Buddhist statue, discovered by Nazi expedition, is made of meteorite, new study reveals

September 26, 2012
Undated handout picture shows a thousand year-old ancient Buddhist statue known as the Iron Man. The statue was discovered in 1938 by an expedition of German scientists led by renowned zoologist Ernst Schäfer and supported by Nazi SS Chief Heinrich Himmler. A team from Stuttgart University have analysed the statue and were able to classify it as an ataxite, a rare class of iron meteorite.

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 analysed 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 led by renowned zoologist Ernst Schäfer. The expedition was supported by Nazi SS Chief Heinrich Himmler and the entire expeditionary team were believed to have been SS members.

Schäfer would later claim that he accepted SS support to advance his scientific research into the wildlife and anthropology of Tibet. However, historians believe Himmler's support may have been based on his belief that the origins of the Aryan race could be found in Tibet.

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 2007.

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 a fragment of the Chinga meteorite which crashed into the border areas between Mongolia and Siberia about 15,000 years ago," said Dr Buchner. "While the first debris was officially discovered in 1913 by gold prospectors, we believe that this individual meteorite fragment was collected many centuries before."

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 statue is the only known illustration of a human figure to be carved into a , which means we have nothing to compare it to when assessing value," concluded 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."

Explore further: 3,400-year-old Egyptian statue is found

More information: Elmar Buchner, Martin Schmieder, Gero Kurat, Franz Brandstaetter, Utz Kramar, Theo Ntaflos, Joerg Kroechert, "Buddha from space—An ancient object of art made of a Chinga iron meteorite fragment", Meteoritics & Planetary Science, September 2012, DOI: 10.1111/j.1945-5100.2012.01409

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Tangent2
3.7 / 5 (9) Sep 26, 2012
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.


Please get the facts straight. The orientation of the spokes of that "swastika" are completely wrong and in the opposite direction of what a swastika should be. This is actually the "Suavastika", and is the female counterpart to the "male" swastika.

See for yourselves here:
http://www.worldg...tika.htm

A little research goes a long way.
jsdarkdestruction
3 / 5 (6) Sep 26, 2012
that is really cool. besides the whole nazi part.
defactoseven
2.5 / 5 (11) Sep 26, 2012
"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," concluded 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."

Why does everything have to be valued by USD? Or any monetary system? Of course it's invaluable; it's a bit of human history, the art of human antiquity and should be understood and cared for in such a way. If you want a bookend, go to Walmart.
Meyer
2.8 / 5 (4) Sep 27, 2012
An expedition merely "discovered" the car, and the large Cadillac ornament front and center of the hood encouraged the team to take it back to my client's garage for disassembly and analysis. Its origins alone may value it at $20,000, but due to the vehicle's age it may not be possible to assess a price and, therefore, damages should be valued at $0. The defense rests, your honor.
scidog
4 / 5 (4) Sep 27, 2012
i would like to know what the Buddhists think about this,not in terms of value but it's history and what it means to them.
88HUX88
3 / 5 (1) Sep 27, 2012
first it says discovered and then recovered, so who owns it and why?
roboferret
4 / 5 (4) Sep 27, 2012
They have top men looking at it.

Top... men.
Pattern_chaser
5 / 5 (1) Sep 27, 2012
A beautiful artwork, but is it (or its discovery) news? I don't think so.
Ensa
5 / 5 (6) Sep 27, 2012
i would like to know what the Buddhists think about this,not in terms of value but it's history and what it means to them.

I am a Buddhist teacher, of a Tibetan lineage. I can say from experience that what Buddhists think about this sort of thing is going to vary from the profound to the insane.
In general though, Buddhism is about accomplishing internal, if I say mental that may be mis-understood because what Buddhists refer to as mind is experiential, so I will say, internal experiential change through various practices. The purpose of objects such as this statue is to assist these practices in some way, how depends on the practice.
The article mentions worship in the context of different cultures. In Buddhism worship is practised because the effect that this mental activity has is conducive to a particular mental goal. So what this object would mean historically and practically is that someone made it as an aid to meditation. What it means to me is I can appreciate it. :)
Egleton
3.8 / 5 (4) Sep 27, 2012
Good to see you here Ensa.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Sep 27, 2012
So if I understand this correctly the statue means (in terms of 'value') very little to Buddhism as a whole (which seems plausible), but may have meaning to individual Buddhists who have utilized it to achieve some form of 'aid'-icon.
And since it's a historical artifact that hasn't been used for anyo of that in quite some time it is unlikley to be particularly important (in terms of benig 'holy') to Buddhism in specific. It's more of a valuable object in terms of history and studies of materials of meteoric origin.
neotesla
2.9 / 5 (7) Sep 27, 2012
Interesting that as a cutural artifact that was stolen, there has not been any attempt to have it repatriated like the items taken away from European families during WWII. The fact that it stayed in a "private" collection and was sold again exemplifes the lack of universal consideration for all cultures versus the focus on Western art and its specific ownership.
Ensa
5 / 5 (1) Sep 27, 2012
Good to see you here Ensa.

And I, you. I rarely post these days but I read these articles and comments regularly. A great community. :)
Ensa
5 / 5 (2) Sep 27, 2012
So if I understand this correctly the statue means (in terms of 'value') very little to Buddhism as a whole (which seems plausible), but may have meaning to individual Buddhists who have utilized it to achieve some form of 'aid'-icon.
And since it's a historical artifact that hasn't been used for anyo of that in quite some time it is unlikley to be particularly important (in terms of benig 'holy') to Buddhism in specific. It's more of a valuable object in terms of history and studies of materials of meteoric origin.

Yes.
Of course value itself is contextual, so there will be a cultural value, if people consider that a culture would be diminished by a statues loss, or an emotional value, if people are attached to an image.
I am stating the obvious a bit but I think some other religions do inhere value or meaning to objects. Buddhism tends to use religious symbolism as an aid to undermining concepts such as inherent value, rather than promote them.
Manhar
1 / 5 (1) Oct 22, 2012
It does not look like Buddha. Buddha never wore such costume. He was a son of a NEPALI ( NEPAL is located north of Bangladesh) king and their dresses were Indian style not Roman style. The costume, beard and head piece do not look like Indian origin at all.

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