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Ancient Korean Buddha Statue Will Not Be Re-erected

The Korea Times, Jan 7, 2008

Gyeongju, South Korea -- A 1,300-year old Buddha statue, which was discovered in a southeastern ancient capital last year, is unlikely to be re-erected soon, government officials said Monday.

A Maaebul, or a Buddhist statue carved into rock, was found in May in Gyeongju, which is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage since 2000.

The city in North Gyeongsang Province boasts a wealth of ancient relics as the capital of an ancient kingdom from B.C. 57 to 935.

It is not uncommon in Korea to find Maaebuls across the country.

Namsan, a 494-meter peak in the heart of Gyeongju where the discovery of the statue was made, is home to many historic and cultural remains from the Silla kingdom, in which the Buddhism was the state religion.

The statue, which was found lying with its face down at Yeoramgok, one of some 40 valleys in Namsan, was in good condition, even after 1,300 years, experts said.

"It was preserved splendidly, as it had been buried in soil for more than 1,000 years," said an official from the Cultural Heritage Administration.

Even the nose on the Buddha's face unusually remained intact, with the face falling a mere 5 centimeters away from a rock, which Buddhist devotees have claimed to be a religious miracle.

The government has indefinitely postponed its original plan to erect or turn the fallen statue by November last year, concerned over potential damages.

The 560-centimeter tall statue is estimated to weigh more than 70 tons.

"The issue here is not only that it weighs too much, more than the 50-ton K1 tanks, mainly used in the South Korean military, but also that it is placed very deep on a steep hillside," said Kim Bong-gon, head of the National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage.

"Under the geographical condition, it was found to be difficult to use a large-sized crane or helicopter," Kim said.

It worries the experts that the face, the most important part of the Buddha statue, might be crushed if the statue slips off, officials said.

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