Archeologists investigating a site long believed to be the birthplace of Buddha have found new evidence to establish when the profoundly influential sage was born. The discovery marks the first time, researchers say, that any firm link has narrowed Buddha's date of birth to within a certain century.

Reporting in the journal Antiquity, an international team of scientists describe the excavation of a timber structure located in the Maya Devi Temple in Lumbini, Nepal, which they cite as the possible location of Buddha's birth. The temple, a World Heritage site currently being converted into a pilgrimage hub, has long been a pillar of Buddhist faith. Ancient inscriptions at the site, which have been dated to the third century B.C., name it as Buddha's birthplace. Other discoveries at the location suggest that it has long been a sacred place for Buddhists, with evidence of monasteries and shrines that date back to the 3rd century B.C. and up to the 15th century A.D.

"Very little is known about the life of the Buddha."

Using several techniques, including carbon dating, researchers estimate that fragments from the timber structure date back to the 6th century B.C. Researchers also found ancient tree roots within the structure, a discovery that corresponds to how Buddha was said to be born — his mother, Maya Devi, gave birth while clasping a tree branch. The finding also corresponds to a traditional Buddhist shrine that entails a tree surrounded by a fence. The timeframe of Buddha's birth, however, has long been disputed: until now, because the earliest inscriptions at the temple dated back to the third century B.C., some experts speculated that this was also when Buddha was born.

"Very little is known about the life of the Buddha, except through textual sources and oral tradition," said study co-author Robin Coningham in a statement. "Now, for the first time, we have an archaeological sequence at Lumbini that shows a building there as early as the sixth century B.C." The research, which was partly funded by the National Geographic Society, will be featured in a February documentary, "Buried Secrets of the Buddha," on the National Geographic Channel.