The discovery of a previously unknown wooden structure at Buddha's birthplace suggests the sage might have lived in the sixth century BC, two centuries earlier than thought, archeologists said.

Traces of what appears to have been an ancient timber shrine was found under a brick temple inside the sacred Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini, in southern Nepal near the Indian border. The traces were scientifically tested and confirm dating to the sixth century, archeologists said on Monday.

"This sheds light on a very very long debate" over when the Buddha was born and, in turn, when the faith that grew out of his teachings took root," archeologist Robin Coningham.

It's widely accepted that the Buddha was born beneath a hardwood sal tree at Lumbini as his mother Queen Maya Devi, the wife of a clan chief, was traveling to her father's kingdom to give birth.

But much of what is known about his life and time has its origins in oral tradition with little scientific evidence.

Lumbini, overgrown by jungle before its rediscovery in 1896, is today a UNESCO world heritage site, visited by millions of pilgrims every year. Buddhism has more than 500 million followers worldwide.

In a statement, UNESCO director general Irina Bokova called for "more archeological research, intensified conservation work and strengthened site management" at Lumbini as it attracts growing numbers of visitors.

Source: Agencies