Before you ask: no, it isn't the plot for the next Indiana Jones movie. According to a research paper published on the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science, scientists have discovered that an Iron Man sculpture found by a Nazi expedition in Tibet is of extraterrestrial origin. Cue the music anyway.
The Nazi archeologists found the Iron Man in a remote region of Tibet and brought it to Germany in 1939, just before the start of World War II. It portrays a man in armour, with a clockwise swastika on his chest.
According to the paper, the 10.6-kilogram "Iron Man" sculpture may represent "the Buddhist god Vaiśravana and might originate in the Bon culture of the eleventh century." However, this is just one conjecture. Its real origin remains a mystery:
The ethnological and art historical details of the "Iron Man" sculpture, as well as the timing of the sculpturing, currently remain speculative.
It came from space
The only thing they are sure about is where it came from: space. In fact, as stated by the paper's lead researcher Elmar Buchnher of the University of Stuttgart, "the Iron Man statue is the only known illustration of a human figure to be carved into a meteorite."
The sculpture is "made of an iron meteorite, which represents a particularity in religious art and meteorite science." The analysis of the material shows iron, nickel and cobalt as well as trace elements like chromium, gallium and germanium. The combinations of elements "indicate an ataxitic iron meteorite with high nickel contents and cobalt that was used to produce the artifact."
They discovered that its platinum group elements "exhibit a meteoritic signature," which allowed them to identify the exact meteorite used on its making:
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.
Left: A fragment of the Chinga meteorite
According to The Meteoritical Society's catalogue, the Chinga meteorite is one of only 113 iron meteorites found on Earth. Buchner says that the Chinga meteorite is extremely hard, which probably made the carving process very arduous for its creators.
The researchers claim that "the fall of meteorites has been interpreted as divine messages by multitudinous cultures since prehistoric times, and meteorites are still adored as heavenly bodies." When long-forgotten groups of humans witnessed the fall and impact of a meteorite, they recovered the material and used it in the making of different objects. The paper cites instances of "stony meteorites used to carve birds and other works of art" while "jewelry and knifes were produced of meteoritic iron for instance by the Inuit society."
This sculpture and the Chinga meteorite are a prime example of the latter.
The Nazi connection
But why did the Nazis bring this particular sculpture back to Germany? We can only speculate about their reasons.
Perhaps they learned about the meteoric properties of the statue from the local inhabitants. After all, Buchner says that the artists who made it were probably aware of the special nature of the material.
Or maybe they made the decision based purely on its mystical nature and the use of the swastika on his chest. It's a well-known fact that Hitler and some of his cronies were obsessed by occultism and the supernatural.
The swastika -- from the Sanskrit "svasti", meaning well being and good fortune -- is a common symbol in some ancient cultures -- Egyptian, Greek, Persian, Celtic, even Native Americans -- as well as some religions, like Hinduism and Buddhism.
The clockwise swastika is a symbol of good in Hindusim. It's connected to the Sun and the god Vishnu. This is the swastika on the statue's armour. The Nazis, however, used the counterclockwise version of the swastika, which in Hinduism is connected to magic and Kali -- the Hindu goddess of empowerment, often presented as dark and violent. This was the symbol adopted by the Nazis.
Whatever the Nazi connection is, the fact is that the Iron Man is special and mysterious on its own. And perhaps even worth of an Indiana Jones movie in and of itself. [Meteoritics &/ Planetary Science via Nature -- Gracias Mat Honan!]