A local villager first spotted the head of the Buddha last month when the water level fell by more than 10 meters during work on a hydropower gate, official state news agency Xinhua reported.
The Buddha’s head sits against a cliff and gazes serenely over the body of water. It has attracted many tourists as well as locals, who see it as an auspicious sign.
Archaeologists said the statue could date back to Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
“A preliminary study of the statue suggests it was probably built during early Ming Dynasty, maybe even earlier as the Yuan Dynasty,” Xu Changqing, director of the Research Institute of Archaeology of Jiangxi province.
Xu added that being submerged in water could have preserved the statue, which features surprisingly detailed carving.
“If the statue wasn’t preserved in the water, it could have suffered weathering, oxidation or other risks, we reckon,” Xu said.
Many cultural relics were destroyed during the country’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s when people were told to get rid of everything old, feudalistic and superstitious.
The statue is around 12.5 feet (3.8 meters) tall and carved into a cliff.
China is home to a number of striking Buddhist cliff and cave carvings. The most famous is Leshan Giant Buddha, the world’s tallest Buddha statue.