Advent calendar / Events / History

Door 7: Account of a meteorite and mammoth from Russia


Our run-down of the year’s exhibition and event highlights continues!


siberia-poster-without-subtextOn 28 April 2016, the Geological Society Library held its first evening event of the year, ‘Siberia! Geological Adventures in the 19th Century Imperial Russia’, a talk by author and journalist Nick Fielding about the 19th Century adventurers Charles Austin and Thomas Atkinson.

Before the lecture, pupils from the AZBUKA Russian-English school served a traditional Russian tea to guests, and the evening concluded with a one-off display of material from the archives relating to other foreign geologists who were in Russia during the early 19th century.

Geological 3203

William Babington, c.1820

Today’s blog focuses on one of the items on display, a transcript of a letter which predates the foundation of the Society by a couple of months. The original author, Scots physician Alexander Crichton (1763-1856), later Sir Alexander Crichton, was appointed physician-in-ordinary to Tsar Alexander of Russia in September 1804. The letter, sent from St Petersburg on 20 August 1807, was addressed to his friend and fellow physician, William Babington who was also one of the Society’s founders. The transcript was read at the Society meeting of 7 April 1809.


‘Extract of a letter from St Petersburg’, from Alexander Crichton, 20 Aug 1807. (ref: LDGSL/1/15).


First page of the extract, read before the Society on 9 April 1809.


The meteorite may have been the ‘Timochin’ stone, which was observed to fall during a thunderstorm on 25 March 1807 in Timochin, Kaluzhsk Province, Russia. Image from Karl von Schreibers, Beytrage zur Geschichte und Kenntniss meteorischer Stein-und Metall-Massen…, (1820)

“We have lately had two remarkable phenomena in Natural History arrise [sic] in this capital; the one a meteorological stone weighing about 92 pounds weight, the other an entire mammoth of Siberia, the white skin of which is nearly preserved. The first I have seen the second I am tomorrow. The meteorological stone is in every respect like those which Sir Joseph Banks received from Benares. The same kind of black vitrified crust, and externally the same kind of appearance with the fragments of others you have so often seen.  In one part however there is a kind of metallic vein runs thro’ this stone. It is exceedingly narrow or thin, & has the appearance of Pyrites.  The Minister of the Interior promised me a piece of this stone, & the procés verbal to send to England, but altho’ I have called on him at least 12 times for that purpose, I have not been able to obtain either the one or the other. The stone is deposited in the academy and therefore will now be guarded with due care.

I cannot as yet give you any satisfactory account of the mammoth. It had been preserved since the day of its death in a bed of ice & snow but during the heat of one of the late summers, either it became exposed or part of the mountain where it had died fell down, & rolled along with it. It’s [sic] grinders I am told are not pointed like those of the American Mammoth, but are like those of the elephant, & shew that it was not carnivorous, but the great singularity is the skin which is covered with hair. It is in fact a thick & long fur some of which I have seen, & this seems to prove that it may have been a natural inhabitant of cold climates.”


The mammoth referred to by Crichton is the ‘Adams mammoth’ which was the first complete woolly mammoth discovered. Found in Siberia in 1799, the mammoth was virtually intact with its skin and fur attached, however by the time of its recovery by the Russian botanist Mikhail Adams (1780-1838) in 1806, substantial parts of it had been eaten by wild animals. This engraving shows the reconstruction of the skeleton with some of the skin still attached to the skull. Image from [Wilhelm Gottlieb Tilesius] On the Mammoth or Fossil Elephant, found in the ice at the mouth of the River Lena, in Siberia, (1819).

Further information:
Resources and images from the ‘Siberia’ evening event

More images from the archive display on foreign geologists in Russia

Online archive of Library events

If you’d like to be added to Library events mailing list please email

Many thanks to Nick Fielding and the staff and pupils of the AZBUKA Russian-English school.

2 thoughts on “Door 7: Account of a meteorite and mammoth from Russia

  1. Pingback: Door 18: The Tectonics of the Cold War | Geological Society of London blog

  2. Pingback: Door 20: Corrao-Hotham-Graham-Ferdinandea-Julia-Nerita-Sciacca Island (December) | Geological Society of London blog

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