Oldest Buddhist Shrine From 6th Century BC Discovered in Nepal

Tuesday, 26 Nov 2013 10:30 AM

By Clyde Hughes

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Archaeologists said that recent research in Nepal has led them to what is believed to be the oldest Buddhist shrine, thought to be the birthplace of the Buddha about sixth century B.C.

The research describes the remains of a timber structure roughly the same size and shape as a temple built in the same area around third century B.C., according to CNN. The research is published in the journal Antiquity.

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"This is one of those rare occasions when belief, tradition, archaeology and science actually come together," Robin Coningham, professor at Durham University in the United Kingdom, told reporters at a news conference Monday. "We know the entirety of the shrine sequence started in the sixth century B.C., and this sheds light on a very long debate."

National Geographic reported that excavations revealed older wooden structures layered beneath the walls of the brick Buddhist shrine. The layout of the more recent shrine duplicates the layout of the earlier wooden structures, showing a continuity of Buddhist site, Coningham said.

If the researchers' work is accurate, it would mean that the Buddha's actual life could have overlapped with the recognized time frame of 563-483 B.C. Other researchers estimate the time frame is 448 to 368 B.C.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization places Buddha's birth at 623 B.C.

The archaeologists believe that a tree grew at the center of the shrine, providing support to the long-held story that the Buddha's mother held onto a tree branch while giving birth to him.

While more analysis is needed to determine if the site is actually the oldest Buddha shrine, the dig was an important find.

"Archaeologists love claiming that they have found the earliest or the oldest of something," archaeologist Ruth Young, of the United Kingdom's University of Leicester, told National Geographic.

The new research on the Buddha's life will be highlighted by National Geographic in its upcoming documentary "Buried Secrets of the Buddha," which will air in February. The National Geographic Society partly funded the most recent research.

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