Image copyright AFP/Getty Images Image caption The meteorite is currently in customs storage in Zhejiang province
A meteorite seized by Chinese customs agents is being detained as a potential pyrite – a rock thought to be responsible for ancient Egyptian disease.
The three-metre-wide rock, which came off a meteorite more than 10,000 years ago, was found in a parking lot by two Chinese cement merchants in July 2018.
Chinese customs officials moved the rock to zhejiang province in November for analysis.
Fellow Chinese customs workers still insist that the meteorite is pyrite.
Ropes were observed to be shaking inside the box containing the meteorite, but the zhejiang customs agency says the bolts were stolen.
“Before the dangdao police department could go to collect the rock, the weight-inspecting customs officers had already confirmed the pyrite inside,” Zhejiang customs spokesman Ge Yang said on Wednesday.
“But before the weights could be analysed, the rocks’ weights were stolen, due to an extensive and complex investigation.”
Image copyright Reuters Image caption A senior Chinese customs official, Zhang Chi, said in September the meteorite was a combination of aluminium, fine metal powder and iron.
Meteorites that are made of pyrite tend to produce foul-smelling gas as a by-product of internal combustion engines that creates known as “metal lung”. This contains noxious gas, but can cause permanent respiratory disease.
Chinese customs agents also said they were not aware that a nine-year-old Chinese boy had been in possession of the same space rock prior to being detained in June in southern Guangdong province.
The meteorite has yet to be officially classed as pyrite, but sources told the Beijing News that it was.
“The rocks look like they were in a society before Chinese society. They have the feel of ordinary rocks, like uranium, which were used in different medicinal and lighting implements,” said one.
The Beijing News reported that the zhejiang customs administration still has the meteorite, which must be classified as pyrite or radioactive waste to be inspected.
Most experts agree that pyrite has no connection to disease – after all, pyrite has not killed anyone.
The Chinese government claims any meteorite returned to the country should be sold within seven days, but the media says some customers may be able to buy a meteorite by posing as researchers or selling it as art.