September 27, 2012
Nazi-found Buddhist Statue Found To Be Made Of Meteorite
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
A thousand year old religious icon, a Nazi SS expedition into Tibet, and a meteorite. Sounds like the latest installment in the Indiana Jones franchise, right? You aren't far off. A small Buddhist statue, originally uncovered by a Nazi expedition to Tibet, has been analyzed by scientists and found to have been carved from a meteorite fragment.
In 1938, renowned zoologist and ethnologist Ernst Schafer led an expedition into Tibet. It was his third trip to the country, but the first funded and staffed by German SS members and supported by Nazi SS Chief Heinrich Himmler. It is believed that all the members of the expeditionary force were SS, though later Schafer claimed that he only accepted their support to advance his career.
The expedition was supposedly looking for the origins of Aryanism, the theory of racial superiority that underpinned Nazism.
Schafer and his team found the small statue, which is ten inches tall and weighs about 23 pounds, and took it back to Germany. How it was found is unknown, but it is assumed that Schafer collected the statue because of the large swastika in its center. The statue became part of a private collection once it reached Munich and only became available for study after it was put up for auction in 2007.
Although the Nazi party adopted the swastika as one of their symbols, it is much older. It can be found in the art and religious symbolism of the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Celts, Native Americans, Persians, Hindus and Buddhists. In Buddhism, in particular, the swastika symbolizes good fortune.
The statue is known as the Iron Man because of its high iron and nickel content. It is thought to represent a stylized hybrid between the Buddhist and pre-Buddhist Bon culture as a portrayal of the god Vaisravana. Vaisravana is the chief of the Four Kings, the Buddhist King of the North, known as Jambhala in Tibet.
A research team, led by Dr. Elmar Buchner from Stuttgart University, classified the statue's material as ataxite, a rare class of iron meteorite. Their findings are reported in Meteoritics and Planetary Science.
"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."
Ancient cultures from Greenland's Inuit to the aborigines of Australia have worshiped meteorites. Mecca, one of the most famous worship sites of today, is based upon the Black Stone, believed to be a stony meteorite. The Iron Man statue is thought to have originated in 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," 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."