Ancient statue discovered by Nazis is made from meteorite
An ancient statue that was recovered by a Nazi expedition in the 1930s was originally carved from a highly valuable meteorite.
They believe it is part of the Chinga meteorite, which crashed about 15,000 years ago.
The findings appear in the Journal, Meteoritics and Planetary Science.
The 24cm (9-inch) tall statue is 10kg (22lb) and is called the Iron Man.
It was discovered in Tibet in 1938 by German scientist Ernst Schafer. His expedition was supported by the Nazis, in particular by Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS. Himmler was said to believe the Aryan race originated in Tibet and was keen to recover objects from the area.
Brought back to Germany, the statue became part of a private collection and disappeared from view until 2007. A new owner then sought scientific advice on the origins. He turned to Dr Elmar Buchner from the University of Stuttgart.
"I was absolutely sure it was a meteorite when I saw it first, even at 10 metres" said Dr Buchner.
He said that the clue was in small, thumb like impressions caused by the melting of the surface. Further analysis showed that it was a rare ataxite class, a type of meteorite not often found on Earth.
"It is rich in nickel, it is rich in cobalt. Less than 0.1% of all meteorites and less than 1% of iron meteorites are ataxites, so it is the rarest type of meteorites you can find."
Meteorites have been seen as a sign of divine activity across many cultures since the dawn of time. Knives and jewellery were made from iron meteorites by ancient Inuit. But tracing their exact origins is often extremely difficult.
The researchers believe it was carved from a piece of the Chinga meteorite that fell in the border region of eastern Siberia and Mongolia about 15,000 years ago.
"We were quite astonished by the results," said Dr Buchner.
"OK, it's a meteorite but what amazed me was that we could also say it was from Chinga, that we could find the provenance, that was really astonishing for me."
"If we are right that it was made in the Bon culture in the 11th Century, it is absolutely priceless and absolutely unique worldwide," observed Dr Buchner.
"It is extremely impressive, it was formerly almost completely gilded - there is a great mystery represented by it."