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The Curious Case of the Solomon Islands Moon Rock

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The moon rock given to the Solomon Island by President Carter in 1978

The moon rock given to the Solomon Island by President Carter in 1978

For those of you who don’t know me personally, let me explain something about myself. I’m a smart guy who is socially retarded.

I can explain calculus to people who don’t know math. I own at trivia. I have a capacity to remember all sorts of stuff that most people, rightfully so, would never bother to remember. Sometimes it’s spooky.

However, I will also probably forget your name if I meet you and there is a good chance I’ll make a very bad first impression, probably inadvertently saying something offensive. (I was told at my going away party I yelled at someone telling them that “BORNEO ISN’T A COUNTRY. IT’S AN ISLAND!”)

..anyway, I digress.

The reason I bring that up is because I noticed something today that I am probably one of only a small handful of people who would have noticed and been in a position to notice.

I visited the Solomon Islands national museum on Wednesday. The National Museum isn’t really anything to write home about. It’s surrounded by a rusty fence. The one building with exhibits is pretty old and grungy. I was the only visitor there and they had to open up the gift shop just for me. So I suppose that’s the first thing….most people who visit the Solomons (and there aren’t many) don’t bother to go to the museum.

In the museum, they had all sorts of carved sculptures, artwork, photos and artifacts from the Solomon Islands. It wasn’t the level of a display you might expect at a western museum, but that shouldn’t be expected. It got the job done and the lady working at museum was very nice and informative.

While wandering around all the Melanesian artwork and artifacts I came across something which was very out of place. It was an engraved plaque.

It was an engraved plaque with the Apollo XVII mission patch on it.

On the plaque was a small acrylic sphere with a tiny piece of rock in the middle. A moon rock. It was collected in the Taurus-Littrow Highlands of the moon, and it was sitting in a exhibit of Melanesian artifacts in Honoria.

The plaque said it was given to the people of the Solomon Islands by President Carter on July 7, 1978 on the occasion of their independence.

Most people would have noticed the moon rock. There is nothing special in that. I however knew something else. There have been several hundred moon rocks given as goodwill gifts by the United States. About half of them are missing. They might be sitting in a cabinet somewhere or might be in the home of some bureaucrat who was in a position to take the moon rock home 30 years ago.

However, many of them have been flat out stolen and sold on the black market to collectors. On a per gram basis, moon rocks might very well be one of the most valuable things on Earth. One recent case in the news (where I read about all of this) had someone trying to sell the stolen moon rock given to Malta for $5,000,000!!! In public auctions, pieces of the moon have sold for $400,000 for tiny fragments.

It was that knowledge that had my heart racing when I noticed something else…..

the glass display case had no lock….

the glass display case was wide open…..

I was alone in the room…..

The open cabinet and the very out of place moon rock

The open cabinet and the very out of place moon rock

I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was a moment of temptation. I, and I alone it would seem, was the only person who had laid eyes on this thing in years who probably knew the real value of it to collectors. No one probably would have noticed it missing for months if not years. (If I had replaced it with a fake, maybe even longer) Five million dollars in the size of a big marble just sitting there unprotected.

With my warped values however, I figured it would make for a better blog post that it would selling it. Besides, I’d really be a shitty human beings if I stole from the poorest country in the world.

I mentioned going to the museum later in the day to the guy at the travel agency who booked my tickets through to Honolulu. He mentioned that there had been several break-ins at the museum.

What was stolen you ask??? Shell and feather money which is still used as currency on some of the islands.

If you want an example of the different values other cultures have, I can think of no better example. They broke in to steal the pacific equivalent of wampum and left the $5m moon rock.

Anyway, having decided not to turn to a life of crime, what to do next?

Given how these things have disappeared over time around the world, it is probably just a matter of time until someone steals it. (It may have been stolen before during the civil unrest here in 2000) If I tell someone who works at the museum about the value of it, there is a good chance they might just take it.

I have no clue who to talk to in a position of authority and, honestly, I don’t think the security of moon rocks is very high on the agenda of the government of the Solomon Islands.

I figured the best thing to do was to make it public and hope that someone will pass this along to someone in NASA or the State Department who might be able to suggest to the Solomon Government they put it away. Also, by making it public, if it disappears, it is going to make it very obvious that is it stolen and at least give and indication of when and where it happened. (I suppose there is a risk of someone reading this, taking the first flight to the Solomons and stealing it, but I think that is slim, and moreover, having made this public, it would make it much harder to sell).

I will probably also stop by the US Consulate today because the office is in the same building as DHL and I need to send a package home.

So if anyone reading this knows someone in some position to do something, please pass this along. It would be a shame to lose another one of these rocks to thieves.

  • 42 Comments... What's your take?

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Comments

  1. Nicon would be turning over in his grave if he could see that rinky dink display case. You’d think rocks from THE MOON would get wall space.

  2. Angelboot says:

    Great site, very interesting for me.

  3. Bama says:

    By the way Solomon Islands’ capital is Honiara, not Honoria (I can’t help not to mention about this).

  4. Angelreisen says:

    Great site, very interesting. Thanks

  5. e economic incentives are currently too great so as not to provide such incentive. Some of us who have lived in the Solomons and worked for many years in an entirely voluntary capacity to help in post conflict reform initiatives continue to have grave concern regarding the capacity of the government to secure valuable cultural objects of great importance to the country. Having first attended in the Solomons in the early 1990’s , I was deeply saddened and frustrated upon my return several years later and post conflict to see the state of the museum and learn of the loss of these important items, as well as the continual crisis with respect to the diminished interest in their cultural heritage and preservation, particularly with the younger generation. It is a huge loss to the country and I believe, as issues of responsible governance and fiscal responsibility are continually improved, this will allow such problems to be addressed. I myself have obtained at my own expense from outside cou

  6. Some would say that the Earth is their moon
    I don’t think it is an issue of cultural priorities so much as mundane issues of funding and focus.

  7. Girokonto says:

    Nicon would be turning over in his grave if he could see that rinky dink display case. You’d think rocks from THE MOON would get wall space.

  8. Girokonto says:

    Danke für diesen super Beitrag.
    Glaube ich war richtig gefesselt :)

  9. Poster says:

    I really hate what thieves do to our own culture.
    Think about even higher valued pieces like in egypt.
    Guess people will never change :(

  10. Büromöbel says:

    Cool moon stone very nice i hope this is not danger

  11. Belajar SEO says:

    halo, can I share this post on facebook ?

  12. Werbetechnik says:

    wow thats some really good stuff to read.
    thanks for sharing.

  13. Danke für diesen super Beitrag.
    Glaube ich war richtig gefesselt :)

  14. awesome article, very nice. I will come back later to read some more stuff.

  15. Jay Brock says:

    Gary, this was the most entertaining post I’ve ever read by you. You are a most upstanding citizen of humanity!

  16. very nice article, thank you.

  17. LW says:

    Ben/Gary. Sorry for offending. I suppose I’m just sad because I did volunteer there for a very long time and now, being quite ill, broke and homeless for having put so much damn heart and soul into the place for all those years, and watching things just keep turning to shit anyway and more and more expats exploiting the unstable political/economic situation, perhaps I’m just jaded and simply deflated a little and taking it out on people, who while entirely well-intentioned, offer commentary and then just leave without ever finding out the impact they may have had on the place. No, there is no lounge adorned with ‘pretty ornaments’. Just a few old bug infested pieces that have no value except hopefully to the Solo Islanders for their cultural significance one day, currently held in a dark climate controlled storage facility at a local museum until the chiefs who own them, and SI authorities, make the arrangements for them to be returned (I still have hopes that the museum/country is back on track in time before I kick the bucket). If you do live in the Sols, or have dedicated a lot of time to a similar project in a country like the Sols that failed, I sincerely apologize but also feel like you then probably understand the delicacy required in these matters and where I’m coming from with this. Regards.

  18. Ben says:

    In response to LW:

    Your good-will knickers are in a knot. Don't go off at Gary for posting his humorous insight into his adventure in the Solomons. Thankyou though for your thorough history of your visits to the Solomon islands and well done on your “entirely voluntary capacity” which you so consciously stated.

    I'm sure the artefacts that currently adorn your lounge room walls will fill the void left from the disappearing moon rock aptly, once you decide to redecorate and send these dust catchers back to the motherland where they possess cultural significance.

    Ben.

  19. Gary Arndt says:

    This happened over a year ago. Since then, this post has brought it to the attention of many people who didn't know its whereabouts, and have taken measures to get it secured. I no problems with what I did.

  20. LW says:

    Dear Mr. Arndt

    With respect, I'm not sure if posting information of this kind in a publicly accessible blog is the most appropriate way in which to deal with the concern regarding the largely unsecured ( and potentially in some cases lucrative) nature of the remaining artefacts and other material objects on display at the Museum is a wise strategy. You are correct to point out that the recent civil unrest and breakdown of the rule of the law in the Solomons did allegedly cause the museum to lose a number of display items to looters. Other items of significant cultural and historic value can also be bought by village vendors who are unable to resist the economic incentives to sell such items. You are also correct to speculate that alerting certain authorities to this may result in the items becoming even more vulnerable to thievery as the economic incentives are currently too great so as not to provide such incentive. Some of us who have lived in the Solomons and worked for many years in an entirely voluntary capacity to help in post conflict reform initiatives continue to have grave concern regarding the capacity of the government to secure valuable cultural objects of great importance to the country. Having first attended in the Solomons in the early 1990's , I was deeply saddened and frustrated upon my return several years later and post conflict to see the state of the museum and learn of the loss of these important items, as well as the continual crisis with respect to the diminished interest in their cultural heritage and preservation, particularly with the younger generation. It is a huge loss to the country and I believe, as issues of responsible governance and fiscal responsibility are continually improved, this will allow such problems to be addressed. I myself have obtained at my own expense from outside countries some artefacts which I am safeguarding for eventual repatriation to the museum when the government is in a position financially to commit resources and demonstrate commitment to cultural preservation. I am not aware of whether or not the item in question is of the dollar value you claim, it is at least of historical importance with respect to the evolution of the nation and its emergence as an independent state, however, by alerting individuals in a public forum accessible to all individuals of varying motives to the vulnerability and potentially lucrative nature of this item you have certainly only increased the likelihood of the Solomons Islands losing possession of this object which, even if it is of no actual value, is of value to the rich history of this emergent nation. It would be far more prudent, should you have genuine concerns, to have considered assisting the museum by way of counselling them towards capacity building in the form of directing them to other organizations which can provide training and/or funding to increasing overall display preservation and security (without tipping off potentially unscrupulous authorities to a potential windfall upon its sale). Looting economically disadvantaged countries of these items is unethical, and with capacity building, many of the other artefacts currently being held in overseas galleries and/or private collections should be repatriated to the country as per international conventions along with supports on preservation and security from the respective cultural institutions overseas.

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  23. EBits says:

    So it’s still there?! I’ll be on the next flight…

  24. Stephen Hope says:

    Even if that were true, that doesn’t change the fact that moonrocks are worth what somebody will pay for them, which is considerably more than zip.

  25. Alys says:

    The museum probably knows the worth of the “moonrock” is zip. Contrary to popular belief, we never went to the moon. There are no “moonrocks” here on this planet.

  26. Wan Kong Yew says:

    I live in the Solomon Islands and went to see it last weekend. The glass cabinet does seem to be locked and there were two attendants at the entrance, but I suppose it could still be stolen quite easily. I’m not sure who to tell about it though. I suspect that if anyone at the museum or even someone in the Solomon Islands government, they’d steal it and sell it themselves.

  27. Jonathan says:

    Hey, I loved you great travel blog. I have joined your Blog log community. I was hoping that perhaps we could do a link exchange. Here is my travel blog: http://idreamnowtravelblog.com/

    I look forward to hearing from you.

  28. Great story. So what was in the DHL package you sent pack to America…huh?

  29. Rafael Navarro says:

    Where are:O.I.G.,Joseph Richard Gutheinz,Robert Pearlman,Florian Noller,Superman or the Chapulin Colorado?

  30. Gary says:

    Nothing in the museum was really protected or taken care of. Anyone could steal anything (and did when they had the civil unrest several years ago).

    I don’t think it is an issue of cultural priorities so much as mundane issues of funding and focus.

    My recommendation is nothing more than hanging it on the wall in the parliament building or putting it inside the National Bank building. I don’t think armed guards or elaborate security is necessary.

  31. Just remember… as awesome as the moon rock is to you and me, it’s okay that the moon rock isn’t worth much to the people of the Solomon Islands, but local wampum is.

    On the the other hand, maybe the Solomon people just see it as a gift from the President of the United States, so they are keeping it for that, regardless of the silly rock from wherever in the bubble.

    Or they see it as a thing from President Jimmy Carter and it is in the unlocked case like a free box at a garage sale and they want you to take it off their hands.

  32. Frank says:

    black market E-bay (first “Master of Disguise” reference made online EVER!)

  33. Jason says:

    But even if you had given in to your brief moment of temptation, how would you of sold the rock?

  34. Stephen Hope says:

    I’ve passed this on to somebody who is trying to get something done about it – carefully. The main problem is tell the wrong person and it will just vanish.

  35. Amy says:

    Nicon would be turning over in his grave if he could see that rinky dink display case. You’d think rocks from THE MOON would get wall space.

  36. Wendy says:

    Okay, I am good now. I just read your FAQs. Sorry about my attach today.

  37. Wendy says:

    I was reading a couple posts back where you were talking about the different languages (I got a little behind). What languages did you already know how to speak before you left on your trip around the world?

    I love the word for piano and saw!

  38. Wendy says:

    You are a good man to leave it there. I think I also would have been tempted to slip it in my pocket. With the sale of that rock, think about how much more traveling you would be able to do?!? But, I guess we have some morals rolling around in our minds. I would let someone know, if I knew someone…but, I don’t. I am just a lowely accountant.

  39. Gary says:

    They are Mooninites from the inner core of the moon. Their race is hundreds of years beyond ours. Some would say that the Earth is their moon. But that would belittle the name of their moon, which is: The Moon.

  40. bietz's friend pete says:

    You sir are a gentleman and a scholar. The people of the moon thank you.

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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