Saturday, February 09, 2008


Afghanistan - Oldest Oil Paintings

Oldest Oil Paintings Found in Caves

Oldest Oil Paintings Found in Caves (Photos)
Oldest Oil Paintings Found in Caves (Photos)
Oldest Oil Paintings Found in Caves (Photos)
Oldest Oil Paintings Found in Caves (Photos)
Oldest Oil Paintings Found in Caves (Photos)

Oldest Oil Paintings Found in Caves (Photos)

February 6, 2008—A newly discovered mural is one of many in 12 of Afghanistan's famed Bamian caves that show evidence of an oil-based binder. The binder was used to dry paint and help it adhere to rocky surfaces.

Oldest Oil Paintings Found in Caves (Photos)

Afghanistan's Bamian cliffs are probably best known for once holding two enormous Buddha statues, as seen in this February 2001 image.

Just one month after this photo was taken, Taliban officials began to destroy the mighty carvings as part of a hard-line crackdown on anything they considered anti-Islamic and idolatrous.

Scientists from around the world have since embarked on a painstaking process to collect the remnants of the dynamited statues and reconstruct them.

In the meantime, researchers have found that the paint used on the Buddhas, along with murals in 12 of 50 painted Bamian caves, contained oil-based binders—the world's oldest known examples of oil paintings.

The murals—and the remains of two giant, destroyed Buddhas—include the world's oldest known oil-based paint, predating European uses of the substance by at least a hundred years, scientists announced late last month.

Researchers made the discovery while conducting a chemical analysis as part of preservation and restoration efforts at Bamian, which lies about 145 miles (240 kilometers) northwest of the Afghan capital, Kabul.

—Photograph courtesy NRICPT-Japan
Oldest Oil Paintings Found in Caves (Photos)

Seen in a 2005 photo, a towering alcove in Afghanistan's Bamian Valley cliffs shows the former home of a giant Buddha statue. Dating to between the fifth and ninth centuries A.D., the statue was one of a pair destroyed by Taliban officials in 2001 for allegedly insulting Islam.

The region also has as many as a thousand caves. About 50 contain the depictions of ornate swirling patterns, Buddhist imagery, and mythological animals that led UNESCO to name the area a World Heritage site.

Since 2003 Japanese, European, and U.S. researchers have been working to preserve the damaged murals. As part of that venture, the scientists conducted the first scientific analysis of the paintings since the 1920s.

Gas chromatography and mass spectrometry revealed that some of the murals contained oil- and resin-based paints—likely the earliest known use of either substance for painting.

Oldest Oil Paintings Found in Caves (Photos)

A Buddhist mural dated to around the seventh century A.D. is one of many in Afghanistan's Bamian Valley that were recently found to contain oil- and resin-based paints.

The use of the substances at such an early date is a surprise, since they require sophisticated knowledge of chemical properties, scientists say.

Oil is used in paints to help fix dyes and help them adhere to surfaces. It also changes a paint's drying time and viscosity.

Europeans began using oil in their pictures by about 800 A.D., but the new research on the Central Asian pushes back the onset of oil-based painting by at least a hundred years.

Researchers hope to find even earlier examples by studying other Central Asian sites.

—Photograph courtesy NRICPT-Japan
Oldest Oil Paintings Found in Caves (Photos)

A mural from the Bamian cave Foladi 6 has been dated to the eighth century A.D. Its artists used an oil-based paint, scientists say, in an early example of mixing organic binding agents with pigments.

The murals were painted using a structured, multilayered technique reminiscent of early European methods, according to researcher Yoko Taniguchi of the Japan Center for International Cooperation in Conservation in Tokyo.

The painters first applied a white base layer of a lead compound. Then an upper layer—natural or artificial pigments mixed with either resins or walnut or poppy seed drying oils—was added.

"The discovery of the use of oil [in Afghanistan] is important, because it shows that these undervalued paintings are far more important and far more sophisticated than anyone might have thought," said Sharon Cather, a wall-painting expert from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.
—Photograph courtesy NRICPT-Japan


Afghanistan Has World's Oldest Oil Paintings

Buddhist Artifact - When attacked and massacred by the Muslims, the Buddhists initially did not make any attempt to escape from their murderers. They accepted death with an air of fatalism and destiny.

TOKYO - Buddhist images on the walls of central Afghanistan's Bamiyan caves are the world's first oil paintings, Japanese researcher Yoko Taniguchi says. Taniguchi, an expert at Japan's National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, and a group of Japanese, European, and American scientists are collaborating to restore the damaged murals, the Daily Star reports. The Los Angeles-based Getty Conservation Institute analyzed 53 samples from the murals that date back to about 650 A.D., concluding that they had oil in the paint.

"My European colleagues were shocked because they always believed oil paintings were invented in Europe," Taniguchi said. "They couldn't believe such techniques could exist in some Buddhist cave deep in the countryside." The Bamiyan Valley is known for two huge 1,500-year-old statues of the Buddha that were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. The researchers are restoring the murals, which depict thousands of Buddhas in red robes, as part of international efforts to salvage what is left of the region's cultural relics.

The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) works internationally to advance the field of conservation through scientific research, field projects, education and training, and the dissemination of information in various media. In its programs, the GCI focuses on the creation and delivery of knowledge that will benefit the professionals and organizations responsible for the conservation of the visual arts.

Visit The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) at :

Map: Afghanistan
Country: Afghanistan
Region: Central Asia



Afghanistan Facts Maps
Photo: Afghanistan
The Taliban earned global notoriety when it destroyed the famous Bamian Valley Buddhas. Today only a gaping hole remains where the enormous statues stood for some 1,500 years.
Photograph by Steve McCurry
Afghanistan Information and History

Since Alexander the Great, invading armies and peaceful migrations have brought in diverse peoples to this Central Asian crossroads. As a result, Afghanistan is a country of ethnic minorities: Pashtun (38 percent), Tajik (25 percent), Hazara (19 percent), and Uzbek (6 percent). The towering Hindu Kush range dominates and divides Afghanistan. The northern plains and valleys are home to Tajiks and Uzbeks. Pashtuns inhabit the desert-dominated southern plateaus. Hazara live in the central highlands. Kabul, south of the Hindu Kush, is linked by narrow passes to the northern plains.

In 1989 the nine-year Soviet occupation ended, and Muslim rebels toppled the communist regime in 1992, after which rival groups vied for power. From among the various factions arose the Taliban ("students of religion"), a militant Islamic movement. The Taliban seized Kabul in 1996 and imposed Islamic punishments, including amputation and stoning, and banned women from working. In 2001 the Taliban destroyed giant Buddha statues at Bamian in defiance of international efforts to save them. Three weeks after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., the U.S. and Britain bombed terrorist camps in Afghanistan; by November 2001 Kabul fell to anti-Taliban forces.

After decades of war, Afghanistan is rebuilding its economy, which is mostly agricultural, and preparing for elections in 2004. The government faces problems with health care, security, and opium.


Industry: small-scale production of textiles, soap, furniture, shoes.
Agriculture: opium, wheat, fruits, nuts; wool.
Exports: opium, fruits and nuts, handwoven carpets, wool, cotton.

Text source: National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition, 2004
Afghanistan Flag and Fast Facts
Flag of Afghanistan
Kabul; 2,956,000
652,090 square kilometers (251,773 square miles)
Pashtu, Afghan Persian (Dari), Uzbek, Turkmen, 30 minor langauges
Sunni and Shiite Muslim
Life Expectancy
GDP per Capita
U.S. $700
Literacy Percent
Countries of Central Asia
Afghanistan Features
Photo: Afghanistan, Buddhist temple
Find out how decades of conflict have allowed Afghanistan's relics and antiquities to go into the hands of smugglers and warlords.
Photo: woman baking bread, Afghanistan.
Meet the everyday people of Afghanistan, caught between war and peace, as they try to rebuild their lives.
Photo: Tora Bora, Pashtun
Meet the Pashtun people, who live in and along the crags and caves of Tora Bora's mountains.
Photo: Afghanistan, market
Explore the seven "Stans" of central Asia, home to over 100 ethnic groups and harsh mountainous terrain.


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