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Photo: PBS

In a reconstructed sequence, estate manager William Peppe (center) examines the all-important inscription urn.

When colonial estate manager Willie Peppe set his workers digging at a mysterious hill in Northern India in 1898, he had no idea what they’d find. Just over 20 feet down, they made an amazing discovery: a huge stone coffer, containing five reliquary jars, more than 1,000 separate jewels and some ash and bone. One of the jars bore an inscription that appeared to say that these were the remains of the Buddha himself.

This seemed to be the most extraordinary find in Indian archaeology. But doubt and scandal have hung over this amazing find for more than 100 years. For some, the whole thing is an elaborate hoax. For others, it is no less than the final resting place of the leader of one of the world’s great religions, a sage who died nearly 2,500 years ago. For the doubters, suspicion focuses on a key figure from the time, disgraced German archaeologist Dr. Anton Fuhrer. Renowned historian Charles Allen sets out to solve this extraordinary mystery, once and for all.

Secrets of the Dead: Bones of the Buddha, Tuesday at 10 p.m. on PBS 6.

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