (see Fig. 8). Width of image 18 mm.

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Fig. 8. Probably glass-like carbon from the Prims area; millimeter scale. Glass-like carbon has been

Fig. 8. Probably glass-like carbon from the Prims area; millimeter scale. Glass-like carbon has been reported for meteorite impact events like the proposed Younger Dryas impact event in North America (Firestone 2009) and the Chiemgau impact event (Ernstson et al. 2010 b). In North America a piece of pine wood has been described grading into glass-like carbon, and in the Chiemgau impact event glass-like carbon is suggested to be an end product in an impact shock-produced short-term coalification process. Fig. 7 B with charcoal grading into glass-like carbon may be the document of a similar process.

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Fig. 9. Glass-coated sandstone pebbles from the Prims area. Comparable features have been reported for

Fig. 9. Glass-coated sandstone pebbles from the Prims area. Comparable features have been reported for a few craters of the Chiemgau impact strewn field and are explained by an extremely short heating-up in an impact explosion cloud. The glass film has in each case a thickness of no more than a fraction of a millimeter pointing to very short exposure to extreme heat.

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Fig. 10. Cut surface of a glass-coated sandstone pebble pervaded by a set of subparallel

Fig. 10. Cut surface of a glass-coated sandstone pebble pervaded by a set of subparallel fissures that are more or less completely filled with a dark glass. Two possibilities of formation may be considered that need not necessarily be mutually exclusive. The glass may have been formed in situ by the melting of layered mica and feldspar below the melting point of quartz now being the "matrix" of the glass-bearing rock. Alternatively, the texture represents real tensile fractures (close-up in Fig. 10 A) that obviously don't reflect normal jointing and that can be explained by the mechanism of spallation as a result of dynamic shock deformation when compressive shock pulses are reflected at the free pebble surface as a tensile pulse pulling the pebble open and enabling the glass to intrude. If the glass had formed inside, additional spallation could have facilitated the melt to combine and flow along the open fissures. The single probable spallation fracture of different orientation in the left-hand part of the pebble is addressed in Fig. 10 B. Length of pebble is 36 mm.

pebble is addressed in Fig. 10 B. Length of pebble is 36 mm. Fig. 10 A.

Fig. 10 A. Close-up of glass-filled fissures in the pebble shown in Fig. 10.

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Fig. 10 B. The singular open and slightly bent glass-filled fracture is especially typical of

Fig. 10 B. The singular open and slightly bent glass-filled fracture is especially typical of spallation in spherically shaped cobbles, because, for geometrical reasons, it mirrors to some degree the surface where the dynamic compressive pulse is reflected as a tensile pulse. For a better understanding, the obviously stuck fracture has been completed by a dashed line.

stuck fracture has been completed by a dashed line. Fig. 11. Another glass-coated sandstone pebble from

Fig. 11. Another glass-coated sandstone pebble from the Prims area exhibiting distinct probable spallation fractures filled with glass. Cut surface, width of pebble 35 mm.

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Fig. 12. Layered glass and rock probably initiated by the formation of widely open spallation

Fig. 12. Layered glass and rock probably initiated by the formation of widely open spallation fissures. Originally, the distinct lens-shaped open fissure may have been filled also completely with glass. Cut surface, maximum width is 41 mm.

Discussion und conclusions

According to current understanding, a meteorite impact crater (or impact structure) is considered established if there are a few criteria fulfilled. Apart from the direct observation of the fall of the meteorite (as happened in 2007 with the Carancas meteorite in Peru to produce a c. 13 m crater), the find of meteorites that survived vaporization of the projectile upon hypervelocity contact with the target, and the identification of shock metamorphism and other shock effects (e.g., shatter cones) in rocks and minerals are most crucial. Less compelling are the find of other high-pressure and high-temperature signature, conspicuous breccias, unusual rock deformations, geophysical anomalies, and special evidence of unusual geologic phenomena.

In the present case, a meteorite impact event to have happened in the Prims region can so far not be brought to clear and unambiguous proof. It is thus preferred to speak of a possible impact. There is evidence of meteoritic material that can be sampled in the field, and a first study of a thin section has revealed a typical shock signature, but the meteorites have to be verified by respective analyses, and more shock effects should be shown to exist in at least a couple of rocks from the investigated area.

On the other hand, the many peculiar samples from the field, the various glasses in very different constellations, the glass-bearing polymictic breccias having the character of a suevite, the melt rocks being impact melt rocks if more shock is verified, the glass containing organic material in the form of charcoal and probable splinters of bones, the glass like carbon and the typical spallation features indicative of dynamic shock deformation lend considerable substance to the impact hypothesis, all the more the features as described here have clear counterparts in many other, especially young meteorite craters.

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A difficulty will remain which is typical for suspected impact structures in densely populated regions where early documents of smelting, lime kiln and other anthropogenic activities are encountered. That is why rapid rejection of finds possibly supporting an impact is the rule - as exemplified in the Introduction with regard to the current case. However, meteorite impact is a purely statistical process, and a cosmic projectile may come crashing down everywhere, even in a region full of anthropogenic overprint. Thus, finding glasses and slag and peculiar metallic objects does not exclude an impact but recommends caution, and frequently it will be not simple or sometimes even impossible to make a distinction between cosmic and terrestrial material unless e.g., isotopic or other sophisticated analyses tend to some opinion or other.

This bearing in mind, the investigations in the Prims region will be continued, especially focusing on a dating. So far, the Holocene age is based simply on a first-sight field impression and on the in most cases very fresh glasses. Upon new results substantiating (or of course doubting) the impact event, this article will be reworked correspondingly.

Acknowledgements. Being a local history researcher without advanced knowledge of geosciences I deeply appreciate the active support from local and regional geologists and mineralogists (Dr. Friedwalt Weber, Dr. Michael Morbe). I thank Prof. Dr. Kord Ernstson for stimulation discussion and the help that considerably improved an earlier version of the article.

References

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