I have the following scenario: a large group of enslaved people (one hundred or so?) looking for a meteorite on a mountain. It struck at some point in the Middle Ages.

It is an asteroid of unknown origin and composition that broke apart in the atmosphere during entry, and one of its fragments crashed into said mountain. For those who know the difficulty of distinguishing between a terrestrial rock and one from space, noting that this meteorite is of an unusual and striking black color, very distinguishable with the naked eye.

The idea is that a good chunk survived, no smaller than a watermelon and no larger than a tank. The search has to last a considerable time, not less than, say, three or four weeks (the longer the better). The meteorite fragment could be housed inside the mountain, possibly some kind of cave or grotto, or it could be also that they are mining the mountain until they discover it buried. Whichever is more plausible.

The question is: would this scenario be more or less possible/believable, searching for such a long time for a meteorite impacted relatively recently (Middle Ages) for which there is no official record, and then finding a sizeable piece somewhere inside the mountain, but without a visible crater to give it away in all that time?

Thanks for your help.


Attending to the first comments, I’m adding these details to rule out some ideas and to be able to delve into others. Please consider these factors:

About the use of technology: It’s an illegal operation (remember the slaves?), clandestine (in a remote region, difficult to access) and those responsible are not the type of guys who have resources, or else they would have hired staff to do it. They’re also not of those who simply steal technology to do it, because they do not want to attract attention (you will ask, "And the freaking slaves then?". Short story: let’s just say they’re the kind of people nobody cares, so no attention drawn). So, little to no technology if possible (I'll think this through).

About the setting: The geography is a mountain forest and they are at ground level, so no snow for this mountain, only dirt and rock.

About the meteorite: About the burst of fragments, I have to rule it out. For plot reasons, this meteorite is already a fragment of the main one, which only split into a few rather large pieces. It does not help me that it spreads everywhere in smaller fragments. So no burst of fragments, it has to be just one sizeable piece.

And remember: My main concern is that the meteorite won’t be easy to discover. If there really is a possibility that a meteorite could bury itself in a mountain without a visible crater simply pointing "-->Meteorite’s lair, everybody!!<--", to later be found mining from the inside. The discovery must occur inside the mountain, whether they find it like “displayed” within a cavity (remember Evolution (2001)?) or by digging it up.

  • $\begingroup$ It's a trope from 1950s science fiction stories. I think maybe even H. Rider Haggard got into it, but I can't give you a title. A watermelon-sized impactor would leave a crater that would still be visible a few centuries later, though not necessarily recognizable as such. $\endgroup$
    – Boba Fit
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ Honestly, I'd just put the characters on the wrong mountain. Then your protagonists / antagonists can use critical thinking skills to solve the problem after exactly one plot-time has passed. $\endgroup$
    – g s
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 9:10
  • $\begingroup$ If centuries have passed since its impact, then it might be buried under snow and ice and won't immediately be visible. I also don't think that it'd be distinguishable when detected by ground(ice?)-penetrating radar. The search could last years easily, if it's important enough to merit that effort. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much for your comments. In attention to them, I’m adding some details to the post to specify some issues that would help to better define the answer (If you’re so kind to go back and read them). $\endgroup$
    – Charybdis
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 4:57
  • $\begingroup$ @BobaFit: What you mean with “not necessarily recognizable as such (as a crater)”? Can you think of an example in the given context (I mean, how a crater could be covered)? Special attention on the aggregate of the post (“And remember” part). $\endgroup$
    – Charybdis
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 4:58

2 Answers 2


First off, most meteorites land without making a crater. For example, the one that burst over Chelyabinsk created a burst of fragments that scattered all over. Many fragments simply landed on the snow and were easily collected.

A simple method of hiding a meteorite on a mountain is to have it land on the side of the mountain. Then have a landslide cover it. With a large enough of a landslide, few people would be interested in digging it out.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer, @David R. About the burst of fragments, please read the section About the meteorite in the aggregate of the post. The landslide thing could be a possibility. I guess any impact crater would be covered and no one would notice for centuries. The question is: could a landslide be intense enough for the meteorite to be found from within the mountain? Because I need the “mining” factor to make the story more interesting (you know, the slaves digging rocks). It’s something like “in the heart of the mountain”, poetically speaking. $\endgroup$
    – Charybdis
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 4:49
  • $\begingroup$ Recently, geologists figured out that there have been massive landslides out in Utah and Wyoming. usgs.gov/observatories/yvo/news/largest-landslide-world These landslides moved whole mountains. The results today still have hundreds of feet of stone over the original surface. geology.utah.gov/map-pub/survey-notes/… $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 15:58

Carried by water

"would this scenario be more or less possible/believable, searching for such a long time for a meteorite impacted relatively recently (Middle Ages) for which there is no official record, and then finding a sizeable piece somewhere inside the mountain"

Sure, quite possible.
In some geographic areas rivers and streams often have at least a part of their route underground.
The meteorite may have hit the mountain at a higher altitude, maybe hitting a glacier. It would have fragmented with the largest fragment being about the size of a watermelon (about 30-40Kg).
In the years after the impact natural elements may have brought the meteorite to a lower altitude: the seasonal melting of the ice and rains brought the stone down little by little along waterways till it reached larger and larger streams.
At some point one of those streams or small rivers penetrated the side of the mountain, in a course that had been dug along million of years.
The recent melting of the glaciers also increased the amount of water each Spring brought. The space rock was then brought more and more inside the mountain till it was deposited in a shallow pool of an underground cave.

Your explorers are lucky to come to the place in a period of general high temperatures and drought.
The mountain has lost its ice, the streams are now a dribble of water, agonising among the exposed rocks.
On the side of the mountain the gaping hole on the riverbed, once roaring with furious water, is now open for intrepid explorers willing to take some risks...

Of course you have to explain how they would search for the meteorite if there are no official records? Maybe local oral tradition?

  • $\begingroup$ Good idea. Although climate is tropical, it can still be a valid option, since nothing prevents the top from having a layer of snow (I edited the post to detail this). The only thing is time factor. Both for this process and the one proposed by @DavidR it would take (I guess) at least a few thousand years. If the fall of this fragment occurred in the Japanese Middle Ages (around Sengoku period, which began in 1467), that leaves less than 600 years for something this complex. But hey, I guess it's in these cases that science can stretch a bit. And indeed, a legend is what triggered the search. $\endgroup$
    – Charybdis
    Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 13:41
  • $\begingroup$ There are glaciers in the Tropical Andes: from Wikipedia article on Tropical Andes. "[Climate change] in temperatures has a major effect on the Tropical Andes. One serious issue is the melting of the glaciers in the mountains. [...] All over the world glaciers are melting, but the mountains in the Tropical Andes are very susceptible. It is said that a quarter of the Tropical Andes glacier has already begun retreating." It's quite believable that melting waters and rains may have brought the stone at a lower altitude. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ From same article: " The different vegetation as altitude changes includes tropical rainforests at 500 to 1,500 meters (1,600–4,900 ft), cloud forests ranging from 800 to 3,500 meters (2,600–11,500 ft)" See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropical_Andes $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Charybdis regarding the time factor: it looks believable to me. Glacial motion is tipically around 25 centimiters per day. That is 90 meters per year. In the 555 years from 1467 to 2022 the movement is a theoretical 50km. In your case you would have your stone moved by the glacier only in the first part of the journey, then melting waters and rainfall and gravity (it may tumble down here and there sometimes). Even if it moved a mere 5km from impact point it would still be a substantial decrease in altitude. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 18:38

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