Statue looted by Nazis has extraterrestrial origins

Posted by Emma Woollacott

You could be forgiven for thinking this is the plot of a new Indiana Jones movie - but it's not, we promise.

An ancient Buddhist statue which was first recovered by a Nazi expedition in 1938 has turned out to come from space, as a meteorite which crashed to Earth 15,000 years ago.

The 10-kilogram statue, known as the Iron Man, is believed to be about a thousand years old, and depicts the Buddhist deity Vaisravana. It's now been revealed to have been carved from an ataxite, a very rare class of iron meteorite.

"The statue was chiseled from an iron meteorite, from a fragment of the Chinga meteorite which crashed into the border areas between Mongolia and Siberia about 15,000 years ago," says Dr Elmar Buchner from the University of Stuttgart.

"While the first debris was officially discovered in 1913 by gold prospectors, we believe that this individual meteorite fragment was collected many centuries before."

The statue was discovered in 1938 by an expedition of German scientists led by zoologist Ernst Schäfer. It bears a large swastika - originally an Eastern symbol of rebirth - on its back, and the researchers suggest it may be this that captured the interest of the Nazis.

The statue was taken to Munich, where it formed part of a private collection until it was auctioned in 2009.

"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 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."

It doesn't appear to have any magic powers - but who knows?