Maybe the ash is Jacob's ashes from when he got burned when he DIED. Yes, i think he has always been dead and died a long time ago. The body he has appeared in is someone else. His body was burned and his ashes are the ashes found around the Cabin and to keep Smokey away. This would make sense with Jacob being used to keep away his nemesis. The body Jacob has always possessed is connected to Locke maybe? (sorry if this seems a bit far fetched)

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