A Buddhist statue brought to Germany from Tibet by a Nazi-backed expedition has been confirmed as having an extraterrestrial origin.
Known as the ‘iron man’, the 24-centimetre-high sculpture may represent the god Vaiśravaṇa and was likely created from a piece of the Chinga meteorite that was strewn across the border region between Russia and Mongolia between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago, according to Elmar Buchner, of the University of Stuttgart in Germany, and his colleagues.
Given the extreme hardness of the meteorite — “basically an inappropriate material for producing sculptures” the paper notes — the artist or artists who created it may have known their material was special, the researchers say. Buchner suggests that it could have been produced by the 11th century Bon Ben [Corrected 27/9] culture, but the exact origin and age of the statue — as opposed to the meteorite it is made from — is still unknown. It is thought to have been brought to Germany by a Nazi-backed expedition to Tibet in 1938–39. The swastika symbol on the piece — a version of which was adopted by the Nazi party — may have encouraged the 1938 expedition to take it back with them.
The use of iron from meteors in ancient times is an interesting topic. Cultures all over the world used the heaven-sent nickel-iron alloys, from the Inuit to the ancient Egyptians, and in many places the etymology of the word iron resolves back to ‘fire/thunderbolt/metal from heaven”. One can only imagine in what sort of reverence those ancient people held this seemingly god-given substance.