Birmingham is full of mysteries. For one of our favourites, head down to Spiceal Street and you’ll find a curious commemorative plaque nearby. It reads: “A meteorite fell in Natan, China in 1516. 484 years later on the night of 26th March 2000 it fell from the skies again landing in Birmingham’s BullRing.”
Apart from sounding like the set-up to a Doctor Who episode, it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. The main one being: How does a meteorite fall twice, 500 years and 8,000 miles apart? Well, hopefully, we can provide some clarity to the Birmingham meteorite.
A meteorite really did fall on China in 1516, quite a hefty one too. An over 20,000lb chunk of iron broke up over a field – 17 miles long and five miles wide – near the city of Nantan in the region of Guangxi. But it was not until the 1950s that they were gathered up, initially for smelting until the fragments were discovered to be unusable.
Instead, pieces of the meteorite spread across the world, making their way into the hands of collectors. There’s even a giant chunk of it at the Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City, Utah. One person who ended up owning a piece of the Nantan meteorite was the artist Cornelia Parker. She set about launching it into the sky again and crashing on Birmingham soil this time.
On the evening of 26 March 2000, the conceptual artist set off a spectacular fireworks display from the roof of Birmingham’s Rotunda building. Inside the pyrotechnic mixture were bits of pulverised meteorite, creating a meteorite shower in the sky. To commemorate the occasion, in 2004, two plaques were installed in the vicinity of St Martin’s church.
Has a real meteorite ever fallen on Birmingham?
Not every meteorite to fall on Birmingham has been an artistic endeavour. Back in 2020, a confirmed meteorite was spotted exploding into a fireball over south Birmingham. But seeing as about 6,100 meteorites fall per year – roughly 17 a day – and 1,800 on land, it wouldn’t surprise us if a fair few more have crashed here over the years. But none with a story like the Nantan meteorite.