UK academics claim Buddha riddle solved
Shyam Bhatia, London
Dec 23, 2000 17:00 Hrs (IST)

TWO British university academics working in Nepal believe they have solved a riddle that could rewrite the history of one of the world's oldest religions.

Archaeologists Robin Coningham and Armin Schmidt are awaiting results that could settle a major dispute on where the Buddha or Prince Siddhartha Gautama grew up. For the last four years, the Bradford University academics have been working on a Unesco- funded dig at Tilaurakot in Nepal.

They say the Buddha was born in nearby Lumbini and 19th century archaeologists believe the remains of Kapilavastu, Buddha's hometown, were to be found in nearby Tilaurakot.

But these claims were discredited in the 1960s after Indian archaeologists said key finds at the site did not go back far enough in time and only dated to 200 B.C., which was 300 years after the Buddha is believed to have lived.

Now the Unesco team, working with Nepal's chief archaeologist Kosh Acharya, has found items, including iron furnaces, terracotta crucibles and fragments of painted bowls, which confirm the accuracy of the 19th century archaeologists.

Coningham expects to receive carbon-dating results that will confirm his findings within weeks. He compares the Unesco project with searches for major Christian sites like Nazareth. "Seldom has archaeology had such a superb opportunity to uncover the origins of one of the world's greatest religions," he said.

"We are now quite certain that the excavated finds date back to as late as the seventh or eighth centuries B.C., which certainly pre-dates the period when Buddha is thought to have lived."

He hopes the discovery will help attract tourists and investment back to Nepal, whose Buddhist sites have been relatively neglected.

Indian experts continue to believe that the site of Pipprahawa was the home of the young Buddha. But the British archaeologists believe Indian archaeologists dated the remains at Tilaurakot incorrectly because they tested only one section and not the deepest.

Coningham, who is due to fly back to Nepal next April to work on a new dig, says there has been huge local interest in the Unesco project.

"We had some Buddhist monks visiting when we were there, asking to have some of the mud that was being excavated to use in a ceremony, because Buddha could have walked on it", he said in an interview published in a Bradford newspaper. "I've also had some absolute nutters on the phone with questions about the origins of Buddha, so it's been a very interesting time!"

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