Excavations within the sacred Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini in Nepal, a UNESCO World Heritage site long identified as the birthplace of the Buddha, uncovered the remains of a previously unknown sixth-century BC timber structure under a series of brick temples. (Agencies)
This is the first archaeological material linking the life of the Buddha, and thus the first flowering of Buddhism, to a specific century.
The timber structure contains an open space in the center that links to the nativity story of the Buddha himself, his mother Queen Maya Devi gave birth to him while holding on to a tree branch within the Lumbini Garden.
The researchers suggest the open space in the centre of the most ancient, timber shrine may have accommodated a tree.
Geoarchaeological research also confirmed the presence of ancient tree roots within the temple's central void, according to the study published in the journal Antiquity.
Until now, the earliest archaeological evidence of Buddhist structures at Lumbini dated no earlier than the third century BC, the time of the patronage of the Emperor Asoka, who promoted the spread of Buddhism, from present-day Afghanistan to Bangladesh.
"Very little is known about the life of the Buddha, except through textual sources and oral tradition. Some scholars have maintained that the Buddha was born in the third century BC," lead researcher, Professor Coningham from Durham University's Archaeology Department, said.
There is dispute over the birth date of Buddha, many scholars believe that the sage lived and taught in the 4th century BC and died at the age of 80.
"Now, for the first time, we have an archaeological sequence at Lumbini that shows a building there as early as the sixth century BC," Coningham said.
Coningham, worked with Kosh Prasad Acharya from the Pashupati Area Development Trust in Nepal, and an international team of archaeologists.
To determine the dates of the timber shrine and a previously unknown early brick structure above it, researchers tested fragments of charcoal and grains of sand using a combination of radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence techniques.
Gautama Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama, or simply the Buddha, was a sage on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. He renounced the world at the age of 29 to seek enlightenment.
Excavations within the sacred Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini in Nepal, a UNESCO World Heritage site long identified as the birthplace of the Buddha, uncovered the remains of a previously unknown sixth-century BC timber structure under a series of brick temples.