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A Jesus statue that has lived an unassuming life in a small town in Mexico for the last 300 years has been hiding a strange secret: real human teeth.
Exactly how the statue of Jesus awaiting punishment prior to his crucifixion got its set of choppers is a mystery.
But the statue may be an example of a tradition in which human body parts were donated to churches for religious purposes, said Fanny Unikel Santoncini, a restorer at the Escuela Nacional de Restauración, Conservación y Museografía at the Instituto Nacional de Antropología E Historia (INAH) in Mexico, who first discovered the statue's teeth.
"We have to remember that these people were very, very religious. They believed absolutely that there was a life after death and this was important for them," Unikel told Live Science. [See Images of the Jesus Statue with Human Teeth]
At first glance, the Christ of Patience — which depicts a seated, bloody Jesus gazing sadly off into the distance — doesn't look that different from statues found throughout the country. The painted wooden figure, which dates to the 17th or 18th century, wears human clothes and a wig, and was sculpted with a blend of European techniques and local materials, Unikel said.
Statues in Mexico are known to include false teeth made from animal bone. But though there were rumors about a few statues containing human teeth, Unikel had never seen one.
The discovery happened by accident, when the Christ of Patience was taken, along with several other statues, to be restored by the INAH researchers. As part of their restoration work, Unikel and her colleagues took X-rays of the statues. The anthropologist on the team noticed something unusual: real human teeth.
"We said 'Ah, it's not possible!'" Unikel told Live Science. "She said, 'I am absolutely sure about this.'"
The teeth could have come from living or dead people, but with no available documents describing the statue, scientists and restorers will have a tough time tracking down the original owner.