Bamiyan is no ordinary location. This was the place where the giant Buddhas that stood for centuries with their message of peace were destroyed by the Taliban. And, now this startling revelation. There is tragedy laced with irony here.

Forget Renaissance Europe. The world’s first oil paintings go back nearly 14 centuries to murals in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan caves, a Japanese researcher says.

Buddhist images painted in the central Afghan region, dated to around 650 AD, are the earliest examples of oil used in art history, says Yoko Taniguchi, an expert at Japan’s National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.

A group of Japanese, European and US scientists are collaborating to restore damaged murals in caves in the Bamiyan Valley, famous for its two gigantic statues of the Buddha which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

In the murals, thousands of Buddhas in vermilion robes sit cross-legged, sporting exquisitely knotted hair.

Other motifs show crouching monkeys, men facing one another or palm leaves delicately intertwined with mythical creatures.

The paintings incorporate a mix of Indian and Chinese influences, and are most likely to be the works of artists travelling on the Silk Road, which was the largest trade and cultural route connecting the East and the West.

The Los Angeles-based Getty Conservation Institute analysed

53 samples extracted from the murals. Using gas chromatography methods, the researchers found that 19 had oil in the paint.

Different types of oil were used on the dirt walls with such a sophisticated technique that I felt I was looking right at a mediaeval board painting dating from 14th or 15th century Italy,Taniguchi told AFP.

The discovery would reverse common perceptions about the origins of oil paintings. The technique is widely believed to have emerged in Europe leading into the Renaissance, which flowered from 1400 to 1600.AFP

Courtesy DAWN