Buddha from space—An ancient object of art made of a Chinga iron meteorite fragment

Authors

  • Elmar BUCHNER,

    Corresponding author
    1. Institut für Planetologie, Universität Stuttgart, Herdweg 51, Stuttgart D-70174, Germany
    2. Hochschule Neu-Ulm, University of Applied Sciences, Wileystraße 1, 89231 Neu-Ulm, Germany
      Corresponding author. E-mail: elmar.buchner@hs-neu-ulm.de
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  • Martin SCHMIEDER,

    1. Institut für Planetologie, Universität Stuttgart, Herdweg 51, Stuttgart D-70174, Germany
    2. University of Western Australia (UWA), School of Earth and Environment (M004), 35 Stirling Highway Crawley, 6009 WA – Perth, Australia
    3. Curtin University, Perth WA 6845, Australia.
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  • Gero KURAT,

    1. Naturhistorisches Museum, Burgring 7, Wien 1010, Austria
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  • Franz BRANDSTÄTTER,

    1. Naturhistorisches Museum, Burgring 7, Wien 1010, Austria
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  • Utz KRAMAR,

    1. Institut für Mineralogie und Geochemie, Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT), Adenauerring 20b, D-76131 Karlsruhe, Germany
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  • Theo NTAFLOS,

    1. Department for Lithospheric Research, University of Vienna, Althanstrasse 14, Vienna A-1090, Austria
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  • Jörg KRÖCHERT

    1. Institut für Planetologie, Universität Stuttgart, Herdweg 51, Stuttgart D-70174, Germany
    2. Ingenieurbüro CDM-Stuttgart, Motorstraße 5, Stuttgart 70499, Germany
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  • This work is dedicated to the memory of Gero Kurat († 27.11.2009).

Corresponding author. E-mail: elmar.buchner@hs-neu-ulm.de

Abstract

Abstract–  The fall of meteorites has been interpreted as divine messages by multitudinous cultures since prehistoric times, and meteorites are still adored as heavenly bodies. Stony meteorites were used to carve birds and other works of art; jewelry and knifes were produced of meteoritic iron for instance by the Inuit society. We here present an approximately 10.6 kg Buddhist sculpture (the “iron man”) made of an iron meteorite, which represents a particularity in religious art and meteorite science. The specific contents of the crucial main (Fe, Ni, Co) and trace (Cr, Ga, Ge) elements indicate an ataxitic iron meteorite with high Ni contents (approximately 16 wt%) and Co (approximately 0.6 wt%) that was used to produce the artifact. In addition, the platinum group elements (PGEs), as well as the internal PGE ratios, exhibit a meteoritic signature. The geochemical data of the meteorite generally match the element values known from fragments of the Chinga ataxite (ungrouped iron) meteorite strewn field discovered in 1913. The provenance of the meteorite as well as of the piece of art strongly points to the border region of eastern Siberia and Mongolia, accordingly. The sculpture possibly portrays the Buddhist god Vaiśravana and might originate in the Bon culture of the eleventh century. However, the ethnological and art historical details of the “iron man” sculpture, as well as the timing of the sculpturing, currently remain speculative.

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