Afghans unearth 19-metre Buddha statue, relics

KABUL Mon Sep 8, 2008 2:09pm IST

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KABUL (Reuters) - Archaeologists have discovered a 19-metre (62-foot) Buddha statue along with scores of other historical relics in central Afghanistan near the ruins of giant statues destroyed by the Islamist Taliban seven years ago.

The team was searching for a giant sleeping Buddha believed to have been seen by a Chinese pilgrim centuries ago when it came upon the relics in the central province of Bamiyan, an official said on Monday.

"In total, 89 relics such as coins, ceramics and a 19 meters statue have been unearthed," Mohammad Zia Afshar, adviser in the information and culture ministry, told Reuters.

He said the idol, in sleeping posture, was badly damaged. The other relics dated back to the Bacterian era and from Islamic and Buddhist civilizations.

Lying on the old Silk Road and linking West with the East, Bamiyan was once a thriving Buddhist centre where monks lived in caves. In 2001 the Taliban blew up two giant standing Buddha statues carved into a cliff face saying they were offensive to Islam, despite appeals worldwide.

Later that year U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government, and work has begun to restore the biggest of the two destroyed statues, once the tallest standing Buddha in the world. The mammoth task is expected to take a decade.

The latest discovery has raised hopes of finding a 300-metre-long Buddha statue that according to an ancient Chinese pilgrim is lying in Bamiyan, Afshar said.

Afghanistan has suffered decades of foreign interventions and civil war, and many of its historical relics, belonging to various civilizations, have been destroyed or looted.

Scientists said in April that they had found conclusive evidence the world's first ever oil paintings were in caves near the two destroyed giant statues of Buddha in Bamiyan, hundreds of years before oil paint was used in Europe.

Samples from paintings dated to the 7th century AD, they said. Paintings found in 12 of the 50 caves were created using oil paints, possibly from walnut or poppy, according to the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF).

It was not until the 13th century that oil was added to paints in Europe and oil paint was not widely used in Europe till the early 15th century.

(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Jerry Norton)

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