[Newsmaker] Rare meteorites spark gold rush in Jinju

By Yoon Min-sik
  • Published : Mar 17, 2014 - 21:13
  • Updated : Mar 18, 2014 - 16:15
A town in the south of Korea has quickly turned into a hot spot for treasure hunters and researchers, as scientists confirmed that two rocks recently unearthed in the area were rare meteorites.

Officials from Jinju, South Gyeongsang Province, said there had been a flood of inquiries about meteorites since two were found at local farms. They added that some people had even visited the area hoping to find a valuable piece of extraterrestrial rock.

The market price for meteorites ranges between $5 and $10 a gram. This means the two rocks, weighing 4 kilograms and 9 kilograms each, will be worth tens of thousands of dollars.

“Sometimes people even visited the district office in groups, urging us to tell them where the meteorites were found,” said a civil worker at the Daegok-myeon office, where one of the rocks was discovered. 
Lee Jong-ik (left), a geology director at the Korea Polar Research Institute, examines a recently discovered meteorite with Choi Byeon-gak, a professor of Earth Science Education at Seoul National University, at the KPRI on Thursday. The meteorite was found in Jinju, South Gyeongsang Province, March 10. (Yonhap)

Researchers from Chinju National University of Education also visited the site where the meteorites were found to collect samples and prepare for a detailed geological survey of the area.

According to the Korea Polar Research Institute, the newly found meteorites are “ordinary chondrite” of high iron composition. The institute said the two meteorites were likely from the same source, considering the similarity of their composition and their proximity to each other.

Although this type of meteorite is relatively common internationally, experts say it has great academic value, as meteorites are extremely rare in Korea.

“Geologists are showing keen interest because these are the first meteorites to have been found on the Korean Peninsula since the country’s liberation,” said Lee Jong-ik, a geology director at the Korea Polar Research Institute. Previous findings were recorded in 1924, 1930, 1938 and 1943.

Of the four previously found meteorites, only one has been procured by scientists. The rock, found in 1943, is owned by Japan and is on display here on a loan.

Reports indicate that international “meteorite hunters” have joined the hunt as well. Locals in Jinju have spotted a foreign man examining the areas where the meteorites were found. They said the man even handed out name cards, urging people to call him if they found rocks that looked like meteorites.

Rep. Park Dae-chul recently urged the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea to prevent the rare materials from being taken outside the country.

An official from the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea said the uncovered meteorites are considered to be of great academic value, and are likely to be designated as “monuments.” This means the meteorites can only be taken out of the country in special circumstances, such as on loans for academic purposes.

By Yoon Min-sik (