Hidden Treasure: Ancient Buddhist Statue Contains Hoard of Artifacts Including Scrolls

A visitor views a Guanyin Bodhisattva replica statue at the National Art Museum of China, in Beijing, on January 21, 2008. Researchers have discovered a hoard of cultural treasures in a Bodhisattva statue in Japan. China Photos/Getty Images

A hoard of artifacts, including scrolls and relics, has been discovered hiding in the body of an ancient Buddhist statuette. Sitting just 30 inches tall, the figurine is stuffed with about 180 artifacts.

Officials believe the mysterious objects have lain undisturbed since they were placed in the statue, which is thought to be about 700 years old, Japan's national public broadcasting organization NHK reports.

Scientists were sure something was hiding inside the statue from the Hokkeji Temple in the ancient Japanese capital of Nara. They used CT scans to probe its insides, finding scrolls and other artifacts nestled within the body of the statue, the temple reported. Around 30 items are hidden in the statue's head and about 150 are stuffed inside the body, NHK reported.

"In terms of the artifacts inside, the statue is really special," Shigeki Iwata, special research chair at the Nara National Museum, told NHK. "The discovery is historically valuable and has increased its value as a cultural asset."

The statue in question depicts Monju Bosatsu, a great Bodhisattva personifying wisdom. Bodhisattvas are those on the path to becoming a Buddha. Monju—known as Mañjuśrī, Mãnjughoṣa and Vāgīśvara in Sanskrit—is often shown armed with Buddhist literature in one hand and a sword in the other to cut through ignorance. Monju often sits atop a lion, representing the taming of the mind through wisdom.

Monju is venerated as one of the four great bodhisattvas in China, and his influence can be seen throughout Asia. He appears in Japanese, Tibetan, Nepalese and Indonesian art, for example. He is often depicted as a youth to represent the purity of his wisdom, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York reports.

This mysterious Monju statue will be on display at the Nara National Museum until May 27. Whether scientists will crack into the figurine to reveal the artifacts inside remains to be seen.