A 1,000-year-old Buddha statue from China has revealed some surprises, after being given a thorough medical exam, including CT scans and an endoscopy.
The statue contains the mummified body of the Buddhist master Liuquan of the Chinese Meditation School, according to the Meander Medical Centre in Amersfoort, Netherlands, where the statue was scanned.
The Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands, which exhibited the statue last year as part of its "Mummy World" exhibition, said the monk lived around the year 1100.
Some scans showing the mummy were taken prior to the exhibition, and a second round of scanning was done in September after the exhibition was taken down.
"The discovery of the mummy is of great cultural significance, not only because it is the only one of its kind, but so far the only Chinese Buddhist mummy that is available in the West for scientific research," said a Google translation of a Dutch news release from Meander Medical Center about the research.
The research team was headed by Erik Bruijn, an expert in Buddhist art and culture and a guest curator at the Wereldmuseum Rotterdam, and included gastrointestinal and liver specialist Raynald Vermeijden and radiologist Ben Heggelman.
The striking images from CT scans went viral this week after being published in the U.S. art and design blog, This Is Colossal.
Chinese writing found in belly
The endoscopy revealed that in the abdominal cavity where there had once been organs, there were instead an unidentified material and scraps of paper printed with ancient Chinese characters.
The researchers also took bone samples for DNA testing.
The Drents Museum says it suspects this mummy could be a case of self-mummification. That was a practice by Buddhist monks in Asia that involved a strict diet, including poison, to the point of near starvation in order to promote preservation of the body. When they were near death, they were buried alive.
The mummy is now on display at the National Museum of Natural History in Budapest as part of the Mummy World exhibition. The exhibition will head next to Luxemburg in May 2015, the Drents Museum says.