"This is the earliest clear example of oil paintings in the world, although drying oils were already used by ancient Romans and Egyptians, but only as medicines and cosmetics", explains Ms Taniguchi, leader of the team."My European colleagues were shocked because they always believed oil paintings were invented in Europe.
They couldn't believe such techniques could exist in some Buddhist cave deep in the countryside." A combination of techniques to study the paintings was crucial to conclude that oils were used, says Dr Marine Cotte, one of the team.
His English is effortless and his friendliness unfailing.
In 2001 the Taliban destroyed two ancient colossal Buddha statues in the Afghan region of Bamiyan, around 140 miles northwest of Kabul, which were hewn out of sandstone cliffs in the sixth century and, measuring up to 55 metres, were the biggest of their kind.
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The two Buddha figures, together with numerous ancient man-made caves in the cliffs north of the town, made Bamiyan a major regime had the statues destroyed, despite worldwide pleas to save them.
During the subsequent search for a colossal reclining Buddha—also reported by Xuanzang and thought to be some 980 feet (300 metres) long—in 2008 an additional Buddha was discovered nearby.