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Owlscrying

'Buddha's skull' found in Nanjing

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Owlscrying

Chinese archaeologists have claimed that a 1,000-year-old miniature pagoda, unearthed in Nanjing, holds a piece of skull belonging to Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism.

The pagoda was wedged tightly inside an iron case that was discovered at the site of a former temple in the city in August.

The four-storey pagoda, which is almost four feet high and one-and-a-half feet wide, is thought by archaeologists to be one of the 84,000 pagodas commissioned by Ashoka the Great in the second century BC to house the remains of the Buddha.

Ashoka, one of India's greatest emperors, converted to Buddhism after waging a bloody war in the eastern state of Orissa. He is widely credited with spreading Buddhism throughout Asia, and across his kingdom, which stretched from Pakistan through Afghanistan and into Iran.

A description of the contents of the pagoda was also found: a gold coffin bearing part of Buddha's skull inside a silver box. Although scans have confirmed that there are two small metal boxes inside the pagoda, experts have not yet peered inside. The pagoda is currently on display in the museum.

Qi Haining, the head of archaeology at Nanjing Museum, told state media: "This pagoda may be unique, the only one known to contain parts of Buddha's skull". But he said there would be a lengthy process before the cases could be opened.

Siddhartha Gautama, who is believed to have been born in the fifth century BC, was a spirit­ual teacher and recognised by Buddhists as the Supreme Buddha of our age. Also known as Shakyamuni, or the Sage of the Sakyas, his teachings are contained in the Tripitaka, the canon of Buddhist thought.

He is said to have attained Enlightenment, or to have become a Buddha, which means "Awakened One", at the age of 35, after 49 days meditating underneath a pipal tree.

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