Ahnighito main content.

Ahnighito

Part of Hall of Meteorites.

A.6. THIRTY-FOUR TONS OF IRON C hero

This huge piece of iron, known as Ahnighito, is actually just one portion of a much larger meteorite that fell to Earth from space. It landed in Greenland thousands of years ago, before any people lived there.

The original meteorite, called Cape York, was initially around 200 tons—at least six times the size of Ahnighito—before it broke apart in the atmosphere. Two other fragments of Cape York can also be seen in this hall.

At 34 tons, Ahnighito is the largest meteorite on display in any museum.

Greenland’s Meteorites

The three fragments of Cape York on display—known as Ahnighito, the Woman, and the Dog—were found in the Melville Bay region of northwestern Greenland. The Woman and the Dog were originally on the mainland. Ahnighito was located on an island just offshore.

Map of Greenland with locations of the Cape York fall
The three fragments of Cape York on display—Ahnighito, the Woman and the Dog—were found in the Melville Bay region of northwestern Greenland. The Woman and the Dog were originally on the mainland. Ahnighito was located on an island just offshore.Four other Cape York fragments have been found in Greenland and one in Canada. No crater associated with any of the Cape York fragments—including the largest one, Ahnighito—has ever been located. Some scientists speculate that Cape York fell when this area of Greenland was blanketed by a thick sheet of snow and ice.

Saviksue: The Great Irons

The Inuit of northwest Greenland were the first people to locate the Cape York meteorites, which they referred to as saviksue (“great irons”). Before the arrival of European traders, these iron meteorites were the main source of metal for knives, harpoons, and other tools. Generations of Inuit brought stones from great distances to hammer the extraordinarily hard surfaces of the meteorites called the Dog and the Woman. Ahnighito was harder to reach, which could explain why Inuit people did not use it as much for iron.

The Woman, the Dog, and Ahnighito were brought to the Museum by American explorer Robert Peary and his team, who enlisted an Inuit man, Aleqatsiaq, to guide them to the meteorites in 1894.

Matthew Henson, Arctic Explorer

Matthew Henson (1866-1955) joined American explorer Robert Peary on several Arctic expeditions, making him the first African American to explore Greenland. Henson was fluent in Inuit languages, could build and repair sleds, and learned to train sled dogs using indigenous knowledge. He was essential to the success of Peary’s voyages, including those to collect the Cape York meteorites.

In 1909, Peary, Henson and four Inuit guides—Ukkujaaq, Sigluk, and brothers Uutaaq and Iggiannguaq—made the final push to the site Peary believed was the North Pole. By some accounts, Henson arrived first while scouting the trail ahead of Peary. Despite his accomplishments, histories of Arctic exploration often diminish Henson’s role, describing him as Peary’s servant—but the journals of both men show that Henson was an impressive explorer in his own right.

Portrait of Matthew Henson wearing a fur hood.
Arctic explorer Matthew Henson traveled to Greenland with Robert Peary seven times, including on the three expeditions to collect the Cape York meteorites between 1894 and 1897.
Nelly George/Alamy