Round metallic orbs often found in desert sandstone are often wrongly believed to be a meteorite You have just discovered 'Moqui Marbles...'
Iron Nodes from Sandstone Formations
Moqui Marbles are found extensively in the Navajo Sandstone Formation within the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah and throughout the American southwest, notably including Utah are the states of Arizona and Colorado across the geologic formation known as the Colorado Plateau.
I have seen similar formations in south central Colorado, at Garden of the Gods National Monument and innocently gathered one in the early 1980s that I had found lying loose upon the ground near a footpath, adding it to my collection of interesting rocks and formations.
For a number of years I had entertained the spurious notion that this might be an iron meteorite although I really knew all along that it was not. This was mostly because of where and under the conditions of which it was found. Other specimens similar to the one I gathered were plainly visible embedded in the sandstone cliffs above and around me.
Generally round or smooth spheres of compacted sandstone surrounded by a concretion of iron oxides, these Moqui Marbles are also known as Shaman Stone or Thunderballs. They have been a part of the native Indian spiritual rituals of the region for properties that they alone understand. Modern spiritualists, nature-healers and Wiccan beliefs include such items in their repertoire of healing and cleansing stones and gems.
Embedded in the sides of sandstone cliffs, Moqui Marbles can often be found sheared in half where sandstone blocks have broken free, leaving a round bull's-eye formation of rusted iron. Sometimes the sandstone block that breaks away takes the entire Moqui Stone with it, leaving instead a half-round hollow in the remaining rockface. Again, I have seen these in and around the sandstone formations of Garden of the Gods National Park, Colorado.
Now protected in Utah's Escalante National Monument, these stones cannot be legally collected by rock and mineral prospectors. Ones legally or previously acquired before legislation can be found in gem and mineral shops for sale as well as on the internet. Often these are marketed under the umbrella purpose of being mystic healing stones in that venue.
Similar in form and function to bogi stones, their purported usage are to stabilize energies, communicate with animals, welcome the spirits of the dearly departed and generally impart harmony to the user, and other nebulous attributions. Being iron and having at least outward properties consistent with general notion of what a meteorite looks like, these might easily be confused as being a genuine iron meteorite.
Since meteorites (especially iron meteorites) tend to be most often found in deserts with the aid of metal detectors, they could by cursory field test incorrectly be considered the erstwhile space rock. Discounting activities of man, one tends to not find iron deposits lying upon the surface unless they are from meteor falls.
The roundish shape of Moqui Marbles however might suggest a man-made albeit severely rusted product such as artillery ammo, discarded iron rivets or railroad spikes or some form of rusted cast iron ball-bearing.
If it appears to be iron and does not outwardly resemble the business end of a claw hammer, the amateur meteorite prospector usually assumes incorrectly that they have found a meteorite. Moqui Marbles could easily gain inclusion to the meteor wrongs nomenclature because they are not meteor-rights.
Moqui Marbles in Sandstone Cliffs
Moqui Marbles are created over time by water that permeates sandstone layers and dissolves pockets to which later, iron oxides such as hematite, goethite and limonite are deposited. Formed millions of years ago, the sandstone which imprisons the iron node eventually weathers away, revealing the iron concretions as seen in the image above. Someday, these too shall break away and fall the valley floor below.
Exposed to the elements of windblown sand, water and other natural processes, these iron formations erode too and also take on curious shapes. Weathered shapes that can suggest flat saucers, walls or towers are not uncommon discoveries. A round orb on a short stalk can occur. Bogi stone are subjected to the same weathering elements and are often discovered this way as well.
Some otherwise round spheres have shapes that suggest a button or a nose on one or more sides of a roundish orb. Many of these nodes are even found lying free upon the ground, often rolled together by natural forces (wind, rain runoff, etc.) into congregations of similarly-freed orbs. The effect can be quite amazing to see where dozens or more are similarly gathered together. They look like rusty iron eggs laid by some ground-nesting Steampunk dinosaur.
Iron Nodes by the Dozens
The Moqui Marbles acquired their reputation as Shaman stones because the American Indian shaman would use them in spiritual rituals, and casting them into the fire where they would heat up and explode, sending sparks skyward.
Moqui Marbles were formed by flowing water which dissolved the surrounding material over millions of years. This is interesting to geologists and geophysicists of NASA because concretions exactly like these have been found upon the planet Mars by the Opportunity rover. Sensitive to the tribal name Moqui there has been restraint in calling the Martian discovery of Moqui Marbles by that name. Another term has been used.
Martian 'Bluberries' are Moqui Marbles Too
The term 'blueberries' is used for the Martian variety. Images sent back by the Martian Rover craft Opportunity show that those hematite concretions look very much like tiny blueberries in a muffin.
It was theorized that water flowed on Mars millions of years ago, conditions which mirrored what also occurred on the Colorado Plateau during Earth's pre-history. If these concretion formations of iron oxide occurred on Earth under wetter conditions, similar geologic formations likely occurred during the infancy of Mars and should produce similar results. This assumption (and hope) proved to be true.
Interest in and collecting of Earth-based Moqui Marbles has probably seen an increase since discovering these same formations exist on Mars as well. Prior to this discovery, these Earthly iron nodes were easily dismissed by all but the most studious geologist, avid collector or devote spiritualist. Or, collected as being merely a natural anomaly.
Now these natural objects might actually become a sought-after commodity, objects that might cause zealous prospectors to illegally gather them for the purpose of profiteering.
Hollow Spheres of Natural Iron
Broken open, Moqui Marbles are somewhat disappointing. They are often sand-filled. The sand in the center of these iron spheres being loosely held together often weathers away quickly in the elements, leaving the harder shell of iron oxide behind. Above, we can see what some of the Moqui Marbles interiors look like.
Close-up of Moqui Marbles
From my search of the internet for Moqui Marbles there is no shortage of gem shops and private sellers that have a selection of these for sale and at reasonable prices. There still seems to be plenty to go around.