Science and Tech


Buddha's Birthday Could Be 100 Years Earlier Than We Thought

Archeologists digging at Lumbini, Nepal\'s Maya Devi Temple, have discovered what they\'re calling the world\'s oldest Buddhist shrine.
Posted at 6:32 PM, Nov 25, 2013

Update your calendars, everyone — it looks like we all might have had Buddha's birthday wrong. 

Archeologists digging at Lumbini, Nepal's Maya Devi Temple, have discovered what they're calling the world's oldest Buddhist shrine. (Via SamasMedia)

Buddhists mark Lumbini as the birthplace of Siddartha Gautama — who'd come to be known as the Buddha. The story says his mother, Maya Devi, gave birth to him while holding onto a tree branch in the garden. (Via Wikimedia Commons / Sacca)

The site is already regarded as an important Buddhist shrine — hundreds of thousands of people make a pilgrimage to it each year. And we already knew it was old. Just not this old. (Via UNESCO)

Beneath brick, archaeologists have uncovered older, timber structures — dated to about 550 B.C. 

"And those, for the very first time, have given us a calendrical date with which we can now begin to understand the lifetime of the Buddha himself." (Via National Geographic)

Researchers carbon-dated charcoal and sand found in postholes to determine the site's age. Those postholes had been arranged in a way that left an opening to the sky. In the middle of that — they found tree roots.

"That [says NBC science editor Alan Boyle] meshed with one of the traditional layouts for Buddhist shrines: a living tree that is ringed by wooden railings."

The site itself is referred to as a living shrine. Discovery notes "archaeologists worked alongside meditating monks, nuns and pilgrims."

USA Today points out a contrast between the archaeological tracking of religious origin stories.

"​Though Jesus' birth has been pinpointed to within a few years, scholars have argued for decades over not just the year but even the century of the Buddha's life." (Via USA Today)

National Geographic partially funded the study for a documentary scheduled for February release. The findings were published Monday in the journal Antiquity.