Behind those statues are caves decorated with paintings from the fifth to ninth centuries.
New experiments performed at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) show that the paintings were made of oil, hundreds of years before the technique emerged in Europe. “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 researcher Yoko Taniguchi.
Today all that remains are the recesses where they stood, and the labyrinth of fragile caves surrounding them.
Iconic art Today there isn't even a paved road connecting the valley to Kabul, but yet inside the caves are a reminder of Bamiyan's past wealth and glory and a new claim to fame that could put the province back on the map.
In many European history and art textbooks, oil painting is said to have started in the 15th century in Europe.
However, scientists from the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Tokyo (Japan), the Centre of Research and Restoration of the French Museums-CNRS (France), the Getty Conservation Institute (United States) and the ESRF have recently identified drying oils in some samples studied from the Bamiyan caves.
They say that in 12 caves 7th-Century wall-paintings were created using oil paint, derived possibly from walnuts or the poppies which grew in the area.
Many people worldwide were in shock when the Taliban destroyed the Buddha statues in the Afghan region of Bamiyan.
Murals found on cave walls in Afghanistan prove that painting with oil had been going on in Asia for centuries before artists used the technique in Europe, scientists said this week.
Until now, art historians believed that oil painting started in Europe in the 15th century.
Behind the Buddhas was a network of caves in which monks lived and prayed.
Now a team from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble has painstakingly analysed the ancient paintings in those caves.