The Jakarta Post
A 34-year-old man in North Sumatra who sold a meteorite that smashed through his roof for Rp 200 million (US$14,000) found out later that he could have received 100 times the sum as the space rock is actually worth around $1.85 million.
Joshua Hutagalung said he felt "cheated" after selling the rock to United States meteorite expert, Jared Collins, for a much cheaper price than its true value, refuting reports from foreign media that had painted him as a sudden multimillionaire after making the sale.
“I have spent all the Rp 200 million I got from selling the meteorite to Collins on helping my family and orphans, building a church and repairing my parents’ graves,” the coffin maker told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
On Aug. 1, Joshua was working on a coffin when the space rock suddenly smashed through the roof of his living room in his house at Setahi Nauli village, Kolang district in Central Tapanuli regency.
Joshua said he was surprised by the booming sound and was at first afraid to approach the fallen object. He then found that it was a meteorite that had left a large hole in his roof and was embedded 15 centimeters deep in the ground.
“I lifted it up, and it was warm. That’s when I thought that it must be a meteorite falling from the sky because it was impossible for someone to throw a rock of that size onto the roof,” he said.
Joshua immediately shared his discovery with his friends on Facebook, and his post soon went viral.
Two days after the discovery, a local resident offered Rp 1 billion for the space rock, which Joshua rejected after thinking the bargainer was not serious. “He made his offer lightly, so I refused to sell it.”
Two weeks later, Collins flew from his residence in Bali to visit Joshua. The meteorite expert told Joshua that he learned of the latter’s discovery through the media.
“He offered Rp 200 million for the meteorite. I refused. He then added Rp 14 million for repairing the roof that had been damaged by the meteorite,” said the father of two, “After considering it, I agreed with Jared’s offer."
A number of foreign media outlets, including UK tabloids the Sun and Daily Mail, called Joshua an "instant multimillionaire", saying that he had been given the amount equivalent to 30 years of his salary for the space rock.
According to the Sun, fragments of the meteorite had been put up for sale on eBay for 757 pounds sterling per gram, valuing the rock at nearly 1.4 million pounds sterling, or $1.85 million in total.
Collins shipped the space rock to America, where it was bought by Jay Piatek, a doctor and meteorite collector from Indianapolis, according to the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Texas, US, which the media quoted.
“It was in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis and frankly, it was a toss-up between buying the rock for myself or working with scientists and collectors in the US,” Collins said as quoted by the Sun, “I carried as much money as I could muster and went to find Joshua, who turned out to be a canny negotiator.”
The meteorite is estimated to be 4.5 billion years old and is classified as CM1/2 carbonaceous Chondrite, an extremely rare variety.
Meteorites are priced by gram with the cheapest pure-rock varieties fetching 50 US cents to $5.00 per gram, but those with rare extra-terrestrial metals sell for up to $1,000 per gram, the Daily Mail reported.
Joshua was surprised to know that the price of the meteorite he had discovered could sell for up to nearly Rp 26 billion. “If that’s true, I’ve been lied to and I’m disappointed," he said.
He admitted that he had sold only 1.8 kilograms of the total 2.2 kg of the space rock. Joshua had divided the remaining with him and his family members, and said he would not sell the stone despite its value.
“Let it be a memento,” Joshua said.
Three further fragments of the meteorite were reportedly found in nearby areas when the space stone crashed in August - one was discovered in a paddy field less than 3 kilometers from Joshua’s home, according to media reports.
The Lunar and Planetary Institute estimated that the meteorite, which has been officially named Kolang, initially weighed 2.5 kg in total.
Kolang district head Saut Bona Situmeang said that since the discovery of the meteorite at Joshua’s home, the village suddenly became crowded with people coming from various regions.
“Many people come to our area out of curiosity, wanting to see where the meteorite fell,” Saut told the Post.
Shanty Soekowati, who represents Collins, denied that Collins had bought the meteorite from Joshua, saying he had only served as middleman between Joshua and a US meteorite expert. The expert, Shanty said, had asked Collins to help him purchase the meteorite.
Collins was also asked to determine the authenticity of the space rock and to protect it from damage. His colleague requested that Collins deliver the rock safely to the US.
“The transaction fee approved by Joshua Hutagalung and the American national were carried out through direct communication without involving Jared Collins. Joshua set the price, and it was later approved by the American,” Shanty said in a press statement to The Jakarta Post on Thursday.
After reaching the agreement, Collins departed to North Sumatra to proceed with the observation and delivery.
Shanty dismissed reports that Joshua had received between Rp 200 million and Rp 25 billion for the meteorite.
“The reported figures for the meteorite purchase were not correct. The real figure is confidential between the two parties, Joshua and the American national, based on a mutual agreement,” she said.
She went on to say that Collins had received compensation from his colleague for his efforts to collect the meteorite.
“The purpose of his involvement was, as a meteorite enthusiast, to get a one-time opportunity to physically witness and examine the meteorite,” Shanty added. (syk)
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include comments from representatives of Jared Collins.