National Geographic reports:
Buddhist murals from Afghanistan's famed Bamian caves are the world's earliest known oil paintings, according to a new chemical analysis. (See photos of the paintings and the cliffs that housed them.)
The finds, dated to around the 7th century A.D., predate the origins of similar sophisticated painting techniques in medieval Europe and the Mediterranean by more than a hundred years.
The discovery may also provide insights into cultural exchange along the Silk Road connecting east and west Asia during that time period. . . .
Using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, scientists found that samples from 12 caves and the two destroyed giant Buddhas contained oil- and resin-based paints—likely the earliest known use of either substance for painting.
Yoko Taniguchi of the Japan Center for International Cooperation in Conservation in Tokyo presented the findings at a recent international symposium held there.
The analysis showed the murals were painted using a structured, multilayered technique reminiscent of early European methods.