A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Excavations at Tilaurakot in southern Nepal have reopened a longstanding
debate about, and competing national claims to, the true hometown of Gautama
Siddhartha, better known as the Buddha. With UNESCO backing, Nepali and
British archaeologists have uncovered evidence the site was occupied during
the Buddha's lifetime, sometime between the seventh and fifth centuries B.C.
Tilaurakot was first identified as the possible site of Kapilavastu, the
Buddha's childhood home, at the end of the nineteenth century when
Archaeological Survey of India officials attempted to link Buddhist remains
and topographical features with the descriptions of Chinese pilgrims. "No
other ancient site has so much claim...as being situated in the right
position and fulfilling all other conditions," wrote P.C. Mukherji after
undertaking extensive research in the area in the 1890s.
In 1962, however, new excavators at Tilaurakot concluded that the town
could not be ancient Kapilavastu, as the earliest settlement of the site
began centuries after the Buddha's death. Indian archaeologists subsequently
identified the Indian town of Piprahwa, in Uttar Pradesh, ten miles south of
the Indo-Nepali border, where the earliest remains are those of a
third-century B.C. monastery, as the Buddha's hometown.
Now the focus has turned back to the Nepali site. The latest excavations at
Tilaurakot have uncovered terra-cotta crucibles, pottery beads, and
fragments of painted bowls known as painted gray ware, dated to the Iron Age
of the Ganges Plain, between the beginning of the early first millennium
B.C. and the sixth or seventh century B.C. "As a result," says excavation
co-director Robin Coningham, "there is little reason to continue to doubt
the original, nineteenth-century identification of the site of Tilaurakot as
the childhood home of theBuddhačancient Kapilavastu."