Researchers were surprised to find a mummified monk entombed in a statue of the Buddha. Most shocking of all, the monk was self-mummified, meaning that he was buried alive.
The discovery was made at Meander Medical Center in Amsterdam, when the scientists performed a CT scan on the Buddha statue.
According to NBC News, the mummified corpse was a man between 30 and 50 years old. He was likely kept in a Buddhist monastery for about 200 years after being mummified, then covered in paper and made into a statue. His death occurred sometime between the year 900 and 1000 AD.
So, why use X-rays on a Buddhist statue to begin with?
Live Science reports that in 1996, a private collector in the Netherlands wanted to have some chips and cracks repaired on his ancient relic. A restorer came and took the statue off its wooden platform and noticed two old pillows with Chinese text below the statue’s knees. And then, surprise! He found millennium-old human remains.
Vincent van Vilsteren, a curator of archaeological artifacts, detailed the gruesome surprise.
“He looked right into the bottom of this monk. You can see part of the bones and tissue of his skin.”
Naturally, researchers took it from there to start performing X-ray scans and tissue sample analysis.
Technically, it wasn’t just a mummified monk. The surprise came stuffed with Chinese texts explaining the man’s significance.
The writings revealed that the monk was Buddhist master Liuquan, who was likely revered as a Buddha long after his death. For an enlightened, high-status monk like Liuquan, self-mummification was a typical means to inspire and enlighten monks for generations to come. Of course, the process was still painfully brutal.
According to Discover, the typical self-mummification ritual begins when the prospective monk starts starving himself. He would live on water, seeds, and simple nuts for a decade. Then, he would be encased in the statue — still alive. For another 1,000 days, the monk would continue to survive, eating roots and pine bark through a small tube.
Finally, the future Buddha would die, but enduring this painful means of death guaranteed enlightenment and a kind of immortality.
Whether Liuquan went through that complete ritual is unclear. NBC reports that he was mummified centuries before being made into a statue.
Nevertheless, the mummified statue has a mysterious history and is an amazing discovery for Western researchers.
Live Science reports that Liuquan likely remained in a monastery in Southeast China for centuries before being smuggled out of the country during the cultural revolution. Chairman Mao urged citizens to destroy cultural relics of the “bourgeois” past, putting the statue in danger.
The decades following remain unclear.
After researching the mummified corpse, the Liuquan ended up in the National Museum of Natural History in Budapest, where he’ll be on display until May of this year.
[Image via Drents Museum]