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