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Ancient Buddhist statue made of meteorite, new study reveals

Date:
September 26, 2012
Source:
University of Stuttgart
Summary:
An ancient Buddhist statue which was first recovered by a Nazi expedition in 1938 has been analyzed by a team of scientists. The probably 1,000-year-old statue, called the “Iron Man”, weighs 10 kilograms, portrays the Buddhist god Vaisravana and is believed to originate from the pre-Buddhist Bon culture of the 11th Century. Geochemical analyses by the German-Austrian research team revealed that the priceless statue was carved from an ataxite, a very rare class of iron meteorites.

Photograph of the 'Space Buddha' statue.
Credit: Dr. Elmar Buchner

An ancient Buddhist statue which was first recovered by a Nazi expedition in 1938 has been analyzed by a team of scientists led by Dr. Elmar Buchner from the Institute of Planetology, University of Stuttgart. The probably 1,000-year-old statue, called the "Iron Man," weighs 10 kilograms, portrays the Buddhist god Vaisravana and is believed to originate from the pre-Buddhist Bon culture of the 11th Century. Geochemical analyses by the German-Austrian research team revealed that the priceless statue was carved from an ataxite, a very rare class of iron meteorites.

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It sounds like an artifact from an Indiana Jones film: a 1,000-year-old ancient Buddhist statue which was first recovered by a Nazi expedition in 1938 has been analyzed by scientists and has been found to be carved from a meteorite. The findings, published in Meteoritics and Planetary Science, reveal the priceless statue to be a rare ataxite class of meteorite.

The statue, known as the Iron Man, weighs 10kg and is believed to represent a stylistic hybrid between the Buddhist and pre-Buddhist Bon culture that portrays the god Vaisravana, the Buddhist King of the North, also known as Jambhala in Tibet.

The statue was discovered in 1938 by an expedition of German scientists led by renowned zoologist Ernst Schäfer. It is unknown how the statue was discovered, but it is believed that the large swastika carved into the centre of the figure may have encouraged the team to take it back to Germany. Once it arrived in Munich it became part of a private collection and only became available for study following an auction in 2009.

The first team to study the origins of the statue was led by Dr Elmar Buchner from Stuttgart University. The team was able to classify it as an ataxite, a rare class of iron meteorite with high contents of nickel.

"The statue was chiseled from an iron meteorite, from a fragment of the Chinga meteorite which crashed into the border areas between Mongolia and Siberia about 15.000 years ago. "While the first debris was officially discovered in 1913 by gold prospectors, we believe that this individual meteorite fragment was collected many centuries before," said Dr Buchner.

Meteorites inspired worship from many ancient cultures ranging from the Inuit's of Greenland to the aborigines of Australia. Even today one of the most famous worship sites in the world, Mecca in Saudi Arabia, is based upon the Black Stone, believed to be a stony meteorite. Dr Buchner's team believe the Iron Man originated from the Bon culture of the 11th Century"The Iron Man statue is the only known illustration of a human figure to be carved into a meteorite, which means we have nothing to compare it to when assessing value," said Dr Buchner. "Its origins alone may value it at $20,000; however, if our estimation of its age is correct and it is nearly a thousand years old it could be invaluable."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Stuttgart. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Elmar Buchner, Martin Schmieder, Gero Kurat, Franz Brandstätter, Utz Kramar, Theo Ntaflos, Jörg Kröchert. Buddha from space: An ancient object of art made of a Chinga iron meteorite fragment. Meteoritics & Planetary Science, 2012; DOI: 10.1111/j.1945-5100.2012.01409.x

Cite This Page:

University of Stuttgart. "Ancient Buddhist statue made of meteorite, new study reveals." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 September 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120926104255.htm>.
University of Stuttgart. (2012, September 26). Ancient Buddhist statue made of meteorite, new study reveals. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120926104255.htm
University of Stuttgart. "Ancient Buddhist statue made of meteorite, new study reveals." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120926104255.htm (accessed October 24, 2014).

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