It is believed that the ‘Iron Man’, as this Buddhist figure is known, was carved in the 11th century by a sculptor from the Bon culture, which developed in the border region of eastern Siberia and Mongolia. In 1938, the figure was stolen from Tibet by the Nazis, and remained in a private collection in Munich until 2007, when scientists were allowed to study it. But the story doesn’t end here: Now scientists have found that the material used to create the sculpture actually comes from space, being part of a meteorite that may have fallen to earth about 15,000 years ago.
The material is a rare class of iron called Chinga ataxite; the researchers, who published their findings in Meteoritics & Planetary Science, believe that the sculptor probably knew that this was a special material, as it presents a particular harshness.
According to the scientists, the sculpture is unique. ‘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,’ says Dr Elmar Buchner from the University of Stuttgart, lead author of the study. ‘Its origins alone may value it at 20,000 dollars (£12,400). However, if our estimation of its age is correct and it is nearly 1,000 years old, it could be invaluable.’
Photo credit: Elmar Buchner
Elmar BUCHNER, Martin SCHMIEDER, Gero KURAT, Franz BRANDSTÄTTER, Utz KRAMAR, Theo NTAFLOS, & Jörg KRÖCHERT (2012). Buddha from space—An ancient object of art made of a Chinga iron meteorite fragment Meteoritics & Planetary Science DOI: 10.1111/j.1945-5100.2012.01409.x