Thought to stem from the work of the 11th century Bon culture, this 22-pound statue of the Buddhist god Vaiśravana has a storied history, say scientists. It careened about in space as an asteroid before crashing into Asia. There, it was picked up and carved by the early Tibetans. The resulting statue later passed into the hands of the Nazi Schutzstaffel in the late 1930s.
Nature News says that analyses of the statue’s material line up with the composition of the Chinga meteorite, which is thought to have broken up over Asia between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago.
Known as the Iron Man, the 9.5-inch-high statue was discovered in 1938 by an expedition backed by SS chief Heinrich Himmler and led by zoologist Ernst Schäfer. The expedition roamed Tibet to search for the roots of Aryanism.
It is unknown how the sculpture was unearthed, but it is believed that a large swastika carved into the center of the figure may have encouraged the team to take it back to Germany.”
Before it was co-opted as the symbol of Nazism, the swastika served (and continues to serve) as an important symbol of many eastern religions.
According to the researchers, meteorites have often hold a special significance to many of the world’s cultures. But, they say, this carved statue is a unique treasure.
“It 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,” said Buchner.
Even to this day, meteorities hold a special grip over our interest: their extraterrestrial origin denotes their history and their rarity. The New York Times reported last year that a black market that has arisen around the trade of illicit meteorites.
More from Smithsonian.com:
Mining for Meteorites
One Hundred Years Ago Today, A Mars Meteorite Fell in a Blaze