A German-Austrian team of scientists has discovered that an ancient Buddhist statue found by a German expedition to Tibet in 1938 is carved from an ataxite, a class of very rare iron meteorites.
Found by the 1938-1939 expedition of German scientists led by renowned zoologist and ethnologist Ernst Schäfer, the 1,000-year-old statue, also called the Iron Man, weighs about 10.6 kg and portrays the Buddhist god Vaisravana.
Once the statue arrived in Munich, it became part of a private collection and only became available for study after an auction in 2009.
“The statue was chiseled from a fragment of the Chinga iron meteorite which crashed into the border areas between Mongolia and Siberia about 15,000 years ago,” said Dr Elmar Buchner of Stuttgart University, lead author of a paper published in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science .
“While the first debris was officially discovered in 1913 by gold prospectors, we believe that this individual meteorite fragment was collected many centuries before,” he explained.
“The specific contents of the crucial main (iron, nickel, cobalt) and trace (chromium, gallium, germanium) elements indicate an ataxitic iron meteorite with high nickel contents (approximately 16 wt%) and cobalt (approximately 0.6 wt%) that was used to produce the artifact. In addition, the platinum group elements exhibit a meteoritic signature,” the team explained in the paper.
“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,” Dr Buchner said.
The scientists believe that it originated from the Bon culture of the 11th century CE.
“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,” the scientist concluded.
Bibliographic information: Elmar Buchner et al. 2012. Buddha from space – An ancient object of art made of a Chinga iron meteorite fragment†. Meteoritics & Planetary Science, volume 47, issue 9, pages 1491–1501; doi: 10.1111/j.1945-5100.2012.01409.x