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Prims: a possible Holocene meteorite impact crater in the Saarland

region, West Germany

by Werner Müller,

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.

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.

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.

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. 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-'

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

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
(so-called "scoria", to the right).

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 spherulitic shape.

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 surface.

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

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 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 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

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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.

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
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.

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
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

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


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