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The iron god that was carved from a meteorite

The Iron Man statue is carved from a meteorite, but much mystery remains about its origins (Image: Elmar Buchner)

A Tibetan statue called the "Iron Man" was carved from part of a meteor that fell to Earth 15,000 years ago, according Elmar Buchner, of the Planetology Institute at Stuttgart University.  The "Buddha from space" has an interesting history.

An expedition to Tibet in 1938 and 1939 was sponsored by Hitler's Schutzstaffel (SS), which was hoping to reap some propaganda value from the reputation of eminent zoologist Ernst Schafer.  Along with specimens of a variety of animals and hundreds of varieties of grain and other seeds, the Shafer expedition came back with several artifacts, including a robe believed to have been worn by the Dalai Lama, a gold coin and the iron statue.  The latter apparently attracted the attention of the Nazis because of a swastika carved into its center. 

According to Buchner, the swastika, aside from being the symbol of the Third Reich, was a sun sign symbol typical of the Bön culture, which flourished in Tibet around a thousand years ago.  "We cannot present any "hard criteria" or even any evidence that the statue originates in the 11th century," said Buchner.  "However, many of the stylistic features tend toward the Bön culture in the Himalayan area of the 11th century."

The statue appears to depict Vaisravana (aka Jambhala), the Tibetan god of the North, also revered as the god of wealth.

The Iron Man disappeared into the collection of a private collector during World War II, and did not re-emerge into public view until 2007.

The tell-tale sign that the statue was carved from a meteor is its mineral content. The major constituent minerals are iron, nickel and cobalt, with trace elements of chromium, gallium and germanium.  These minerals indicate that it came from an ataxitic iron meteorite, and the specific values match that of the Chinga meteorite discovered on the border of Mongolia and eastern Siberia in 1913. 

Meteorites have long been objects of religious veneration, including most importantly the Hadschar al Aswad, the sacred black stone to which Muslims pay homage during their pilgrimage to Mecca.

"Due to the fact the Chinga meteorite fell from the sky about 15.000 years ago, it is extremely unlikely that people watched this meteorite fall," noted Dr. Buchner,  "However, people were aware of the typical surface features of meteorites. One can speculate whether the carver knew about the extraterrestrial origin of the piece of iron he used to produce this statue. It's for sure that the carver was aware that it is a high-value material because somebody took a lot of time to carve this statue and additionally, large parts of the iron man were gilded." 

How the Iron Man, or the chunk of iron from which it was carved, migrated several hundred miles southward to Tibet remains a mystery.