Feb. 4, 1996: Archaeologists discover birthplace of Buddha.
A team of United Nations-sponsored archaeologists from Nepal, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Japan announced that they had discovered the ancient birth chamber of Prince Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, beneath the Mayadevi temple in southwestern Nepal. The site, which was located in Lumbini, more than 200 miles (350 kilometers) southwest of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, appeared to settle an international debate over whether the Buddha was born in India or Nepal.
The archaeologists excavated 15 chambers more than 16 feet (4.9 meters) beneath the ancient temple. A key find was a commemorative stone placed atop a platform of seven layers of bricks dating to 249BC. According to ancient Buddhist literature, that was the year that Emperor Ashoka, the ruler credited with expanding the religion into East Asia, placed a stone on top of a pile of bricks at the birthplace of Prince Siddhartha. Archaeologists also discovered a memorial pillar built by Ashoka at the site, a terra-cotta figure of Siddhartha and his wife, and silver and copper coins.
Siddhartha was born in about 563BC. At an early age he renounced material possessions and became a traveling monk known as the Buddha, which means "the Enlightened One."
The United Nations and the government of Nepal announced plans to build a center for world peace at the Lumbini site. Officials expected that the temple would become a shrine for the more than 350 million Buddhists worldwide and that many Buddhists would be inspired to make a pilgrimage to the site.