The Kaali Meteorite Crater is located in the village of Kaali on the Estonian island of Saaremaa, 18km from its capital Kuressaare. It was the last giant meteorite to fall into a densely populated area, and the scar it left on the landscape tells about the terrible events which happened here during the Bronze Age.
About 7,600 years ago, a large rock, some 20 to 80 tons in mass, ripped through Earth’s atmosphere at velocities between 10 and 20 km/s. At an altitude of 5–10 km, the meteorite broke up into pieces and fell in fragments. The largest of them slammed into the earth releasing energy equivalent to about 20 kilotons of TNT, or 25% more powerful than the atomic bomb that leveled Hiroshima during the end of the World War II. The explosion removed approximately 81,000 cubic meters of dolomites and other rock, formed a fireball 7–8 km tall and incinerated forests within a 6 km radius. At the time of impact the site was forested with a small human population. Casualties must have been numerous.
The exploding meteor left a total of nine craters in an area which is now known as the Kaali Meteorite Crater Field. The largest of these crater has a diameter of 110 meters and a depth of 22 meters. Other pieces of meteorite formed smaller craters with diameters ranging from 12 to 40 meters and their respective depths vary from one to four meters. All lie within a distance of 1 km from the main crater.
Today Kaali Crater has a lake in it, fed by ground water and precipitation. Depending on the time of year, this lake has a diameter of 30 - 60 meters and depth of 1 - 6 meters. Surrounding Kaali crater are the remains of an immense stone wall 470 meters long, 2.5 meters thick and approximately 2 meters high, built during the early Iron Age (600 B.C. to 100 A.D.) An extraordinary number of domestic animal bones have been found inside the walled area, the latest dating to the 17th century, suggesting that the lake was used not only as a watering hole but as a place for ritual sacrifices. There are also evidence of a fortified settlement inhabited from the 5th to 7th century BC and a small hoard of silver jewelry from the 3rd to 5th centuries AD.
The wall, the silver and the bones have led to speculation that centuries after the catastrophic explosion took place, the crater took on the role of a pagan worship site. The Estonians are known to have made animal offerings to ensure good harvests, which continued to be made in secret long after the Church forbade such pagan practices.
Stories of the catastrophe and the lake appear prominently in Finnish mythology, particularly the national epic, Kalevala which give a very realistic description of fire falling from the sky that burned houses, fields, fens and humans.
Tilted dolomite bedrock in the walls of the main crater. Photo credit
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