Timeline since 1898

1898  In August, the stone coffer, the five reliquary vases and the majority of the jewels are given to the Indian Museum in Calcutta, where they remain to this day. W. C. Peppé is allowed to retain a number of duplicates from the excavation, these have remained within the Peppé family since 1898.

1899  At Gorakhpur, in February, the relics from the Piprahwa stupa are handed over to representatives of King Rama V of Siam and then taken with great ceremony to Bangkok where they are once again divided, two portions are given to Burma and three portions to Ceylon. The remainder of the relics are enshrined in the Golden Mount pagoda in Bangkok.

1900 T.W. Rhys Davids gives an illustrated lecture on the Piprahwa find at the Royal Asiatic Society. W.C. Peppé answers questions.

1903 W.C. Peppé retires from his position as Manager of the Birdpur Estates. He returns to England with the jewels where he has them mounted in three cases by Spink & Co. in London. He gives a small number of jewels to his sister Annie Larpent (They are owned today by two of W.C. Peppé's grandchildren).

Jewels given to Annie larpent . Picture courtesy of the Peppé family.

Jewels given to Annie larpent . Picture courtesy of the Peppé family.

1903 W.C. Peppé also donates some of the Piprahwa jewels to The Royal Asiatic Society. These are eventually passed on to the Buddhist Society in London some time after it's founding in 1924. They lie in a box in a cabinet but are 're-discovered' in 2003 as part of a routine inventory.

box of jewels from Piprahwa stupa 'given to the buddhist society. Picture courtesy of Charles Allen.

box of jewels from Piprahwa stupa 'given to the buddhist society. Picture courtesy of Charles Allen.

Buddhist Society Jewels

1905-7 John Fleet publishes three articles on the Piprahwa urn. His final translation departs from that of his predecessors in suggesting the remains to be those of the Buddha's kinsmen rather than the Buddha himself. This translation is promptly rejected by the academic establishment and Fleet withdraws it.

1920 W. C. Peppé returns to India and once again assumes responsibility for the running of the estates after the death of the previous manager F. H. Warren.

1926 W.C. Peppé returns to England leaving E. Mackenzie as manager and his son, Humphrey, as assistant manager.  Humphrey becomes manager when Mackenzie retires in 1931.

1936 W.C. Peppé dies. Humphrey asks his siblings for permission to take the jewels back out to India for exhibition purposes. They are shown to pilgrims touring Lumbini and other significant sites, visiting VIPs and  Buddhists form Burma & Ceylon.

1947 The Indian Independence Act is passed in the British Parliament. Proposals for Land Reform are introduced including the prohibition of Begari and the abolition of the Zamindari system ultimately resulting in the nationalisation of all estates including Birdpur.

1951-52 The Zamindari system is finally abolished in Uttar Pradesh. Humphrey Peppé hands over the family estates to the government but stays on at Birpdpur in order to ensure the proprietors receive compensation from the government. The Archaeological Survey of India take ownership of Piprahwa by compulsory purchase.

1956 A journalist from the Pioneer newspaper visits Birdpur and learns from Humphrey Peppé about the find and John Fleet's alternative translation of 1906. P.Verma's article explores the legend of 900,000 slaughtered Sakyas and whether it has any basis in history

The Dalai Lama & Panchen Lama stay at Birdpur and view the jewels. 

1960 In January, the Dalai Lama, now in exile following the Tibetan uprising against the Chinese, returns to Birdpur. Humphrey Peppé brings the Piprahwa jewels back to England. One of the cases has returned broken from an exhibition. Its contents are put in a shoebox marked 'relics'. The other two cases are displayed in a glass cabinet at his home in Buxted, Sussex.

1971 - 73 A team from the Archaeological Survey of India led by K.M. Srivastava resume excavations at the site of Piprahwa. Srivastava excavated beneath what Peppé would have considered to be ground level and discovered further reliquary vases containing fragments of charred bone. 

1981 Humphrey Peppé dies. His wife Elfie passes away in 1991 and the Piprahwa collection is handed down to their son, Neil.

2000 Over one hundred years after the discovery, the suggestion that Dr. A. Führer may have tampered with the Piprahwa find is made on the internet.

2003 Historian Charles Allen views the collection for the first time. He notes that the gems in the shoebox marked 'relics' are wrapped in cloth while some 'cruder' stones are stored in a jar. A number of unrelated items have also been stored in the box.  Allen speculates that the cruder pieces resemble items found in reliquary vases from the Kushan period and that these may have originated from the smashed vase that was unearthed by Peppé early on in the excavation at a depth of around ten feet. 

The jewels that W.C. Peppé donated to the Buddhist Society are discovered by Paul Seto as part of a routine inventory.

2004 Charles Allen returns to Neil Peppé with Vicki Mackenzie, a reporter for the Sunday Times.  Despite all bone fragments having been given to the King of Siam, the article Buried with the Buddha speculates as to whether a tooth found in the relics shoebox could have belonged to the Buddha. The tooth is sent to Leicester University for further analysis where it is pronounced to be that of a pig. Neil Peppé states that he made it clear that it was unrelated to the find.  Plans for a BBC documentary on the Piprahwa discovery are shelved.

2006  Bricks used to build the stupa were made of rice straw, a grain of rice taken from one of them during the excavation is carbon dated to a range of 60-160AD, a date consistent with the final phase of the building of the stupa in the Kushan era following Ashoka.

Leading academics meet at Harewood House to discuss the Piprahwa find. There are only two speakers at the conference who challenge the find’s authenticity. Letters kept by W. C. Peppé documenting key aspects of the find are brought to light for the first time

2008 Historian Charles Allen publishes a detailed account of the Piprahwa discovery, its historical and religious significance and the discussions that followed. 'The Buddha and Dr. Führer: An archaeological scandal' details the revelation that a government archaeologist, Dr. A. A. Führer, was guilty of plagiarism and forgery. It concludes that, as Führer arrived at Piprahwa six weeks after the discovery was made, he could in no way have contaminated it.

2013 The proposed BBC documentary resurfaces as 'Bones of the Buddha' and airs on the National Geographic Channel on May 11th.  It adopts the dramatic conceit of W. C. Peppé as a man unjustly doubted for over a century. It also provides a detailed argument that the Emperor Ashoka removed the Buddha’s remains from their original burial sites before interring them in newly built stupas as related in the Asokavadana.  World renowned epigraphist Harry Falk studies one of the urns on camera and declares the inscription to be authentic

Items that have appeared on the Channel 4 show 'Four Rooms' have included a painting by Marilyn Monroe, a dress made of human hair and a mummified fake mermaid.  On May 31st Neil Peppé appears on the show to sell ‘Buddha’s jewels’ but declines any offers.

Ownership of The Piprahwa Jewellery is transferred to three of W.C. Peppé's great grandchildren.

2014  An expert from a major museum conducts a ‘casual’ inspection of the jewels without removing any items from their case. Some of the pieces resemble items from the British Museum's Bodh Gaya collection however it is noted that other pieces seem to be from a later period as they appear to have been drilled with a single bore. Further expert evaluation is deemed suitable as some items in the collection appear to contain elements of glass, which can possibly be dated using new technology.

The jewels are taken to Cranfield University’s Forensic Analysis department.

2015 A comparison is made between photographs taken at the time of the Sunday Times article and those of the newer cases that appeared on Four Rooms along with the two original cases

A number of the 'cruder' stones have been included in the two newer cases that Neil Peppé had assembled. The possibility that these 'cruder' stones were from the smashed pot discovered early on in the excavation was only speculation, they should not have been combined with the contents from the original third case.

Drawings by Ella Peppé - the wife of W.C. Peppé - and photographs taken at the time of the discovery prove to be helpful in corroborating the work of both archaeological forensics and gemologists in seperating the pieces that came from the original broken third box and the 'cruder stones' of unknown origin.

Photograph taken soon after the discovery

Photograph taken soon after the discovery

Ella Peppe's drawings made at the time of the discovery

Ella Peppe's drawings made at the time of the discovery

A few items that had previously been placed in a shrine in Neil Peppé's house, and were therefore not included in the new cases, are reintegrated into the collection.

Gems that were held back from 'Four rooms' sale. include two of the 'cruder' stones PICTURE COURTESY OF THE PEPPÉ FAMILY

Gems that were held back from 'Four rooms' sale. include two of the 'cruder' stones PICTURE COURTESY OF THE PEPPÉ FAMILY

2016 Gemologist Dr. Jack Ogden closely examines the gems and notes that what appear to be single bore drill holes - thus more fitting to a later time period - are on closer inspection the result of drilling from each side and therefore more likely to be from an earlier period. Comparisons to other finds date the gems to an era consistent with the reign of Ashoka.

Research by Cranfields University concludes that there is no glass in the original collection and therefore specific dating will be hard to achieve. However, the few glass pieces that were found and tested among the 'cruder' stones are likely to date after Kushan times which puts to rest any speculation that they possibly came from the stupa.

2018 Dr. Jack Ogden conducts further and more extensive examination of the jewels. In his paper 'Report on the beads and related objects from the Piprahwa Stupa' Dr Jack Ogden concludes that the range of gem materials and the high quality lapidary work suggests a date between 300BC and 100BC

Conservationist Dana Norris separates the cruder stones from the collection. She reports that items from the original collection all bear traces of the animal glue that was used to mount the gemstones in the case that was broken. The cruder stones show no signs of this adhesive.

The Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents, Oxford University analyse the sheet gold disks with impressed designs. The circular discs bear swastikas, lions and triratnas, all of which can be clearly viewed using Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI).

One of the gold discs With LION & Swastika

One of the gold discs With LION & Swastika

2018 From December 13th 2018 - March 31st 2019 the jewels are loaned to The Museum Reitberg in Zurich and feature as part of of an exhibition called ‘Next Stop Nirvana - Approaches to Buddhism’. The exhibition explores the life of Prince Siddharta Gautama and sheds light on the ways in which people throughout the ages have painted a picture of the Buddha’s life. Press for the exhibition was enthusiastic; Il Giornale notes that ‘ A group of gemstones is probably the mot extraordinary loan’. While Deutsche Wells referred to the Piprahwa Collection as ‘the biggest sensation of the exhibition.’

2019 The gemstones will be displayed as part of the ‘Power of Objects; Charged With Buddha’s Blessings’ exhibition at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York from June 2020 for one year.