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World's Earliest Oil Paintings Discovered in Bamiyan

This month Yoko Taniguchi, an expert at Japan's National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, announced that the world's first oil paintings go back nearly 14 centuries to murals discovered in Afghanistan. Buddhist images painted on the walls of caves in Bamiyan Province have been dated to around 650 AD, making them the earliest examples of oil used in art history. Many of these murals were damaged when the Taliban destroyed the Giant Buddha statues in 2001. A group of Japanese, European and US scientists are collaborating to restore and preserve the paintings, which incorporate a mix of Indian and Chinese influences. In the murals, thousands of Buddhas in vermilion robes sit in meditation, surrounded by monkeys, palm leaves, and mythical beasts.

The historic discovery is changing the popular consensus about the origins of oil paintings, which is widely believed to have emerged in Europe during the Renaissance. The Afghan cave paintings indicate that artists operating along the Silk Road had been using the technique for centuries before it was discovered and developed by Renaissance artists.

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