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HIDDEN SHRINE from 500 BC found, may crack Buddha's birthday riddle

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A team of archeologists have dug up the oldest Buddhist shrine in the world, literally shedding light on the birthplace of Buddha.

The boffins found the 6th Century BC timber structure buried within the Maya Devi Temple in Lumbini, Nepal. Buddhists still make pilgrimages to Lumbini, where it's believed Buddha was born, although the actual date of his birth has been the topic of endless discussion over the years – so perhaps this discovery will clear that up.

This wooden structure once held tree roots, providing a clear link to the story that claims Buddha's mum gave birth to him while holding a branch.

"Now, for the first time, we have an archaeological sequence at Lumbini that shows a building there as early as the 6th century BC," said archaeologist Prof Robin Coningham of Durham University, who led the dig.

"This is the earliest evidence of a Buddhist shrine anywhere in the world.

"It sheds light on a very long debate, which has led to differences in teachings and traditions of Buddhism.

"The narrative of Lumbini's establishment as a pilgrimage site under Ashokan patronage must be modified since it is clear that the site had already undergone embellishment for centuries."

The team began their excavation at the heart of the temple in Lumbini, unearthing a roofless wooden structure. Brick temples which were built later appeared to be centred around this mysterious building.

They used radiocarbon dating techniques as well as optically stimulated luminescence to gauge its age.

Ram Kumar Shrestha, Nepal's minister of culture, told the BBC that the discovery would help conservation at the temple, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

"These discoveries are very important to better understand the birthplace of the Buddha," he said.

"The government of Nepal will spare no effort to preserve this significant site."

A paper on the dig was published in the journal Antiquity. ®

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