It’s been unclear exactly when in history Buddhism began. The Buddha’s life story is said to have been spread first through oral tradition, and little physical evidence about the religion’s early years has been found. But 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 the Buddha’s birthplace, to the sixth century B.C.
As reported by CNN.com, 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.
Lead study author Robin Coningham, professor at Durham University in the United Kingdom, says this is one of those rare occasions when belief, tradition, archaeology and science actually come together. He also adds that it’s now been known that the entirety of the shrine sequence started in the sixth century B.C., shedding more light on a very long debate.
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. (The UNESCO website about his birthplace says 623 B.C.)