By: Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Published: 09/26/2012 01:23 PM EDT on LiveScience

It sounds like a mash-up of Indiana Jones' plots, but German researchers say a heavy Buddha statue brought to Europe by the Nazis was carved from a meteorite that likely fell 10,000 years ago along the Siberia-Mongolia border.

This space Buddha, also known as "iron man" to the researchers, is of unknown age, though the best estimates date the statue to sometime between the eighth and 10th centuries. The carving depicts a man, probably a Buddhist god, perched with his legs tucked in, holding something in his left hand. On his chest is a Buddhist swastika, a symbol of luck that was later co-opted by the Nazi party of Germany.

"One can speculate whether the swastika symbol on the statue was a potential motivation to displace the 'iron man' meteorite artifact to Germany," the researchers wrote online Sept. 14 in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science.

Iron man adventure

The iron man first came to Germany after a 1938-1939 Tibet expedition by zoologist and ethnology Ernst Schäfer, who was sent to the region by the Nazi party to find the roots of Aryan origin. The statue then passed into the hands of a private owner. [Fallen Stars: A Gallery of Famous Meteorites]

Stuttgart University researcher Elmar Bucher and his colleagues first analyzed the statue in 2007, when the owner allowed them to take five miniscule samples of it. In 2009, the team had the opportunity to take larger samples from the inside of the statue, which is less prone to contamination by weathering or human handling than the outside where the initial samples were taken.

They found that the statue is carved from a rare class of space rocks known as ataxite meteorites. These mostly iron meteorites have a high level of nickel. The largest-ever known meteorite, the Hoba meteorite of Namibia, is an ataxite meteorite that may weigh more than 60 tons.

It came from outer space

A chemical analysis of the iron man samples revealed they are a close match for a famous scattering of space rocks from the Siberia and Mongolian border. The Chinga meteorite field holds at least 250 meteorite fragments, most relatively small, though two topping 22 pounds (10 kg) have been found there. Scientists estimate the Chinga meteorite fell 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. The field's first discovery was recorded in 1913, but the statue's existence suggests people were mining the field for artistic materials long before that, Buchner said.

buddha2120927The Buddha meteorite matches those found in the Chinga meteorite field.

The identity of the carved man is unclear, but the researchers suspect he may be the Buddhist god Vaisravana, also known as Jambhala. Vaisravana is the god of wealth or war, and he is often portrayed holding a lemon (a symbol of wealth) or moneybag in his hand. The iron man holds an unidentified object in his hand. The statue is about 9.5 inches (24 cm) tall and weighs about 23 pounds (10.6 kg).

Many cultures used meteorite iron to make daggers and even jewelry, Buchner and his colleagues wrote, and meteorite worship is common among many ancient cultures. But the Buddha carving is unique.

"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," Buchner said in a statement. "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."

Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas or LiveScience @livescience. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Copyright 2012 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Clarification: Language has been changed to a headline elsewhere on the site to indicate that the artifact's material, and not the artifact itself, are of extraterrestrial origin.

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Napoleonic Soldiers Buried

    A Catholic priest blesses a grave during a burial ceremony for the remains of 110 Napoleonic soldiers who died in a major battle against the Russian army, near the of Studenka, about 100 kilometers (63 miles) east of Minsk, Belarus, Friday, Nov. 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

  • Mayan Tomb Discovered

    This photo taken on May 25, 2012, released on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012 by Tak'alik Ab'aj Archaeological Project shows a jade piece in the tomb of a very early Mayan ruler at Tak'alik Ab'aj archaeological site in Retalhuleu, south of Guatemala City. (AP Photo/Tak'alik Ab'aj Archaeological Project)

  • Rare WWII Planes Discovery

    In this Sept. 28, 1941 file photo, Spitfires, subscribed for by the people of Assam, are now operating with fighter command of the Royal Air Force, at an airfield somewhere in England. (AP Photo)

  • Aztec Skulls Found In Temple

    An archeologist sprays water on a skull recently discovered at the archaeological site Templo Mayor in Mexico City, Friday, Oct. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)

  • A 'Mammoth' Discovery

    In this handout photo provided by The International Mammoth Committee in Russia on Friday Oct. 5, 2012, the carcass of a 16-year-old mammoth that was possibly killed by humans tens of thousands of years ago and was excavated on the North Siberian Taimyr peninsula in late Sept. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Sergei Gorbunov, International Mammoth Committee in Russia, HO)

  • Mass Graves Of Communist Soldiers

    A woman sits crying among graves of Vietnamese communist army soldiers killed during wars against French and the US at an official cemetery on the outskirts of Hanoi to mark the occasion of National Day for War Martyrs and Invalids, 27 July, 2004. (HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Tomb In Philippines

    A local government employee lies in one of the large limestone coffins measuring six and a half feet long, part of an archaeolgical find in the mountains of Mulanay town, Quezon province, southeast of Manila on September 27, 2012. (TED ALJIBE/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Famed 17th Century Warship

    in this April 24, 2011, file photo, the royal warship Vasa is seen at the Vasamuseet museum in Stockholm. Swedish scientists said Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012 that the Vasa, a 17th century warship raised nearly intact from Stockholm's harbor to become one of the country's top tourist attractions is deteriorating faster than expected. (AP Photo/Scanpix Sweden, Anders Wiklund, File)

  • Lost Grave Of King Richard III

    Undated University of Leicester handout photo of a stone frieze, which may have been from a choir stall, which was discovered during an excavation of the car park behind council offices in Leicester, made available Wednesday Sept. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/ University of Leicester)

  • Found In The French Alps

    This Aug. 21 2012 photo provided by the Office de Haute Montagne de Chamonix (OHM) on Friday Aug. 31, 2012 shows a diplomatic bag reading "Diplomatic mail, Ministry of External Affairs" belonging to the Indian Government, found on the slopes beneath Mont Blanc by French mountain guide Arnaud Christmann. (AP Photo/Arnaud Christmann/OHM)

  • Amazing Find Near Jerusalem

    Israeli archeologists unearthed two 9,500-year-old figurines near Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Yael Yolovitch, Israel Antiquities Authority) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/29/israeli-archeologists-find-rare-stone-age-figures_n_1839961.html" target="_hplink">Read more here.</a>

  • Bathing Children Find Ancient Buddha Statues

    Children found six ancient Buddha statues which are believed to be around 1,000 years old while bathing in a newly dug pond in Khleng Por. (Photo: AP Photo/Heng Sinith) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/17/cambodia-ancient-buddha-statues_n_1795600.html" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • 100-Year-Old Mystery Package Opened

    Norwegians opened a 100-years-old mysterious package which was handed over to administrators in 1912 with the message that its contents would "benefit and delight future generations." (Photo: VG TV) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/24/100-year-old-package-open_n_1827839.html" target="_hplink">Click here to find out what the package included. </a>

  • Pilot And Jet Share Amazing Survival Story

    Ex-Navy pilot Bob Besal survived a mid-air jet collision in 1974 and later became a decorated war hero. Besal discovered that the plane from which he ejected had a happy ending, too -- as a reef at the bottom of the Atlantic. (Photo: Bob Besal/TISIRI) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/22/bob-besals-jet-found-in-a_n_1821793.html" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • Major Discovery Off Italian Coast

    Scuba divers have found what is believed to be an ancient bronze sculpture of a lion's head along with a complete suit of armor off the coast of Italy near Calabria. (Photo: KSEE24) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/21/ancient-artificats-discovered-italy_n_1819263.html" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • Rare WWII Dispatch Sells For How Much?

    A rare military cable that announced the end of U.S. hostilities with Japan during WWII was auctioned for more than $20,000. (AP Photo/Michael Rubinkam) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/16/wwii-naval-dispatch_n_1790837.html" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • Gruesome Discovery At Aztec Burial Site

    Archeologist found the skeleton of a young woman surrounded by piles of 1.789 human bones near Mexico City's Templo Mayor. (Photo: AP Photo/INAH) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/08/mexico-aztec-burial-site-_n_1756126.html" target="_hplink">Read more here.</a>

  • Propeller From 1946 Plane Crash Found In Swiss Glacier

    The propeller of a U.S. Air Force plane that had crashed in Switzerland in November 1946 was found on a glacier in the Bernese Alps. (Photo: AP Photo/Keystone, Gaetan Bally) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/09/us-warplane-propeller-switzerland-1946_n_1759968.html" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • Satellite Images Could Show 'Lost Pyramids'

    Archeology researcher Angela Micol may have identified two sites that could show never-before-seen ancient pyramids in Egypt, all by using Google Earth. (Photo: Angela Micol/Google Earth) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/13/egypt-pyramids-discovered_n_1772551.html" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • Captain Morgan's 17th Century Treasure Unearthed

    A team of underwater archeologists discovered swords, barrels and chests belonging to the legendary Captain Henry Morgan off the coast of Panama. (Photo: Captain Morgan) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/01/captain-morgans-treasure_n_1728340.html" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • Royal Tomb Found In Ruins Of Ancient City

    Excavators in Mexico found what they believe to be the 1,300 year-old remains of Mayan prince. (Photo: Uxul Archeological) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/31/mayan-prince-tomb-uxul-mexico_n_1724164.html?utm_hp_ref=unearthed" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • Explorers Find Sunken U-Boat Off Mass.

    Divers located the remains of a German submarine, 70 years after it perished near Nantucket Island. (Photo: AP Photo/U.S. Navy) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/28/world-war-ii-german-u-boat_n_1713401.html" target="_hplink">Read the story here. </a>

  • Huge Treasure Haul From Cargo Ship Sunk During WWII

    A treasure-hunting company salvaged 48 tons of silver treasure from the sunken cargo ship SS Gairsoppa. A German U-Boat torpedoed the 412-foot British vessel during World War II. (Photo: Odyssey Marine Explorations) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/ss-gairsoppa-shipwreck-38-million-silver_n_1683505.html" target="_hplink">Read the story here. </a>

  • Rare Early Map Of America Unearthed

    Researchers found a rare early 16th century map of America by Martin Waldseemueller (the cartographer who named the continent) in an unrelated 19th century book. (Photo: Lukas Barth/DAPD) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/03/rare-early-america-map-martin-waldseemueller_n_1645863.html" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • 1,000 Year-Old Coins Found At Crusader Battleground

    Archeologists found a 1000-year-old hoard of gold coins at a famous Crusader battleground in Israel. It was the biggest collection of ancient coins discovered in the country. (Photo: Pavel Shrago, Tel Aviv University Institute of Archaeology) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/11/gold-coins-unearthed-israel-crusades-site_n_1664327.html" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • Chinese Cave Holds 20,000 Year-Old Pottery

    Pottery fragments found in a cave in South China in June 2012 have been confirmed to be the oldest known pottery in the world. The fragments are 20,000 years old. (AP Photo/Science/AAAS) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/pottery-20000-years-old_n_1635079.html" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • Rare Atlas That Was Stolen Decade Ago Found

    A 415-year-old atlas that was stolen by a Swedish librarian a decade ago was found in New York when a map dealer put it up for sale. The Wytfliet Atlas contains some of the earliest maps of the Americas. (Photo: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/wytfliet-atlas-sweden_n_1633830.html" target="_hplink">Read the story here. </a>

  • Missing C-124A Discovered 60 Years Later

    The Alaska National Guard discovered the wreck of a military plane that crashed more than half a century ago. The C-124A Globemaster went down in 1952. More than 50 people died in the crash. (Photo: AP Photo/U.S. Air Force) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/29/c-124a-wreckage-alaska_n_1637989.html" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • Is This The Oldest Pearl In The World?

    French researchers found what is believed to be the oldest pearl in the history of the human world. The Umm al Quwain pearl was discovered in a grave in the United Arab Emirates and is said to be 7.500 years old. (Ken Walton/CNRS) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/27/oldest-pearl-in-world-united-arab-emirates_n_1630698.html?utm_hp_ref=unearthed" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • Archeologists Discover East Asia's Oldest Farming Site

    South Korean archeologists unearthed evidence of East Asia's oldest known farm site. The farming fields may be more than 5,600 years old. (Photo: AP Photo/Cultural Heritage Administration) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/27/south-korea-ancient-farm-discovery_n_1630502.html" target="_hplink">Read the story here. </a>

  • Amateur Treasure Hunter Makes $15 Million Discovery

    Two English metal detector enthusiasts discovered about 50,000 coins dating back to the Iran age in Bailiwick of Jersey, an island located off the northwest coast of France. (Photo: Orchid Communications) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/26/english-treasure-hunters-celtic-coins_n_1629128.html" target="_hplink">Read the story here. </a>

  • Subway Construction Reveals Ancient Road

    Archeologists in Thessaloniki in Greece discovered a section of a Roman road that is believed to be about 1,800 years old. (AP Photo/Nikolas Giakoumidis) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/25/ancient-greek-road-reveal_n_1625846.html" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • Ancient Roman Artifacts Found In Japanese Tomb

    Glass jewelry thought to have been made in the Roman Empire has been found in a very unlikely place -- <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/roman-jewellery-found-ancient-japan-tomb-163550978.html" target="_hplink">an ancient Japanese tomb</a>. (AFP) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/23/japanese-tomb-found-roman-empire-artifact_n_1621090.html" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • Rare WWII Wreck Studied

    German archeologist lifted a rare twin-engine JU88 aircraft from WWII from the bottom of the Baltic Sea. (Photo: AP Photo, File) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/15/wwii-plane-wreck-not-stuk_0_n_1599616.html" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • 'Viking' Shipwreck Discovered

    Archeologists discovered an 800-year-old shipwreck off the coast of Sweden. Lars Einarsson, an underwater archeologist at the Kalmar County museum, said the craft may date back to the year 1250 or 1300. (Getty) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/18/swedish-viking-shipwreck-discovered_n_1606145.html" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • Long-Lost Report Of Lincoln's Death Found

    A long-lost report by the doctor who first reached U.S. President Abraham Lincoln after he was shot in 1865 was found in a box at the National Archives. (Alexander Gardner/Getty Images) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/05/dr-charles-leale-abraham-lincoln-report_n_1572153.html" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a> <em>CORRECTION: A previous version of this slide incorrectly stated that Lincoln was shot in 1886.</em>

  • Rare Remains Unearthed From Battle Of Waterloo

    Belgian archeologists dug up the remains of a soldier who is believed to have died during the Battle of Waterloo, nearly 200 eyars ago. "You can almost see him dying," Belgian archeologist Dominique Bosquet <a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iqt5d27jMcVnRfpF6cv0YPqb1nXQ?docId=CNG.faf8df20a253202de74b7bc7ee29c335.631" target="_hplink">told Agence France Presse</a>. (Photo: AFP) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/12/waterloo-soldiers-remains-battle-waterloo_n_1590743.html?" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • Napoleon Letter In English Up For Auction

    A rare letter by Napoleon Bonaparte written in English in March 1816 was auctioned in 2012. Starting price? A mere $100,000. (Photo: IBTimes) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/06/napoleon-bonaparte-letter-english-auction_n_1574346.html?" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • Is This The Biggest Oyster In The World?

    This giant oyster turned up in the Solent, a strait separating mainland England from the Isle of Wight, <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2154813/The-100-million-year-old-oyster-times-normal-size-undergo-MRI-scan-contains-worlds-biggest-pearl.html" target="_hplink">according to the Daily Mail</a>, and it dates back 100 million years. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/05/worlds-biggest-pearl-oyster_n_1570608.html" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • World's Oldest Fishing Traps Found

    Swedish marine archeologists found the remains what they believed to be the world's oldest fishing traps in the Baltic Sea. One of the baskets was carbon dated and is around 9,000 years old. (Photo: JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/05/ancient-fishing-traps_n_1570260.html" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • Vietnam War Letters Finally Reach Home

    Vietnam returned the personal letters of U.S. Army Sgt. Steve Flaherty to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, on Monday, June 4, 2012. Flaherty was killed in Vietnam in 1969. (Photo: AP File Photo) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/04/steve-flaherty-vietnam-letters_n_1567436.html?utm_hp_ref=unearthed" target="_hplink">Read more here. </a>

  • Ancient Roman Shipwrecks Discovered

    Two Roman-era shipwrecks were found in deep water off a western Greek island, challenging the conventional theory that ancient shipmasters stuck to coastal routes rather than risking the open sea on May 29, 2012. (Photo: AP) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/29/ancient-roman-shipwrecks-greece_n_1552492.html" target="_hplink">Read more here.</a>

  • Crashed Bomber's Ejection Seat Believed Found In Maine

    A forest ranger found what was believed to be an ejection seat from a B-52 bomber that crashed on a western Maine mountain nearly 50 years ago, killing seven airmen in Greenville, Maine, May 25, 2012. (Photo: AP) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/25/b-52-bomber-ejection-seat_n_1545867.html?" target="_hplink">Read more here.</a>

  • Ancient Trove Unearthed Near Armageddon Site

    Israeli archaeologists discovered a rare trove of 3,000-year-old jewelry, including a ring and earrings, hidden in a ceramic jug near the ancient city of Megiddo, where the New Testament predicts the final battle of Armageddon, on May 25, 2012. (Photo: AP) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/25/israel-ancient-jewelry_n_1545856.html?" target="_hplink">Read more here.</a>

  • 19th Century Shipwreck Discovered In Gulf Of Mexico

    Scientists exploring marine life in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year uncovered a shipwreck site believed to be 200-years-old on May 17, 2012. (Photo: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/17/19th-century-shipwreck-gulf-mexico-200-year-old_n_1525084.html?" target="_hplink">Read more here.</a>

  • Alaskan 12-Year-Old Discovers Drift Card On Alaska Shore

    12-year-old Emmitt Andersen discovered a piece of orange plastic while beach-combing at Sealion Cove, Alaska, that had been adrift for 33 years. (Photo: James Poulson, Daily Sitka Sentinel/AP) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/11/emmitt-andersen-alaska_n_1510093.html?" target="_hplink">Read more here.</a>

  • World War II Kittyhawk P-40 Found In Egyptian Desert 70 Years After Crashing

    A World War II airplane belonging to Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) was found in the Sahara Desert nearly 70 years after it crash landed in June 1942. (Photo: Jakub Perka/BNPS) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/11/world-war-ii-airplane-kittyhawk-p-40-sahara-crash-photos-video_n_1507828.html?" target="_hplink">Read more here.</a>

  • Hitler WWI Postcard Unearthed At History Roadshow

    Unearthed as part of a European history project, a postcard sent during World War I by a wounded Adolf Hitler has brought attention to the earlier years of the German dictator's life -- and to his shortcomings as a speller. (Photo: Europeana 1914-1918) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/03/hitler-postcard_n_1474724.html?" target="_hplink">Read more here.</a>

  • Lost Colony's Location Revealed?

    A new look at a 425-year-old map in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has yielded a tantalizing clue about the fate of the Lost Colony, the settlers who disappeared from North Carolina's Roanoke Island in the late 16th century. (Photo: AP Photo/British Museum) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/03/lost-colony-of-roanoke-re_n_1474199.html?" target="_hplink">Read more here.</a>

  • 1958 Postcard Mailed From Chicago Finally Arrives

    A postcard mailed from Chicago in 1958 has finally reached its intended recipient, but not without a little help from Facebook. (Photo: AP) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/29/1958-postcard-mailed-from_0_n_1463370.html?" target="_hplink">Read more here.</a>

  • Md. Civil War Museum Gives Severed Arm A Good Look

    A Sharpsburg-area farmer is said to have found the human forearm while plowing a field two weeks after the 1862 battle.The arm was donated to The National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md., in January, 2012. The Museum is trying to determine its authenticity. (Photo: AP Photo/Courtesy National Museum of Civil War Medicine) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/11/md-civil-war-museum-gives_n_1418518.html?" target="_hplink">Read more here.</a>