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Archaeologists working in Nepal have uncovered evidence of a structure at the birthplace of the Buddha dating to the sixth century B.C. This is the first archaeological material linking the life of the Buddha – and thus the first flowering of Buddhism – to a specific century.
Pioneering excavations within the sacred Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini, Nepal, a UNESCO World Heritage site long identified as the birthplace of the Buddha, uncovered the remains of a previously unknown sixth-century B.C. timber structure under a series of brick temples. Laid out on the same design as those above it, the timber structure contains an open space in the center that links to the nativity story of the Buddha himself.
Until now, the earliest archaeological evidence of Buddhist structures at Lumbini dated no earlier than the third century B.C., the time of the patronage of the Emperor Asoka, who promoted the spread of Buddhism from present-day Afghanistan to Bangladesh.
“Very little is known about the life of the Buddha, except through textual sources and oral tradition,” said archaeologist Professor Robin Coningham of Durham University, U.K., who co-led the investigation. Some scholars, he said, have maintained that the Buddha was born in the third century B.C. “We thought ‘why not go back to archaeology to try to answer some of the questions about his birth?’ 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.”
Early Buddhism revealed
The international team of archaeologists, led by Coningham and Kosh Prasad Acharya of the Pashupati Area Development Trust in Nepal, say the discovery contributes to a greater understanding of the early development of Buddhism as well as the spiritual importance of Lumbini. Their peer-reviewed findings are reported in the December 2013 issue of the international journal Antiquity. The research is partly supported by the National Geographic Society.
To determine the dates of the timber shrine and a previously unknown early brick structure above it, fragments of charcoal and grains of sand were tested using a combination of radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence techniques. Geoarchaeological research also confirmed the presence of ancient tree roots within the temple’s central void.
“UNESCO is very proud to be associated with this important discovery at one of the most holy places for one of the world’s oldest religions,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, who urged “more archaeological research, intensified conservation work and strengthened site management” to ensure Lumbini’s protection.
“These discoveries are very important to better understand the birthplace of the Buddha,” said Ram Kumar Shrestha, Nepal’s minister of culture, tourism and civil aviation. “The government of Nepal will spare no effort to preserve this significant site.”
Buddhist tradition records that Queen Maya Devi, the mother of the Buddha, gave birth to him while holding on to the branch of a tree within the Lumbini Garden, midway between the kingdoms of her husband and parents. Coningham and his colleagues postulate that the open space in the center of the most ancient, timber shrine may have accommodated a tree. Brick temples built later above the timber shrine also were arranged around the central space, which was unroofed.
Four main Buddhist sites
Lumbini is one of the key sites associated with the life of the Buddha; others are Bodh Gaya, where he became a Buddha or enlightened one; Sarnath, where he first preached; and Kusinagara, where he passed away. At his passing at the age of 80, the Buddha is recorded as having recommended that all Buddhists visit “Lumbini.” The shrine was still popular in the middle of the first millennium A.D. and was recorded by Chinese pilgrims as having a shrine beside a tree.
The Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini remains a living shrine; the archaeologists worked alongside meditating monks, nuns and pilgrims.
In the scientific paper in Antiquity, the authors write: “The sequence (of archaeological remains) at Lumbini is a microcosm for the development of Buddhism from a localized cult to a global religion.”
Lost and overgrown in the jungles of Nepal in the medieval period, ancient Lumbini was rediscovered in 1896 and identified as the birthplace of the Buddha on account of the presence of a third-century B.C. sandstone pillar. The pillar, which still stands, bears an inscription documenting a visit by Emperor Asoka to the site of the Buddha’s birth as well as the site’s name – Lumbini.
Despite the rediscovery of the key Buddhist sites, their earliest levels were buried deep or destroyed by later construction, leaving evidence of the very earliest stages of Buddhism inaccessible to archaeological investigation, until now.
Half a billion people around the world are Buddhists, and many hundreds of thousands make a pilgrimage to Lumbini each year. The archaeological investigation there was funded by the government of Japan in partnership with the government of Nepal, under a UNESCO project aimed at strengthening the conservation and management of Lumbini. Along with the National Geographic Society, the research also was supported by Durham University and Stirling University.
Coningham and Acharya were joined on the Antiquity paper by coauthors K.M. Strickland, C.E. Davis, M.J. Manuel, I. A. Simpson, K. Gilliland, J. Tremblay, T.C. Kinnaird and D.C.W. Sanderson.
NOTES: A documentary on Coningham’s exploration of the Buddha’s life, “Buried Secrets of the Buddha,” will premiere in February internationally on National Geographic Channel.
For an embeddable National Geographic news video about the findings, click or link to this:http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/news/history-archaeology-news/buddha-birth-vin/
TV and radio broadcast facilities available at Durham: Professor Robin Coningham from Durham University is available for interview via down-the-line, broadcast-quality TV and radio facilities. To book a time, please contact the Durham University Media Relations Team on +44 (0)191 334 6075 or email email@example.com.
The healthiest diets cost about $1.50 more per day than the least healthy diets, according to new research from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). The finding is based on the most comprehensive examination to date comparing prices of healthy foods and diet patterns vs. less healthy ones.
The study will be published online December 5, 2013 in BMJ (British Medical Journal) Open.
“People often say that healthier foods are more expensive, and that such costs strongly limit better diet habits,” said lead author Mayuree Rao, a junior research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at HSPH. “But, until now, the scientific evidence for this idea has not been systematically evaluated, nor have the actual differences in cost been characterized.”
To address this question, the HSPH researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 27 existing studies from 10 high-income countries that included price data for individual foods and for healthier vs. less healthy diets. They evaluated the differences in prices per serving and per 200 calories for particular types of foods, and prices per day and per 2,000 calories (the United States Department of Agriculture’s recommended average daily calorie intake for adults) for overall diet patterns. Both prices per serving and per calorie were assessed because prices can vary depending on the unit of comparison.
The researchers found that healthier diet patterns – for example, diets rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts – cost significantly more than unhealthy diets (for example, those rich in processed foods, meats, and refined grains). On average, a day’s worth of the most healthy diet patterns cost about $1.50 more per day than the least healthy ones.
The researchers suggested that unhealthy diets may cost less because food policies have focused on the production of “inexpensive, high volume” commodities, which has led to “a complex network of farming, storage, transportation, processing, manufacturing, and marketing capabilities that favor sales of highly processed food products for maximal industry profit.” Given this reality, they said that creating a similar infrastructure to support production of healthier foods might help increase availability – and reduce the prices – of more healthful diets.
“This research provides the most complete picture to-date on true cost differences of healthy diets,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, the study’s senior author and associate professor at HSPH and Harvard Medical School. “While healthier diets did cost more, the difference was smaller than many people might have expected. Over the course of a year, $1.50/day more for eating a healthy diet would increase food costs for one person by about $550 per year. This would represent a real burden for some families, and we need policies to help offset these costs. On the other hand, this price difference is very small in comparison to the economic costs of diet-related chronic diseases, which would be dramatically reduced by healthy diets.”
Other HSPH authors included research fellows Ashkan Afshin (Department of Epidemiology) and Gitanjali Singh (Department of Nutrition).
Funding for the study came from a Genes and Environment Initiative (GENI) grant from HSPH; a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Cardiovascular Epidemiology Training Grant in Behavior, the Environment, and Global Health (T32 HL098048); and from a National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Training Grant in Academic Nutrition (T32 DK007703).
“Do Healthier Foods and Diet Patterns Cost More Than Less Healthy Options? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Mayuree Rao, Ashkan Afshin, Gitanjali Singh, Dariush Mozaffarian,BMJ Open, December 5, 2013
Visit the HSPH website for the latest news, press releases and multimedia offerings.
Harvard School of Public Health brings together dedicated experts from many disciplines to educate new generations of global health leaders and produce powerful ideas that improve the lives and health of people everywhere. As a community of leading scientists, educators, and students, we work together to take innovative ideas from the laboratory and the classroom to people’s lives – not only making scientific breakthroughs, but also working to change individual behaviors, public policies, and health care practices. Each year, more than 400 faculty members at HSPH teach 1,000-plus full-time students from around the world and train thousands more through online and executive education courses. Founded in 1913 as the Harvard-MIT School of Health Officers, the School is recognized as the oldest professional training program in public health.
Americans with similar temperaments are so likely to live in the same areas that a map of the country can be divided into regions with distinct personalities, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.
People in the north-central Great Plains and the South tend to be conventional and friendly, those in the Western and Eastern seaboards lean toward being mostly relaxed and creative, while New Englanders and Mid-Atlantic residents are prone to being more temperamental and uninhibited, according to a study published online by APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
“This analysis challenges the standard methods of dividing up the country on the basis of economic factors, voting patterns, cultural stereotypes or geography that appear to have become ingrained in the way people think about the United States,” said lead author Peter J. Rentfrow, PhD, of the University of Cambridge. “At the same time, it reinforces some of the traditional beliefs that some areas of the country are friendlier than others, while some are more creative.”
The researchers analyzed the personality traits of more than 1.5 million people. Through various online forums/media (e.g., Facebook and survey panels), participants answered questions about their psychological traits and demographics, including their state of residence. The researchers identified three psychological profiles based on five broad dimensions of personality – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism – also known as the “Big Five” personality traits. When the researchers overlaid the findings on a national map, they found certain psychological profiles were predominant in three distinct geographic areas. The data were collected over 12 years in five samples with participants from the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia. Overall, the samples were nationally representative in terms of gender and ethnicity, with the exception of a larger proportion of young people.
“These national clusters of personalities also relate to a region’s politics, economy, social attitudes and health,” Rentfrow said. The study found that people in the friendly and conventional regions are typically less affluent, less educated, more politically conservative, more likely to be Protestant and less healthy compared to people in the other regions. The relaxed and creative states’ residents are more culturally and ethnically diverse, more liberal, wealthier, more educated, comparatively healthy and less likely to be Protestant than those living in other regions. The temperamental and uninhibited region has a larger proportion of women and older adults who are more affluent, politically liberal and unlikely to be Protestant.
As for what might have shaped the regional personalities, theories plus research on migration and social influence offer clues, the authors said. For instance, research has shown agreeableness is a trait often found in people who stay in their hometowns, and the analysis indicated that a large proportion of residents in the friendly and conventional region lived in the same state the year before. The relaxed and creative region may have been influenced by a frontier mentality that endures with lots of young people, professionals and immigrants moving to the region for educational and employment opportunities. In the temperamental and uninhibited region, significant numbers of people have moved away, and research has shown that people who move to another part of the country are typically high in openness and conscientiousness and low in neuroticism – almost entirely the opposite of the temperamental and uninhibited profile. “Considering that the temperamental and uninhibited profile is marked by high neuroticism, it’s reasonable to speculate that social influence might facilitate the spread of anxiety and irritability across the region,” the study said.
The researchers analyzed personality data from people who voluntarily participated in website personality tests, the “My Personality” Facebook application and from an online survey that recruited participants using a design that mimics random digit dialing. To determine regional political, economic, social and health factors, they examined data from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau, state board of elections offices and the Association of Religion Data Archives.
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