Mushroom Hunters Stumble Upon Mysterious Stone Sculpture in Thai Forest

While the artwork’s age is still unknown, some think it depicts the mother of the Buddha

Officials from Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation were sent to investigate the carving. Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation

Earlier this month, three Thai villagers were searching for mushrooms in the Dong Yai Wildlife Sanctuary—and they found much more than fungi. Hidden in the lush jungle, the trio stumbled upon a sculpture of a woman carved into stone.

“Went mushroom hunting and found this,” Pramul Kongkratok, one of the villagers who found the sculpture, wrote on social media, according to the Nation Thailand’s Preem Nattanicha. “I’ve lived here for so long, but just learned we have this around here. It’s a blessing.”

Kongkratok reported the sculpture to Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, which sent officials to investigate. As the department writes in a translated Facebook post, the carving is located near the Cambodian border in the Buriram province’s southernmost district. While officials initially announced that the piece might be ancient, its age is currently unknown. An investigation by Thailand’s Fine Arts Department is forthcoming, though some theories about the carving’s origins have already been presented.

Depicted from the legs up, the sculpted woman emerges from the slanted face of a boulder on the forest floor. She sports long hair and traditional dress—including a full skirt and heavy neckwear. Her left arm appears to be holding a branch above her head, as All That’s Interesting’s Amber Morgan reports. Some think the sculpture dates back to the era of the Dvaravati, a Southeast Asian kingdom that flourished between the 6th and 11th centuries, and that it depicts Maya Devi, mother of Siddhartha Gautama—the Buddha.

However, not everyone agrees with this assessment. Chedha Tingsanchali, an art historian at Silpakorn University in Thailand, tells the Nation Thailand that the sculpture may not be so old.

“The sculptor was someone who saw ancient art, like ancient Indian art, and imitated it,” he says, adding that the sculpted woman’s facial features (such as eyebrows and lips) don’t match examples from the Dvaravati period. Additionally, “Maya Devi holding a [branch] of a pipal tree was never known to people living in [the region] during Dvaravati before the 16th century.”

The pipal tree—also known as a sacred fig, bodhi or peepal tree—is native to Southeast Asia and revered by Buddhists and Hindus. As officials write, the newly discovered carving is located less than a mile from a historic Buddhist temple, Wat Pa Kha Kra Jiao. Additionally, a group of monks known for their artistic skills did occupy the area just a few decades ago, per Thai PBS World.

Until experts finish their study of the sculpted woman, her origin and identity remain a mystery.

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