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Friday, 16 March, 2001, 15:05 GMT
'Buddha's hair' found in China
Buddha in temple in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, China
Buddhist temples still remain across China
By Duncan Hewitt in Shanghai

Archaeologists in China say they have unearthed a miniature gold box believed to contain the hair of the Buddha.

The box, thought to have been buried for more than a thousand years, was dug up during the excavations of a famous ruined pagoda in the eastern city of Hangzhou.

The excavation has attracted much media interest in China.

But some experts say it should never have been carried out.

Media frenzy

China's Communist-controlled media have been in a frenzy of excitement over the discovery of the apparent Buddhist relic.

Urn containing tooth shown in Thailand
A tooth believed to belong to the Buddha went on display across Asia
Journalists waited for days outside the local museum in Hangzhou for experts to open the heavy iron case which contained it.

The case was found in a cellar under the ruins of the famous Leifeng Pagoda, which was built in 976 AD but collapsed after repeated attacks by relic thieves in 1924.

China's official news agency said the case contained a 35cm-high gilded silver pagoda, carved with scenes from the story of the Buddha Sakyamuni.

Buddha's hair

Visible inside the pagoda is a tiny gold box, which experts say is believed to contain the hair of the Buddha - but the Shanghai Daily newspaper quoted experts as saying the box would not be opened for fear of damaging it.

Buddhist relics in Bamiyan, Afghanistan
Buddhist relics are among Asia's great archaeological treasures
The former head of the local cultural relics protection bureau was quoted in another newspaper, the Guangzhou Daily, as saying he had opposed the excavation in the first place.

He said he feared that the relics could not be properly protected.

Reports said this is thought to be the second piece of the Buddha's hair found in China - a similar relic was discovered in the north of the country in the 1970s.

Pieces of the Buddha's hair are also believed to be contained in temples in Burma, Cambodia and Thailand.

And a relic revered as a tooth of the Buddha, normally kept in a Beijing temple, attracted huge crowds when it was put on display in Hong Kong in May 1999.

Archaeologists have yet to uncover any trace however of the Lady White, a mythical figure who according to Chinese legend is entombed under the Leifeng pagoda.

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See also:

15 Mar 01 | South Asia
Afghan Buddha destruction revealed
22 May 99 | Asia-Pacific
Birthday Buddha's tooth in Hong Kong
11 Mar 01 | South Asia
Bamiyan: Wonder of the ancient world
31 Mar 98 | Despatches
Beijing Buddha stolen
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