Archaeologists have discovered an ancient Chinese box, which according to the inscriptions on the chest, holds the 'cremated remains of the Buddha'.
Over 260 Buddhist statues, some over six-and-a-half feet tall, were also uncovered alongside the ancient box in Jingchuan County, China.
The statues include depictions of the Buddha as well as various stages of the journey to attain enlightenment: bodhisattvas (those who seek enlightenment), arhats (those who have found enlightenment) and deities or "heavenly kings".
The discovery was first made by villagers who found the statues and the remains while repairing roads in 2012. Archaeologists then began analysing the specimens and dated the statues to the Northern Wei dynasty (386 AD to 534 AD) and the Song dynasty (960 AD to 1279 AD) – a time when China was a major trading hub on the Silk Road.
Although the discovery was made in 2012, the details of the findings were published in a Chinese-language journal only in 2016. More recently, two articles describing the discovery were translated into English and published in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics, LiveScience reported.
It is still unclear whether the remains found in the Chinese box belonged to the Buddha, who died around 2,500 years ago. Archaeologists are yet to confirm the legitimacy of the remains and the inscriptions on the box.
The Buddha is believed to have renounced his royal life in pursuit of spirituality. After gaining enlightenment, the Buddha is believed to have travelled through India and other parts of Asia, teaching the public about spirituality.
The inscriptions, when translated, read: "The monks Yunjiang and Zhiming of the Lotus School, who belonged to the Mañjuśrī Temple of the Longxing Monastery in Jingzhou Prefecture, gathered more than 2,000 pieces of śarīra [cremated remains of the Buddha], as well as the Buddha's teeth and bones, and buried them in the Mañjuśrī Hall of this temple."
The inscriptions on the box do not mention the hundreds of other statues found at the site. Archaeologists are still uncertain whether the statues were buried at the site during the same time as the ancient box. While some of the statues are life-sized, others only depict the head of an individual.
Little is definitively known about the circumstances surrounding the Buddha's death. ScienceAlert reported that, according to one theory, the cremated remains of the Buddha were divided up between his disciples and royal families to be distributed far and wide. However, historians are yet to verify the various theories on the events surrounding the Buddha's death.
This is not the first time that the Buddha's remains have been reported to be found. In 2016, Chinese archaeologists found a skull bone inside a stone chest, which they claimed belonged to the Buddha.