Researchers have long believed that oil paint was developed in Europe in the 13th century, becoming widespread by the 15th. However, paintings using a walnut or poppy-oil base have been discovered in Afghanistan and dated to the 7th century.

“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,” says team leader Yoko Taniguchi.

The paintings were in the caves behind the huge 6th-century Buddha statues blown up by the Taliban a few years ago. The scientists believe they were painted by artists traveling the Silk Road from China.

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