Oldest Buddhist shrine holds clues to Buddha's birth

Story highlights

  • Archaeologists have found Buddhist shrine from sixth century B.C.
  • Its remains were found under a known Buddhist shrine, built about 300 years later
  • Results are published in the journal Antiquity
  • The older structure seems to have been made of timber
There are about 500 million Buddhists worldwide, but it's unclear exactly when in history this religion began. The Buddha's life story spread first through oral tradition, and little physical evidence about Buddhism's early years has been found.
Now, scientists for the first time have uncovered archaeological evidence of when the Buddha's monumentally influential life occurred. Excavations in Nepal date a Buddhist shrine, located at what is said to be the Buddha's birthplace, to the sixth century B.C.
The research, published in the journal Antiquity, describes the remains of a timber structure about the same size and shape as a temple built at the same site in the third century B.C.
Archaeologists also found reason to think that a tree grew at the center of this ancient structure, lending support to the traditional story that the Buddha's mother held onto a tree branch while giving birth to him.
"This is one of those rare occasions when belief, tradition, archaeology and science actually come together," lead study author Robin Coningham, professor at Durham University in the United Kingdom, said at a press briefing Monday.
If this study is correct, the Buddha's actual life could have overlapped with a popularly recognized time frame of 563-483 B.C. But lots of other date ranges for the Buddha have been tossed around -- some scholars say 448 to 368 B.C., for instance. (