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May 9, 2024 48 mins

Before the dawn of the iron age, ancient humans had but one source of workable iron for their artifacts and weapons: meteorites. In this very-metal episode of Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Robert and Joe discuss various examples of meteoric metal artifacts, including several precious sky-weapons of antiquity. 

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Speaker 1 (00:03):
Welcome to Stuff to Blow Your Mind production of iHeartRadio.

Speaker 2 (00:13):
Hey, welcome to Stuff to Blow Your Mind. My name
is Robert Lamb.

Speaker 3 (00:16):
And I'm Joe McCormick, and we're back with part two
in our series on human uses of metal from the Sky.
If you haven't heard the first episode yet, you should
go back and check that one out before you listen
to this. But in that episode brief recap, we focused
mostly on a specific artifact from the New Kingdom of Egypt,

which was a dagger found wrapped up with the mummy
of the pharaohtutan Common, which had a blade made of iron.
Now that might not sound remarkable, but this was a
blade made of iron from an era before the large
scale smelting of iron in Egypt. And the really cool
thing about this knife and many other iron artifacts from

before the regional iron age in Egypt is that they
were probably created out of iron that came from a
meteorite space metal. So we also discuss the history of
knowledge that meteorites come from space, including the story of
how European scientists came to generally agree on the cosmic
origin of meteorite rocks only around the beginning of the

nineteenth century or so. And then also some interesting evidence
that the ancient Egyptians did actually know that iron meteorites
came from space, for example, the way they referred to
iron as the iron of the sky or the metal
of the sky, and some other linguistices clues in the
way the glyphs of the Hieroglyphic language are put together.

And then there are also some other languages like Sumerian,
which have long had similar associations between iron or certain
types of iron, and the sky. And so today we're
back to talk about more examples of the use of
metal from space inhuman artifacts, in human technological history.

Speaker 2 (02:02):
That's right, And where we're going to go next, We're
going to get back into the use of iron and
meteoric iron in meteorites in Chinese tradition, Chinese history, and
maybe just a little dash of Chinese mythology. I want
to refer back to a write up on iron that

appears in the seventy Great Inventions of the Ancient World
by Brian and Fagan. With this particular bit by Paul T. Kratick,
cratic sums up Chinese iron usage by pointing out that
iron production in China began around the ninth century BCE,
perhaps introduced from the West, but also just as likely
an independent invention, and that by the Han period to

go to BCE, the Chinese quote incontestably led the world
in iron technology and production. But of course, as with
these other examples we've been looking at, we do have
evidence of artifacts created with meteoric iron prior to this.
Specifically it takes us back to the Sheng dynasty. This
would have been around fourteen hundred BCE. Now, as we

previously mentioned, there of course has been some back and
forth on the testing of various pre Iron age iron artifacts,
and ultimately a lot of that is still going on,
and these blades are often mentioned in some of those documents.
Now in that paper that I credited in the last
episode from Albert Jambond twenty seventeensh Bronze age iron meteoretic

or not a chemical strategy, at least according to this source,
the nickel count is low in these examples, but not
low enough to assign terrestrial origin, and that this is
definitely a case it seems like where the lower nickel
content is likely due to weathering effects. The blades themselves
have long been discussed as probable examples of meteoric iron,

going back at least as far as the book two
Early Chinese bronz Weapons with Meteoritic iron Blades by gettens
at All in nineteen seventy one, which details that these
blades were found in nineteen thirty one in Anyang Hanan
within a single tomb, which is also cited in Metals
in Antiquity by young at All nineteen ninety nine. Now

I have a picture here of these artifacts here for
you to look at, Joe and everyone else. You can
look these up as well online. Just look for meteoric
iron Chinese axes or Chinese broad axes and you can
likely find images of this. You can tell that these
were ornate, highly stylized weapons. Now, I want to note

that both of these sources here that are talking about it,
they seem to indicate less than certainty in some of
the details, saying that there seems to be a lot
of believe to have been in these references. Though, to
be clear, these weapons have long been in the Freer
collection at the Smithsonian, and there's no indication that the

dating or a larger geographic origin is particularly endowed here.
I just couldn't help it pick up on the fact
that this is one of those accounts where there seem
to be a little bit of ambiguity but no real
sticking points. I think in trying to understand where these
came from. These would have been Chinese broad axes, formally
inlaid and again likely largely ceremonial. These are not weapons

that would be out on the battlefield. Ah.

Speaker 3 (05:31):
Yeah, and I had been assuming the same was true
of Tuton Common's iron dagger, though in fact I guess
I don't have a way of knowing that for sure,
don't have a reason to suspect to use this for
knife dueling or anything.

Speaker 2 (05:44):
Yeah, it's interesting to think about these examples in terms
of how do you use it right, because you know,
we have cases where you're going to have some sort
of an iron weapon that is going to be of
exceptional quality, but you're going to have so few of them,
maybe even just one. You know, what are you going
to do during the Bronze period with your iron weapon.

It's kind of like if, as a thought experiment, you
were to say, okay, what if I were to take
a lightsaber back to the one hundred Years War between
England and France during the fourteenth and fifteenth century, and
you gave it to one side or the other, you know,
what good is it going to do? You know, you
could make a case maybe for some sort of special
forces style use of the weapon by either party. Okay,

single combat, sure, but more likely than not, a single
lightsaber is not going to decide anything during the fourteenth
or fifteenth century in any kind of like warfare scenario.
It would make far more sense as a ritual object,
as a tool of propaganda, is essentially like a scepter
to show how special and or powerful you are.

Speaker 3 (06:48):
And as we talked about last time, with the specific
case of iron versus the dominant medal of bronze, there's
not even really a clear material superiority of early iron
weapons over say, well made bronze ones of the period.
That the advantages of iron when moving into the Iron
Age were primarily advantages in terms of economics and the

sourcing of materials, that it was easier to produce lots
of iron implements and tools and weapons at scale, rather
than it being that iron is just a much better
metal or something.

Speaker 2 (07:23):
Right right, And the other key point, as we discussed
in the last episode is the knowledge of where the
meteorc iron came from, like knowing that this weapon is
of heavenly origin or of cosmic origin and so forth,
that seems to often be really important. And so I'm

going to get into that question here with Chinese examples.
Turning first back to Gettings at All, the work to
early Chinese bronze weapons with iron blades from seventy one.
They point out that meteorite falls were known to the
ancient Chinese and discussed in literature, often in reference to portents.
So if the metal used was known to have come

from the sky, they contend, it would have added to
the auspiciousness of the weapons and the reason that the
iron was used in these cases instead of jade, which
typically occupied an elevated position of ceremonial importance for weapons
and so forth. Such usage may have also influenced known
Chinese meteorite fragments. Quote such a use of meteoritic iron

might also explain the fact that only one iron meteorite
find is known from China. This I is referring to,
you know, ancient examples of meteorite, the idea being that
the iron meteorites would have been known as a source
for this sort of metal and would have been used
as such. And certainly these are not the only known

examples of Chinese meteoric weapons or weapons or artifacts that
are believed or it's argued, may be made of such iron.
There are several known artifacts of possible meteoric iron from
the late Sheng and early Western Zoo. So for examples
of some of those observations, because they mentioned, okay, the

ancient Chinese knew about meteorites. They knew they came from
the sky. For some examples of this knowledge, I turned
to the nineteen ninety four paper Meteorite Falls in China
and some Related Human Casualty Events by Yao at All,
published in the journal Meteoritics. They looked at accounts from

roughly seven hundred BCE through nineteen twenty CE, with the
earliest account cited found in the Spring and Autumn Annals,
traditionally attributed to Confucius, would have historically lived around five
fifty one through four to seventy nine BCE. This work
is one of the five classics of ancient Chinese literature,

and it covers an historical period stretching from seven twenty
two to for eighty one BCE, and the work includes
coverage of a six forty five BCE event in which
quote in translation, of course, five stones fell in Sung
And there are various other accounts in this article that

they don't highlight all of them, but they highlights some
of historic. Note there is a Sey dynasty account. This
is from the work History of the Suy Dynasty, and
it refers to a six sixteen BCE meteorite, with the
account depicting a meteorite hitting a siege tower during the

besiegement of a walled city.

Speaker 3 (10:48):

Speaker 2 (10:49):
Yeah, So the idea is that there's a you know,
a siege situation going on, a meteorite hits, takes out
the siege tower, causes the sea, and then either the
strike of the meteorite or the perhaps far more likely
the subsequent collapse of said siege tower results in I
believe I read possibly ten fatalities. That was their I

think the recorded number. If this is true, it might
stand as the earliest recorded human meteorite related fatality. These are,
of course rare. You're talking about situations where you know,
a meteorite hits somebody or hits the vicinity of a
human and in doing so results in a casualty. But

it's also not entirely clear. I've read some criticism of
this account saying, Okay, this is certainly possible, it would
be a very rare occurrence. It's we also have to
just acknowledge that it's possible that this siege tower was
taken out by something far more mundane, like human munitions

fired from the wall of the siege city, that sort
of thing. But it is kind of It is cataloged
in the historic records, so I've seen numerous texts acknowledge
it and say, well, perhaps this is true.

Speaker 3 (12:07):

Speaker 2 (12:08):
So hundreds of accounts follow these early accounts of meteorites
and the Chinese records, and I'm not going to go
through all of them, or even the ones listed in
this source. But there's one more I wanted to mention
here because it does line up with what we're talking
about and the subject of meteors and iron, and that
is the non meteorite shower of thirteen forty one. It's

notable because it seems to have been a shower of
iron meteorites, and it was even referred to as quote
the iron rain, with descriptions of the resulting bore holes
in the earth, matching up with what we know of
iron meteorite impacts today now thirteen forty one, of course,
is far outside the Bronze Age examples we're looking at,

but you know, you conbind this with certainly these much
earlier examples, and it does seem clear that the ancient
Chinese knew that meteorites came from above, they came from
the sky, and that alone would be enough to sort
of factor into these myth making understandings of what a
weapon forged of such iron would mean. By the way,

speaking of Chinese mythology, it's worth noting that You the Great,
the character that we've talked about on the show before,
founder of the shop of the dynasty, in myth and legend,
the bringer of flood controls, is sometimes, at least at
least in early Chinese mythology, connected to meteorites. Oh so,

according to Mark Edward Lewis, in the Mythology of Early China,
some texts say that you was born of a stone
or in a place named for a stone, while other
tellings state that quote his mother was inseminated by a
magical stone or meteor.

Speaker 3 (13:59):
Oh interesting, this is a different way of sort of
like parenthood by the gods.

Speaker 2 (14:04):
Yeah, yeah, so I had not run across this before.
I cross checked it in a couple of my go
to Chinese mythology sources Yang and in Turner's Chinese Mythology
and Burrel's work on Chinese mythology. Both of these texts,
I refer to an origin story for you by which
he's born from the belly of his father's corpse following

the said father's execution. And this I'm guessing this entirely
masculine birth as a Buryl describes it. I guess this
is the predominant origin story that comes later, and that
Lewis here is focusing primarily on early tellings before those
traditions emerged.

Speaker 3 (14:45):
Oh okay, I see.

Speaker 2 (14:47):
So anyway, these axes, among other artifacts, you know, another
example of an ancient Bronze Age culture having access to
meteoric iron using it to craft weapons that then have
an exalted place within their culture. Uh, and so, And
definitely look up images of this if you have the

ability to do so readily, because you can you know
they're they're they're not in priestine form, they haven't been
restored or anything like that they're not anywhere near the
the completeness of tut and Commons dagger, but you can
still get a sense of the majesty they would have had.

Speaker 3 (15:25):
Yeah, even the stubs are beautiful. Okay. I want to
talk about a statue, specifically a metal sculpture allegedly from Tibet,

sometimes called the Iron Man, referred to in a lot
of media reports as as the Iron Man or sometimes
as the Space Buddha.

Speaker 2 (15:57):
Well, these these, both, these descriptions both take you somewhere,
that's for sure.

Speaker 3 (16:02):
So this statue weighs about ten point six kilograms or
about twenty three pounds, and is roughly twenty four centimeters
or about nine and a half inches tall. It is
made of iron, and it depicts a bearded male figure
that is sometimes referred to as a Buddha, sometimes referred
to as a god, sometimes referred to as a man.

But he is depicted wearing trousers, a sort of cape
or cloak that's joined over his shoulders in a knot
on his chest. He's wearing kind of almost kind of
cloglike looking shoes, pants with a split in the cuff
at the bottom of the pant legs, and what looks
to me kind of like scale armor over his mid section.

And then on that scale armor there is the symbol
of a swastika, which, remember, before it was appropriated by
the German Nazi Party, that was around nineteen twenty, it was,
for you know, injuries or even millennia, a traditional symbol
with positive associations in a lot of different cultures and
religions throughout the world, notably in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Speaker 2 (17:09):
That's right, and it still has that status in various
Hindu and Buddhist traditions, though of course permanently ruined in
the West by the appropriation of the Nazi Party.

Speaker 3 (17:23):
Yeah, and so in the iron Man statue, the figure
has a halo like disc behind his head and he
is clutching a round egg shaped object in one hand.
His legs are folded underneath his body, so he looks
like he could be sitting cross legged or perhaps even dancing.
But this whole thing is carved out of a solid

piece of metal, with a rough, unfinished base below the figure.
So what is the deal with this weird metal statue. Well,
there was a bunch of media about this statue way
back in twenty twelve, it was associated with the publication
of a paper that was looking into its physical makeup
and its origins. The paper was by Buckner at All,

published in the journal Media Critics and Planetary Science again
in twenty twelve, and it was called Buddha from Space,
an ancient object of art made of a China iron
media write fragment. So I'm going to start with what
was originally alleged by it, but keep in mind that
some of the information I'm going to say at first
is either not certain or almost certainly not true. The

lead author of this paper, Elmer Buckner, is a geologist
affiliated with the Planetology Institute at Stuttgart University, and so
the authors of this paper were looking into the question
of first of all, what this statue is made of,
but also what does it depict and where did it
come from? As to where it comes from, there again

is plenty of debate about this, but the story as
received by the authors of the paper goes like this.
In the years nineteen thirty eight and nineteen thirty nine,
Adolf Hitler's SS sponsored a research and propaganda expedition to Tibet.
This is kind of a famous famous expedition about which
there has been much cultural legend, but this expedition was

led by the German zoologist and explorer Ernst Schaeffer. This
expedition collected a lot of material for return to Germany.
So they took a bunch of plant and animal samples,
seeds and grains and plants, and they cataloged birds. There
was ornithology missions and stuff like that, and it also
took a lot of cultural artifacts, including, according to a

Triple As blog post about this paper by Stephen A.
Edwards quote, a robe believed to have been worn by
the Dali Lama, a gold coin, and the iron statue.
The latter apparently attracted the attention of the Nazis because
of a swastika carved into its center. So that's the
story about where it came from. What does appear to

be true is that the statue was in the possession
of a private collector from sometime unknown until the year
two thousand and seven, which is the same year these
authors began investigating it. But before then, the allegation is
that it was taken from Tibet by Schaffer's men in
the late thirties and then disappeared during World War II,

only to reappear to the public in the two thousands.

Speaker 2 (20:31):
All right.

Speaker 3 (20:31):
Now, as to the question of what the statue is
made of, the authors conducted an elemental analysis and found
that the concentration of elements present in the metal was
consistent with an iron meteorite. So much like the analysis
we talked about in the previous episode looking at King
Tut's dagger, here they found high concentrations of nickel. This

statue was approximately sixteen percent nickel by weight and about
zero point six percent cobalt. These are not ratios you
would expect to find in earth based iron. Earth based
iron extracted from before the eighteen hundreds tends to be
not more than about four percent nickel. Also, the authors
analyzed the ratios of trace platinum group metals and found

that these were also consistent with meteorite iron. Not only
that they were able to match this metal to the
composition of meteorites from a specific known impact area. They write, quote,
the geochemical data of the meteorite generally matched the element
values known from fragments of the chinga a tax site,

A tax site meaning ungrouped iron meteorite strewn field discovered
in nineteen thirteen. The provenance of the meteorite as well
as the piece of art strongly points to the border
region of eastern Siberia and Mongolia. Accordingly, and I went
and did a little more looking. So it seems that
the Chinga meteorite is sort of it's an area rather

than one specific object. The Chinga meteorite field is something
that contains fragments of meteorite found by gold miners in Tuva,
which is a region of southern Siberia in Russia near
the border with Mongolia, and the hundreds of meteorite fragments
found there are thought to result from an object that

exploded in the atmosphere over Tuva between ten and twenty
thousand years ago. So the scientific evidence that the iron
Man statue was made out of meteorite iron seems quite strong.
But what about these other questions? What does this statue depict?
And when was when and where was it made? Here's
where we start getting into the much more disputed territory.

The authors of this twenty twelve paper claimed that it
was likely a depiction of the warrior king, god and
wealth Buddha known as vice Ravana, who is the guardian
of the North. You can think of sort of heavenly
beings that are guard ardians of the cardinal directions, and
Viceravana is the guardian of the North. This figure, Viceravanna,

shares characteristics with the Hindu deity known as Kubera and
is also known as Jambala, sometimes shown carrying a lemon
or a money bag in his hand, and in other depictions,
especially earlier ones, the authors say that Viceravana is shown
as quote, a corpulent figure that holds a mongoose which
spews jewels from its mouth. Sometimes also, especially beginning in

the second half of the eighth century, they say, he
is shown with ghosts at his feet. So, due to
a number of visual motifs such as the crossed legs
and the scale armor and so forth, the authors believe
that this is Viceravana we're looking at. But they also
write their thoughts about the religious significance of the swastika

in the image. They say, quote, the swastika prominently displayed
on the cuirass of the sculpture was a symbol frequently
used is by the nature based pre Buddhist Bun religion
rooted in the western parts of Tibet. The Bun religion
had its own literature and art that was, they say,
continuously absorbed into the Tibetan Buddhism that propagated into the

entire area of Buddhist influence. A paper I'm going to
talk about in a minute, I think will somewhat dispute
that claim. But they say, accordingly, the iron Man could
represent a Bun slash Buddhist hybrid, showing some recognition features
of Kubera the early Vicerovana.

Speaker 2 (24:34):
O good, all right, and not getting into the criticism
is about to come. That would seemingly make sense. We
can point in various examples, not only in Buddhist traditions,
but in other traditions where we see these emerging of
art styles and merging of cultures in a particular sculpture
or other work.

Speaker 3 (24:55):
Sure, and so going with this hybrid art hypothesis, they write, quote,
according to this interpretation, the possible provenance of the iron
Man is western Tibet or anywhere in the area of
Buddhist influence, and the age can be tentatively dated at
the eighth to tenth century. Now, as far as I

can tell, the chemical analysis that they did appears sound.
I've not come across major criticism of the analysis of
the materials. So the statue is probably made of meteorite iron,
perhaps even from the known source of the Chinga meteorite field,
but the question of its cultural origin I found to

be strongly disputed. So there is a professor of Buddhist
studies named Akim Beher that could be Beayer or Bayer.
I'm not sure. I'm going to say Beyer. Apologies if
that's wrong. Behar, who was at one point affiliated with
Dunguk University in Soul, South Korea. He may be at
a different institution now, addressed these claims in an article

that I found called the Lama Wearing Trousers Notes on
an iron statue in a German private collection. And here's
where the story, I think becomes even more interesting, because,
of course, any statue or sculpture made out of a meteorite,
that's inherently a pretty fascinating idea. But it goes beyond that,
because it calls up questions of the authenticity of art

and our ability to recognize what we're looking at when
we're looking for cultural authentics and forgeries and fakes. In
this paper, Behar does not dispute the meteorite origin of
the iron, but argues that the statue is not authentically
Tibetan or Mongolian and bear's clear and well known hallmarks

of European imitations of Tibetan art. In other words, instead
of being a eight to tenth century Tibetan religious sculpture
made out of iron from space, it is a modern
European forgery made out of iron from space, or perhaps
not forgery, perhaps just imitation. I guess to decipher the
difference between forgery and imitation, maybe you would need to

know the intent of the artist.

Speaker 2 (27:16):
Yeah, yeah, I would imagine so, But as we've been
saying that that would appear to be lost to history,
so all we can do is offer conjecture.

Speaker 3 (27:25):
So Beyer says that at the time of his writing
in response to this paper and the media that followed it,
no authority on Tibetan or Mongolian art had ever publicly
authenticated the sculpture. So basically, from his point of view,
I think he's saying like, there's not even really anybody
within the relevant field to disagree with about this. It's

just clearly not authentic. And he goes on to list
thirteen stylistic elements of the sculpture that make it overwhelmingly
clear to him that it is a fake. I'm not
going to go through all thirteen, but I wanted to
mention a couple in detail, and then I can just
allude to the rest. So one example that even looked
weird to me. I am not claiming to be an

expert on Tibetan or Buddhist art. I don't really know
anything about it. But I looked at the statue and
I was like, huh, the shoes look weird, and what
do you know? So he identifies as this very first
item on the list the footwear. He writes, quote, the
lama is neither barefoot, nor does he wear traditional boots.

The shoes cover the feet like European shoes up to
the ankles, and no further. And Rob, I've got a
zoom in for us to look at here of the
shoes on the image. Again, they do look weird to me.
I'm not saying what looks weird to me should be
decisive on this issue. I just thought it was funny
that they did look weird to me. So after I

read this comment by Bear, I went around looking for
other images of vice Ravana in Buddhist art and other
images of just figures from Tibetan art, and yeah, I do.
I don't really see shoes that look like this. I
either see like bare feet or boots that go up
the calf.

Speaker 2 (29:06):
Yeah. I had a similar experience after I read this
in your notes. I have a copy of Roberty Fisher's
Art of Tibet that I've used in research projects before,
so I got that out I started looking through it.
That book, by the way, does not cover this particular
statue or mention it as far as I could tell,
but it has a lot of illustrations. So I scan

through it, and I don't know. I had an odd experience,
Like I love looking at t bett and art. I
love the complexity and all the rich information that is
contained within some you know that becomes apparent to someone
like me, But a lot of it is just lost
on me, as I am not its historic contended viewer.
But it is almost I found it almost physically painful

to look at each of these amazing images and focus
not on anything else going on in them, but to
look at the feet and the shoes. There are some
images where feet are seemingly very important, and so it's
not like feet or just a non commodity in these images,
but there's just so much going on that I had

a hard time looking at just the feet.

Speaker 3 (30:13):
Yeah, there was some series we did a while back
where we talked about, you know, and there's variation within
all art styles, but we talked about how a lot
of Tibetan art is just gloriously busy. There's like so
much going on in it, and so much text here.

Speaker 2 (30:28):
Yeah, and it is if memory serves from those past episodes.
Like part of it comes down to, of course, you
have a very complex theology that needs to be related
to some degree through these visual representations. And then also
there's a strong case to be made that the landscape
plays into it, that there is a kind of scale

to the Tibetan landscape that therefore makes these interior holy
spaces need to be busier, need to be just so
full of additional details and without any of these you know,
artistic voids that become important in other traditions. But anyway,
I looked at a lot of feet in these when

I could see them, and because it seemed like most
of the examples just broadly feet on all art. You know,
it's either going to be a barefoot or it is
going to be a feet you cannot see because they
are obscured by clothing. And I, in fact, I don't
think I saw a single shoe in that particular book.

I also went to a rather prolific blog online of
of Himalayan Buddhist art titled It's you can find It's
Himalayan Buddhist Art dot WordPress dot com. A lot of
images on there, with some some write ups. It seems
to be a very current blog. I looked around on there,
and in fact, and there I found I found lots

of bare feet, and I did find at least one
example of a couple of examples maybe a footwear, one
of which, though is clearly, like you said, a boot
that goes, you know, much much farther up the leg,
as opposed to what we see in the alleged iron
Man here. And so like you, now, when I look

at the iron Man's feet, I'm like, this is this
feels off? Like it feels even more off now that
I have all this additional information in my head about it.
They you know, they look like, I don't know, kind
of like little elfin shoes I don't know exactly.

Speaker 3 (32:28):
Yeah, but again it's not just our opinion. Expert on
Buddhism and Tibetan art says, this is not what this
usually looks like. Bear's next point points out the pants.
This guy's wearing pants, and he says, this is sort
of a dead giveaway that the trousers worn by the
lama in this sculpture are to be found nowhere else

in Tibetan or Mongolian sculpture of the time, in which
figures may wear robes or might have armor covering their shins,
but never pants like this. And even there's kind of
this interesting like what would you call this a flare
or I guess like a split. There's like a split
in the pant leg down at the cuff. And yeah,
Behar is like, I don't know what to make of that.

Maybe that's just to make it look sort of different
than normal pants, like pastoral or something.

Speaker 2 (33:15):
Yeah, yeah, most of these images you look at Yeah
you're looking at it flowing robes and so forth or armor. Yeah.
I was looking around too for examples of what we
might describe as pants, and I was not finding them.

Speaker 3 (33:27):
So then Bear goes on the list eleven other points
of difference from known Tibetan or Mongolian art, having to
do with everything from the way the body is positioned,
like the position of the legs, to how body parts
such as the beard and the hands are rendered. There
are major differences there. How the halo is depicted. I
want to come right back to that, and then things

about the clothing and the jewelry. Just a lot of
stuff about this does not fit with the alleged context
it supposedly comes from. So the part about the halo
was also in me given that we did a series
of episodes on halo imagery a couple of years ago.
Bayer says that halo's attached to the body like I

actually attached to the body on the sculpture are not
very common in genuine metal statues here, if they have
a halo, tends to be like a separate piece from
the body in the sculpture, But then also notes that
the halo around the figure's head and then the greater
ariole or behind the figure's body are totally blank and

featureless circles.

Speaker 2 (34:33):

Speaker 3 (34:34):
I did a little digging deeper on this, and I
found another paper zooming in and showing maybe there are
a few little scratches and the halo if you zoom in,
but there's no major decoration or adornment. And if you
compare this to how halo's or arioles, you know, the
glow around the head or the glow around the body,
how they're usually depicted in Tibetan or Buddhist art, it's

a world of difference. They are usually not a blank circle.
They are usually highly textured, highly adorned, like we were saying,
very busy, with a lot going in them, maybe depicted
as flames or having a kind of texture within them,
or showing even little like scenes and figures inside them.

Speaker 2 (35:13):
Yeah. I think this feels like a strong point. Yeah,
that this halo feels way too casual. Yeah, and probably
has more in common with Western depictions of a halo,
you know.

Speaker 3 (35:26):
Yeah, looks more like a halo you'd see around the
head of a saint in like a medieval Catholic depiction
or something. Yeah. Yeah, So there is a bunch of
stuff like this that just does not match the cultural
context of its alleged production and on the art elements,
Behar says, quote, my own research has not yielded a
single even remotely similar object, which led me to conclude

that the statue is in fact a European counterfeit, and
I was encouraged to take this conclusion by several colleagues
I contacted. While no such artifacts exist in Inner Asia,
artifacts of the pseudo Tibetan style exist in abundance, produced
as home decoration for film sets and the like. Any

highly improbable claim to the opposite would have to carry
the burden of proof. So having made the case that
this is a European imitation rather than a genuine Tibetan
or Mongolian original, the paper also addresses some other questions,
including who is depicted in the sculpture and where it
comes from. As to who is depicted, Bear agrees actually

that it might possibly be Vice Sravana, which is what
the original authors proposed, but then also give some other possibilities.
Maybe it is Podmasimbava, there was another figure. It could
be an amalgam of elements from different original figures. And
then there's the question of where did it come from.

Bear also here casts doubt on the story that this
was taken from Tibet by by the Nazi Schaffer expedition.
In the late thirties. He claims that after corresponding with
the authors of the twenty twelve study, he could find
no reliable evidence that this piece had any historical association

with Schaffer or with the SS. I could be wrong,
but as best I can tell, the evidence for the
association is the claim of the collector who produced it
in the two thousands. But that came with no like
historical evidence backing it up or no reliable documentation. So
Bayer doubts the Schaffer connection totally.

Speaker 2 (37:36):
So this might have just been a story that was
heaped on, perhaps just to make it a little more
marketable to.

Speaker 3 (37:42):
Collectors possibly, and that could in fact work in two
different ways. He identifies two different hypotheses for the production
of this. One is that it's a He calls it
something produced for the quote general antique and curio market,
in which case the oustica depicted on the armor and

the association with the Schaffer expedition would just like sort
of give it more general mystery, be like wow, that's weird,
and be attractive to a general antique buying audience or
curio buying audience. But then he says there's another interpretation,
which is a little more sinister, which is that it
is made specifically to appeal to the market for Nazi memorabilia,

in which case these associations would would have a specific
direct appeal. So who did make it, Beyer says, we
don't know, but he thinks that most likely it was
made by a European artist sometime roughly between nineteen ten
and nineteen seventy. Why those dates, The reasoning seems to

be that this would be a period when there was
a market for this sort of thing, for artifacts imitating
Tibetan styles or things to be passed off as Tibetan
in origin. But there was also still before nineteen seventy
enough ignorance within the market for this sort of art
that something of this quality could be passed off as authentic.

He says, after around nineteen seventy, quote, more details of
original Tibetan art gained wide dissipation, so probably the market
would be more aware of like that this would not
pass muster. So from Bear's perspective, we don't know what
happened for sure, but it seems possible that it was
something like a piece of meteorite iron from the Chinga

meteorite field in Tuva again that southern Siberia somehow gets
transported to Germany, where sometime in the twentieth century, maybe
between like nineteen ten and nineteen seventy roughly, it is
partially forged and carved into a statue made to crudely
imitate Tibetan art, and then from there it passes into
a collector's market with this story behind it, with this

alleged link to the Schaffer expedition, and then he wraps
up the article by sort of discussing the importance of
consulting Pece in the relevant fields before go before you know,
going public with claims of authenticity. So of course I'm
you know, I'm not qualified to adjudicate this matter either,
but I would tend to take the word of people

who specialize in Tibetan art in evaluating whether something is
authentically Tibetan art or not. And he says, basically, any
specialist in Tibetan or Buddhist art could have looked at
this and said this is not authentic. And it's still
an interesting story with that additional context as well, because
so like a European forgery of Buddhist art imbued with

a mysterious Nazi backstory, which is in fact made out
of iron from a Siberian meteorite. How does that happen?

Speaker 2 (40:43):
Yeah, it's still this enigma, isn't it, even if it's
not the enigma that some tellings would make it out
to be.

Speaker 3 (40:51):
But that's not all. There is one more development in
this story that I came across. So in the year
twenty seventeen, age German historian of Tibet named Israun Engelhart
published an article called the Strange Case of the Buddha
from Space. And in this piece, Engelhart gives extensive reasons,

first of all, for thinking the sculpture was not brought
back to Germany from Tibet by the expedition in the
late nineteen thirties, which that expedition she had actually studied
in great depth. For one thing, the members of the
SS expedition actually made meticulous catalogs of the items but
they brought back from Tibet, and the iron statue is

not listed among them. But Engelhart in this paper also
documents her attempts to track down the ownership history of
the Iron Man, and these efforts are somewhat successful and
they end up, pointing her back to a sort of
aggressively negotiating antiquities dealer from Russia. Going off that information,

Engelhart eventually reaches the conclusion to the sculpture was probably
somehow associated with a known historical figure. That it was
probably associated with and perhaps made for the strange Russian
artist Nikolai Rarick, that spelled Roe r Nikolai Rarick, who

lived from eighteen seventy four to nineteen forty seven. Rareck,
in his career, traveled extensively in Central Asia and was
obsessed with the Himalayas and with Tibet, and there are
many portraits of him posed in Tibetan garb and with
Tibetan surroundings. He's wearing Tibetan robes. In nineteen twenty six,
Rareck produced a sketch that Engelhart came across, and the

sketch is entitled the Order of rigden Yeppo, and the
sketch really looks a lot like the Iron Man statue.
There's a similar posture and pose, a similar double halo,
similar pointed hat, similar clothing, and a note about the
title there that Rarek understood riggdan Jeppo as the name

of a figure meant to be the future ruler of
a spiritual kingdom known as Chambala in Tibetan Buddhism, and
further writing about the comparisons between the iron man statue
and the sketch and eventually the painting produced by Rerek

unknown as the order of Riggdan yeppo engel Heart writes quote,
the left hand of both the sketch and the statue
seems to hold neither a mongoose nor a vase, but
rather the famous radiant Centamani stone, the wish fulfilling jewel
coming from the Sky, which Rarec painted several times. In

nineteen twenty three, when the Rarecks were in Paris, they
received a mysterious package through dubious channels that allegedly contained
this very stone, said to be a fragment of a meteorite.
And apparently Rarick and his wife Elena, who was Elena
was very into the mystical religious movement then known as Theosophy.

They got really excited about the meteorite stone and believed
it have great significance for their lives. Apparently Rareck had
long had thoughts like imagined himself as carrying around a
magic stone that had some kind of like potency and
meaning for his fate, but anyway, Motivated in part by

their theosophical beliefs, Nikolay and Elena attempted to lead an
expedition in the nineteen twenties to find Shambala in the
in Tibet, to find the entrance to Shambala, and not
only that, but Nikolai would eventually come to see himself
and to style himself as rig Danneppo, the King of Shambala,

and so he had like ceremonial robes and other trappings
of this station created befitting his kingly destiny. Apparently, his
claim to be the king of Shambala did not go
over amazingly well with the Tibetans, and ultimately the expedition
was considered a failure. Rareck got incredibly mad at Tibet

and at Buddhism after this and published a bunch of
nasty things about them. But coming back to the statue,
where did the statue come from? Engelhart argues, based on
a number of clues, that it's quite likely that Rereck
had this statue made out of meteorite iron around nineteen
twenty six to nineteen twenty seven in order to represent

himself as the King of Shambala, and that's why it
bears these similarities to the sketch and the painting that
he did of himself in this posture. And this would
have probably been done by a metal worker somewhere in Urga,
the capital of Mongolia today known as ulan Batar, and

this would have been while the Rareks were staying there
in preparation for their expedition to bet So I think
we would need more like physical evidence to make the
link for sure, But I think it's good detective work,
and engle Heart makes a makes a really strong case,
circumstantial case based on the similarities of the artworks and

themes that we know that Raheric and Rarek and his
family were very interested in. So it seems quite plausible
to me. Anyway. I think that'll do it for today's
episode on the Iron from Space, But I feel like
we've got more to talk about with this subject now, Rob.
I think you've got an interview scheduled to run on
Tuesday of next week, right, But can we come back

with part three of this discussion on Thursday?

Speaker 2 (46:47):
Absolutely? Yeah, we have more examples of potential meteoric iron
artifacts to discuss and more related topics. So we'll come
back for a part three on Thursday, with an interview
episode airing on Tuesday that's not related.

Speaker 3 (47:04):
To this topic.

Speaker 2 (47:05):
Sounds great, can't wait in the meantime, certainly right in.
If you have thoughts on the alleged iron man, well,
I mean, I guess the iron part is not alleged.
It's a man. He's made out of iron. He is
iron man. No one can doubt that. We can't take
that away from him. But if you have thoughts on that,
or if you have thoughts on Chinese artifacts in Chinese

mythology right in, we'd love to hear from you. Also,
if there are other examples from other cultures that we
haven't covered so far, bring them up, because we do
have a few things lined up to discuss. But if
you get us in time, you might be able to
we might be able to add it to the list,
or if it comes in after the fact, perhaps it's
something we can discuss on our listener Mail episodes. Our

listener Mail episodes publish on Mondays and The Stuff to
Blow Your Mind podcast feed core episodes on Tuesdays and Thursdays,
short form episode on Wednesdays, and on Fridays, we set
aside most serious concerns just talk about a weird film
on Weird House Cinema.

Speaker 3 (48:04):
Huge thanks as always to our excellent audio producer JJ Posway.
If you would like to get in touch with us
with feedback on this episode or any other, to suggest
a topic for the future, or just to say hello,
you can email us at contact at stuff to Blow
your Mind dot com.

Speaker 1 (48:27):
Stuff to Blow Your Mind is production of iHeartRadio. For
more podcasts from my heart Radio, visit the iHeartRadio app,
Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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