It sounds like the greatest pulp science fiction tale ever, but it's real, and the story behind it is filled with twists and turns. Researchers have recently released information on a carved Buddha brought to Germany from Tibet by the Nazis. Astoundingly, the statue is made from a meteorite believed to have fallen some 10,000 years ago along the Siberia-Mongolian border.
This ancient Buddha, also known as "Iron Man" to the scientists, ended up in Germany as the result of zoologist and ethnologist Ernst Schäfer's journey to Tibet in 1938 and '39. The mission was to find the roots of the Aryan "race." Instead he returned with the carving of what researchers believe to be is the Buddhist god Vaisravana — somewhat ironically, the god of wealth or war.
The Iron Man is believed to have been carved sometime between the 8th and 10th centuries. At 9.5 inches tall, it weighs in at a hefty 23 pounds. The Iron Man holds an object in his hand — possibly a lemon that is a traditional symbol of wealth — and also has a Buddhist swastika carved on its chest. The swastika, originally a symbol of luck, was later repurposed as the symbol for the Nazi party. Could this be why it was trundled back to Germany? The research team wondered the same thing, in the online journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science:
"One can speculate whether the swastika symbol on the statue was a potential motivation to displace the 'Iron Man' meteorite artifact to Germany."
So, why are we just hearing about this statue now? The statue was part of a private collection after the war; it was only in 2007 that Stuttgart University researcher Elmar Bucher and his team were allowed to take five small samples. Later, in 2009, they were able to take larger samples from inside Iron Man, which weren't contaminated by the statue's long history and handling.
The samples revealed the statue is carved from a rare ataxite meteorite. These meteorites are mostly composed of iron and a high level of nickel. Chemical analysis of the samples showed they closely match the famous Chinga meteorite field along the Siberia and Mongolian border. Scientists believe the Chinga meteorite fell 10,000 to 20,000 years ago.
Buchner and his colleagues noted that although many cultures have used and even worshipped meteorite iron, the Buddha statue is one-of-a-kind:
"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," Buchner said in a statement. "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."
"Could be invaluable" seems almost like an understatement, doesn't it? It's a Nazi Space Buddha — you can almost hear Quentin Tarantino typing out a script about it at this very moment.