Something very unique was hiding inside an ancient Buddhist statue — it’s so bizarre, it’s almost impossible to believe. The perfectly preserved remains of a 1,000-year-old mummified monk were found after the statue was subjected to scientific testing. It’s believed to be the only such example in the world. The Buddha statue was bought decades ago on the art market by a private collector, who knew nothing of the secret hidden inside.
The mummified monk is sitting in the lotus position and is believed to have starved himself to death. His preserved remains weren’t initially put into the statue, rather they were on display at his monastery and, about 200 years later, when it appeared the remains started to deteriorate, his body was moved into the Buddha statue.
The remains weren’t discovered, however, until the 1990s when the statue underwent restoration. Given the potential risk of harming the contents of the status, they could not be removed.
In recent years, however, an international team of scientists further studied what was inside the statue, conducting a CAT scan which showed more detail of the monk’s skeleton.
Wilfrid Rosendahl, a German palaeontologist who led the research, explained: “It was not uncommon for monks to practice self-mummification but to find a mummified monk inside a statue is really extraordinary. It’s the only known example in the world.”
Rosendahl added: “Using a CAT scan, we saw that there was a perfectly preserved body with skin and muscles inside the statue. It’s a complete mummy, not just a skeleton. He was aged between 30 and 50.”
Radio carbon dating specialists and textile analysts have further studied the mummy and, using an endoscope, experts have taken samples from within the thoracic and abdominal cavities to find out the monk’s organs were removed and replaced with ancient wads of paper printed with Chinese characters.
DNA testing was also conducted on bone samples.
Dr. Rosendahl noted: “The monk died in a process of self-mummification. During the last weeks he would have started eating less food and drinking only water. Eventually he would have gone into a trance, stopped breathing and died. He basically starved himself to death.”
Rosendahl further noted: “The other monks would have put him close to a fire to dry him out and put him on display in the monastery, we think somewhere in China or Tibet. He was probably sitting for 200 years in the monastery and the monks then realized that he needed a bit of support and preservation so they put him inside the statue.”
Among the many people who weighed in with comments on social media was one person who wondered how it must have felt for the owner of the statue to have found out there was a mummy inside: “Just imagine, you’re tossing that thing around, rubbing its belly for good luck, or have it sitting on top of your TV, and all this time, inside is a dead dude.”
Another commenter pondered: “Makes me wonder how many statues have mummified monks in them and how far back they go?”