Depicting Vaisravana, the Buddhist god of wealth or war, the sculpture was carved from 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,” said Elmar Buchner of the University of Stuttgart.
In a paper published in Metoritics and Planetary Science, Buchner and colleagues reported their geochemical analysis and the story of the “Buddha from Space,” which almost reads like an Indiana Jones movie.
Known as the Iron Man, the 9.5-inch-high statue was discovered in 1938 by an expedition backed by SS chief Heinrich Himmler and led by zoologist Ernst Schäfer. The expedition roamed Tibet to search for the roots of Aryanism.
It is unknown how the sculpture was unearthed, but it is believed that a large swastika carved into the center of the figure may have encouraged the team to take it back to Germany.
Once it arrived in Germany, the Iron Man became part of a private collection and it wasn’t until 2009 that cientists could study it, following an auction.
Weighting about 23 pounds, the statue wasn’t exactly carved from the most appropriate material. Buchner and colleagues noted that the artist who created it from the extremely hard meteorite may have known that the material was special.
“The fall of meteorites has been interpreted as divine messages by multitudinous cultures since prehistoric times,” they wrote.
According to Buchner, the statue was likely carved about 1,000 years ago by the pre-Buddhist Bon culture of the 11th century. However, the exact origin and age of the statue remains unknown.
“While the first debris was officially discovered in 1913 by gold prospectors, we believe that this individual meteorite fragment was collected many centuries before,” Buchner said. Although other meteorites are known to have inspired worship from many ancient cultures, the Iron Man statue is pretty unique.
“It 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 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.”
( via news.discovery.com)