A Thousand Year Old Secret

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A statue of a sitting Buddha that made its way from a temple in China to a market in the Netherlands revealed an extraordinary secret — a 1,000-year-old mummified monk inside.

Researchers at the Drents Museum in the Netherlands made a shocking discovery when they did a comprehensive 3-D CT scan on an ancient Chinese statue about four-foot tall and found a mummy inside. Sitting in the lotus position on a bundle of cloth, the mummy fits within the statue perfectly.

“On the outside, it looks like a large statue of Buddha,” the museum said in a release. “Scan research has shown that on the inside, it is the mummy of a Buddhist monk who lived around the year 1100.” Glowing through the statue’s golden cast, the human skeleton is believed to belong to Buddhist master Liuquan, a member of the Chinese Meditation School. The mummy was discovered when a private buyer brought it in for restoration.

The process of self-mummification is a known tradition in countries like Japan, China and Thailand, and was practiced over a thousand years ago. The elaborate and arduous process includes eating a special diet and drinking a poisonous tea so the body would be too toxic to be eaten by maggots. It was not seen as suicide and only high-ranking Buddhist masters were allowed to practice it, in order to reach Nirvana. This mummy is one of more than 20 existing mummies who died this way, but it’s the first to be found inside a statue

An archaeology curator from the Drents Museum suspects that for the first 200 year, the mummy was exposed and worshipped in a Buddist temple in China…only in the 14th century did they do all the work of transforming it into a nice statue. The mummified body was covered with clay around 200 to 300 years after the monk’s death, followed by several layers of enamel and finally golden paint, to make the statue glow.

The statue is now housed in the National Museum of Natural History in Budapest and will move to Luxembourg in May as a part of an international tour.

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