The Black Stone is broken into a number of fragments, with varying accounts putting the number at between seven and fifteen, held together by a silver frame. There are differing accounts of how the damage occurred. According to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, the damage occurred during a siege in 638. The editors of Time-Life Books state that the damage occurred during a siege launched by a general of the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik (646-705). Other sources, including the 2007 Britannica, state that the damage occurred as the result of a theft in 930 CE, when Qarmatian warriors sacked Mecca and carried the Black Stone away to their base in Ahsa, in medieval Bahrain. According to the historian Al-Juwayni, the Stone was returned twenty-two years later, in 951, under somewhat mysterious circumstances; wrapped in a sack, it was thrown into the Friday Mosque of Kufa accompanied by a note saying “By command we took it, and by command we have brought it back.” Its abduction and removal caused further damage, breaking the stone into seven pieces.
The Black Stone has been described variously as basalt lava, an agate, a piece of natural glass or most popularly a stony meteorite. A significant clue to its nature is provided by an account of the Stone’s recovery in 951 AD after it had been stolen 21 years earlier; according to a chronicler, the Stone was identified by its ability to float in water. If this account is accurate, it would rule out the Black Stone being an agate, basalt lava or stony meteorite, though it would be compatible with it being glass or pumice.
It has been suggested that the Black Stone may be a glass fragment from the impact of a fragmented meteorite some 6,000 years ago at Wabar, a site in the Rub’ al Khali desert some 1,100 km east of Mecca. The craters at Wabar are notable for the presence of blocks of silica glass, fused by the heat of the impact and impregnated by beads of nickel-iron alloy from the meteorite (most of which was destroyed in the impact). Some of the glass blocks are made of shiny black glass with a white or yellow interior and gas-filled hollows, which allow them to float on water. Although scientists did not become aware of the Wabar craters until 1932, they were located near a caravan route from Oman and were very likely known to the inhabitants of the desert. The wider area was certainly well-known; in ancient Arabic poetry, Wabar or Ubar (also known as “Iram of the Pillars” was the site of a fabulous city that was destroyed by fire from the heavens because of the wickedness of its king. If the estimated age of the crater is accurate, it would have been well within the period of human habitation in Arabia and the impact itself may have been witnessed. However, a recent (2004) scientific analysis of the Wabar site suggests that the impact event happened much more recently than first thought and might have occurred only within the last 200–300 years.