The Great Buddha of Nara is losing some of his hair. And to the surprise of scholars, it may not have had much to begin with.

Laser scans of the 8th-century statue, housed in the similarly aged Tōdaiji temple complex in Japan, shows that it at one point had 492 “rahotsu," the spiral-shaped curls of hair on the Buddha’s head. (These curls are said to represent the Buddha’s enlightenment.) That's a little more than half of the 966 that several ancient texts claimed adorned the Nara statue. 

Because the statue is almost 50 feet tall and ornaments in the temple obscured a full view of the Buddha's head, officials were unable to count precisely how many rahotsu were present just by looking with the naked eye. 


Courtesy Takeshi Oishi

Today the statue only has 483 curls nine have fallen off, giving the statue a few bald spots. The temple was renovated several hundred years ago, and they may might have been lost then, though temple officials can’t say for sure.

[h/t:The Asahi Shimbun]