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.
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 paintslikely the earliest known use of either substance for painting.