Historical Texts Reveal A New Candidate For "The Unluckiest Guy In History"

Sunrise at the Ishak Pasha , an Ottoman-period palace, in the Dogubayazit district of modern-day Turkey. Jan Mastnik/Shutterstock

Some 130 years ago among the hills of the Ottoman Empire, a very unlucky person may have met a very unfortunate end. A new study claims to have found the earliest evidence of death from a meteorite impact. 

While there have been many unproven claims of death-by-meteorite before, this new research reveals multiple documents that provide the earliest written record of such a death. Like many supposed death-by-meteorite stories, however, the research fails to definitively prove the first-ever case of someone being killed by a meteorite impact. Nevertheless, the researchers piece together quite a story. 

Reported in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science, researchers led by Ege University in Turkey have translated written documentation that a meteorite hit and killed a man and left another paralyzed on August 22, 1888, in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq.  

Much of the story is pieced together through old documents from the Ottoman Empire currently held in Turkey's state archives. Led from Constantinople in modern-day Turkey, the Ottoman Empire spent centuries controlling much of Southeast Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia, including the city of Sulaymaniyah. 

Among the documents, the researchers found three manuscripts written in Ottoman Turkish to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire that detailed an unusual celestial event that occurred on August 22, 1888. The local officials explain that a meteor was first spotted in the sky over numerous villages in what is geographically present-day Iraq, with meteorites falling from the sky “like rain” for about 10 minutes. Although it's hard to pinpoint the location exactly, the researchers believe the meteor was spotted around the settlements of Gulambar and Serçinar, before heading southeast. 

Then, at around 8.30pm in the evening, bright lights and smoke were seen cascading towards Earth, before causing a “fireball” on a hill near Sulaymaniyah. The locals reported their crops and farmland had been damaged from the impact too.

The study then explains: “As a consequence of this event, one man was killed and the other was seriously injured and left paralyzed.” However, the researchers do not explain where the original text states this death, nor any more details on the death and injuries. 

Of course, this is just a few sentences in a historical document, so it shouldn't be treated as scientific confirmation that a man died after being hit by a meteorite or, perhaps more likely, the debris caused by a meteorite impact. There have been a handful of similar reports in more recent history, none of which have been categorically proven. Nevertheless, the researchers are fairly confident about their conclusions. 

"This event is the first report ever that states a meteor impact killed a man… Due to the fact that these documents are from official government sources and written by the local authorities, even grand vizier himself as well, we do not have any suspicion on their reality," the researchers write in the paper.

There have been confirmed reports of humans being hit and injured by meteorites before, but not killed. Back in February 2016, it was reported that a man in the Vellore district in southern Tamil Nadu in India had supposedly been killed by a meteorite. If true, it would have been the first confirmed report in history of someone being killed by a meteorite. While many scientists in India claimed this was the case, NASA eventually stated it was “unlikely” the fatal impact was caused by “something from space.”

If this new report of an unlucky 19th-century victim is in fact true, he makes another excellent candidate for the "unluckiest guy in history".

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