A discovery found hidden inside a 1,000-year-old Chinese chest could help archaeologists reach enlightenment.
Fragments of bone which were uncovered within the gold chest could belong to Buddha, say researchers.
They believe that a chunk of skull, mixed with a collection of remains of Buddhist saints, belonged to Siddhartha Gautama, whose teachings became the foundations of the religion.
A team of archaeologists made the find during excavations at a Buddhist temple in Nanjing China in 2010.
When they opened a stone chest in a crypt underneath the temple, they found an ornate shrine called a stupa, used for meditation.
According to Live Science, the shrine is a box 117 cm tall and 45 cm wide (4 feet by 1.5 feet) made from sandalwood, gold and silver with jewels embedded and contained the bone inside.
Writing in the journal of Chinese Cultural Relics, the team describes inscriptions on the stone chest which date it to around 1,000 CE and name checks those who funded and built the shrine, as well as outlining the names of those to whose remains it contains.
Describing the find, Live Science reports the bones were found within a tiny gold chest less than 8 cm (3.1 inches) tall, which itself was stored in a larger silver casket 20 cm (7.8 inches) tall.
This casket was locked within the stupa, before the entire nest of boxes was stored safely within the stone chest – suggesting the contents held great importance to the monks at the Grand Bao’en Temple in Nanjing.
Inscriptions carved into the protective stone chest tell the story of how Buddha’s skull bone came to lie in the tiny golden chest within.
According to a man known as ‘Deming’, after the Buddha died his body was cremated at the Hirannavati River, before the ruling king divided the remains into thousands of portions, 19 of which found their way to China.
One of these fragments was the fragment of parietal bone which inhabits the golden box along with the remains of other Buddhist saints.
But the journey took a number of turns, with the original resting place for the relic destroyed during a period of unrest.
The temple was then rebuilt by Emperor Zhenzong in the 11th Century, with the shrine placed safely within its crypt.
The parietal bone is placed in the golden chest along with a silver box and crystal bottles, which contain the remains of Buddhist saints.
Engraved in the gold and silver boxes are ornate images of lotus flowers, phoenixes and guardians of the box
Live Science reports the bone and remains of other saints were interred at the Qixia Temple in Nanjing, where they remain.