(dpa) - Scientists using advanced methods to investigate cave paintings in the Afghan region of Bamiyan say they may have identified what could be the first images produced using oil pigments, the France-based European Synchroton Radiation Facility (ESRF) said Tuesday on its website.
The paintings were found in the caves located behind the site on which the Taliban destroyed two ancient Buddha statues, and they had also suffered from damage by the Taliban and the environment.
According to the ESRF, scientists from the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Tokyo, the Centre of Research and Restoration of the French Museums-CNRS, the US-based Getty Conservation Institute and the ESRF "have proved... that the paintings were made of oil, hundreds of years before the technique was 'invented' in Europe."
Specifically, the researchers identified drying oils from murals showing Buddhas in vermilion robes sitting cross-legged amid palm leaves and mythical creatures as stemming from the middle of the 7th century.
Oil painting is usually assumed to have originated in Europe in the 15th century.
Twelve out of the 50 caves examined were decorated with paintings using drying oils, taken perhaps from walnut or poppy seeds, the ESRF said.
"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," said Yoko Taniguchi, leader of the team of scientists.
The paintings are probably the work of artists who travelled on the Silk Road, the ancient trade route from China, through Central Asia, to the West.
"Due to political reasons research on paintings in Central Asia is scarce," Taniguchi said. "We were fortunate to get the opportunity from UNESCO, as a part of conservation project for the World Heritage Site Bamiyan, to study these samples."
A synchroton is an apparatus for imparting very high speeds to charged particles by means of a combination of a high-frequency electric field and a low-frequency magnetic field.
A combination of synchroton techniques, such as infra-red micro- spectography, micro X-ray fluorescence and micro X-ray diffraction were used in the investigation.
The results of the research were published Monday in the peer- reviewed Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry.