(CNN) — A golden statue of a sitting Buddha, smuggled from a temple in China to a market in the Netherlands, revealed an extraordinary secret — a 1,000-year-old mummified monk.
Researchers discovered the mummy, encased in a cavity in the statue when a private buyer brought it to the Drents Museum in the Netherlands for restoration.
But it wasn’t until a team of researchers and scientists did a CT scan — a comprehensive three dimensional x-ray image — last year, did they discover the mummy’s organs were missing.
“We thought it would be lung tissue, but instead we found little scraps of paper covered with Chinese characters,” said Vincent van Vilsteren, an archeology curator from the museum.
The mummy was found sitting on a bundle of cloth covered in Chinese inscriptions, revealing its identity as a Buddhist monk called Liuquan who may have practiced “self-mummification” to prepare for life after death.
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. The few monks that were able to successfully complete the process were highly revered.
“We suspect that for the first 200 years, the mummy was exposed and worshiped in a Buddhist temple in China… only in the 14th century did they do all the work to transform it into a nice statue,” said van Vilsteren.
Van Vilsteren and his team are still waiting on DNA analysis results in hopes to trace the mummy back to its exact location in China.
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.