Experts have confirmed a tiny bronze Buddha statue found in Western Australia dates back some 600 years, from China’s 15th-century Ming Dynasty.
The relic, discovered by filmmakers Shayne Thompson and Leon Deschamps in 2018 in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia while filming a documentary retracing the steps of early 1800s French explorers, will be auctioned with a reserve price of $100,000.
The finders hope to find the Buddha’s missing index fingers and would like to be involved in providing replicas, research catalogues and funding for future museum exhibits and archaeological digs.
Asian art expert Lee Young, owner and managing director of Dore and Reese auctioneers in the UK, examined the infant Buddha during a recent episode of the UK’s Antiques Roadshow TV program.
He determined the small figurine was a rare ‘world treasure’, whose value drastically jumps to $175,00 if linked to the 15th-century Chinese dynasty.
Without historical significance, the piece would fetch a pre-sale price of up to $9,000.
Deschamps and Thompson believe the statue is evidence suggesting Chinese fleets arrived in Australia earlier than previously thought.
It’s argued the Buddha was left behind by the 1421 Ming treasure voyage in the fleet of admiral Zheng He – a Chinese explorer who made several epic voyages during the 15th century.
If confirmed, the Buddha’s origin suggests the Chinese visited the region almost 200 years before European traveller Dutchman Dirk Hartog landed in 1616.
Retired WA Museum fellow and corrosion expert Dr Ian McLeod said he believed the statue had been buried for over 100 years.
After testing the corrosion found on the statue, Mr McLeod said the figurine had remained in the exact location for decades and was not ‘planted’.
The site where the Buddha was unearthed has not been further disturbed and is under surveillance.
The pair, who together run Finn Films, were looking for objects left behind during a Napoleonic-era voyage when their metal detector pinged.
They gradually unearthed the Buddha’s bronzed buttocks and gently removed the relic – which weighs 1kg despite its small size – from the red sand.
Deschamps and Thompson hope to find a culturally appropriate owner who publicly displays the Buddha in either Australia or China.