Ming Dynasty Baby Buddha Statue Questions Australian History
Two filmmakers detected a rare Ming Dynasty Buddha in Australia, which could “rewrite history.” Some thought it an elaborate hoax, but experts have now verified the honesty of the finders.
Back in 2018, a documentary about the French exploration of Australia was being planned by two filmmakers. Using metal detectors in remote Western Australia, the team discovered a Buddha statue, which BBC’s Antiques Roadshow recently confirmed as authentic.
Now the question is being asked if the 15th-century statue was really left behind by Chinese explorers?
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Did Ancient Chinese Explorers Visit Australia?
According to BBC antiques experts the 15 centimeter (5.9 inch)-tall bronze Buddha figure, that weighs just over 1kg (2.2 lbs), was made in China hundreds of years ago. The two filmmakers, Leon Deschamps and Shayne Thomson, are currently trying to figure out how the figurine got to the roadside in Shark Bay, a World Heritage Site in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia.
According to an article in the Guardian, the pair of filmmakers believe the Buddha “might be a clue that could rewrite history.” This is based on their claim that the figurine was most probably left behind by “Ming dynasty explorers visited Australia hundreds of years ago.”
Finders Leon Deschamps and Shayne Thomson have finally been vilified by experts. ( Finn Films )
Used For Buddha's Birthday?
Trying to confirm their suspicions, last Sunday, the filmmakers presented their findings on the long-standing British TV show, Antiques Roadshow . Lee Young, the show’s Asian art expert and the managing director of Dore and Rees auctioneers in Somerset, both confirmed the figurine was made during China’s Ming dynasty. And as such, it was described as “a world treasure”. Young estimated that the Ming dynasty piece would reach around £3,000 to £5,000 (A$5,000 to A$9,000) at auction.
Ian MacLeod, a fellow of the WA Museum used microscopes to confirm that the Buddha was “unequivocally not a forgery”. Young confirmed “Yes, it is Ming, and yes it is the infant Buddha. ”
According to Young, the figurine would have belonged to “someone of some standing.” Furthermore, the infantile representation of the spiritual leader is thought to have been used in ceremonies to celebrate Buddha’s birthday.
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The statue is confirmed as a Ming representation of the Baby Buddha. ( Finn Films )
A Ming Dynasty Treasure?
MacLeod thinks the Buddha was used from the Ming period, between 1368 AD to 1644 AD, and that it was buried about 150 years before it was detected by the filmmakers. Deschamps said the Buddha could have “been left behind by the Ming dynasty treasure fleet of 1421 AD,” under commission of the third Ming emperor.
It is known that hundreds of ships sailed the south-east Asia Seas on at least seven expeditions hunting for the coast of Africa. However, until now, no evidence has ever suggested that they reached the coast of Australia hundreds of years before the first European explorers in the 1600s.
All this means that while the piece is estimated at around £3,000 to £5,000 (A$5,000 to A$9,000), the real value of the find is where it was found, which is described as “historically incredibly important.”
Young said, when the location value is added to the whole, and the fact the piece is unique, he would not be surprised if the artifact fetched closer to £100,000 at auction.
Fact Or Faked?
Like every “history challenging” archaeological discovery, there are sceptics. For example, Jocelyn Chey, a visiting professor in the department of Chinese studies at the University of Sydney . Chey said just because the Buddha is 500 years old, that “doesn’t mean it came here 500 years ago.” Furthermore, Chey said it was “unlikely” that the Chinese treasure fleet ever visited the Gascoyne area of Western Australia.
Another sceptic, Read Paul Macgregor, a historian and curator with Our Chinese Past Inc, said the object most probably arrived “with the Chinese pearlers or fishermen in the 1870s.” Alternatively, he said it was left “as a hoax.” In response, Deschamps said only an archaeological dig at the site will determine “the real origins of the Buddha.”
Top image: The Baby Buddha statue found in Shark Bay Australia. Source: Finn Films
By Ashley Cowie