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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Reconstructing Afghanistan's bombed Buddhas of Bamiyan

By Liat Clark01 March 11




Ten years after the Taliban destroyed Afghanistan's famous Buddhas of Bamiyan, a German professor is claiming that at least one can be restored.

In 2001, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar passed an order to destroy the ancient Gandhara-era sculptures after clerics demanded all symbols of idolatry be stripped from the country. Despite protests from the Organisation of the Islamic conference, dynamiting of the sacred site commenced on 2 March after firing artillery failed to do enough damage.

Erwin Emmerling of Munich's Technical University wants to use what is left of the statues -- hundreds of broken sandstone fragments totalling around two tonnes -- to rebuild the smaller of the two 1,500-year-old structures. He's due to present his proposal to UNESCO and the Afghan government at a conference in Paris.

Various international institutions have pledged to help rebuild the once-sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site. He has suggested reconstructing the smaller, 38 metre-high, two metre-deep statue, because it is more manageable in scope than the 55-metre-high, 12-metre-deep larger one.

Professor Emmerling led an 18-month research project at the Chair of Restoration, Art, Technology and Conservation Science in Munich to try and establish the best method for putting the statues back together. He argued that due to the weather conditions in the Hazarajat region, synthetic materials would not be a suitable solution for restoration. Instead, he is proposing the original materials be injected with an organic silicon and pieced back together.

The fragments he hopes to use are currently being stored in a temporary warehouse, with the largest remains having been covered and left at the site. "That will only last for a few years, because the sandstone is very porous," Emmerling said. If his proposal is accepted, a factory will need to be built nearby, or alternatively the 1,400 rocks could be transported to Germany.
The study also revealed new details about the creation and make-up of the two statues, which lie 160 miles west of Kabul on the old Silk Road. Firstly, Emmerling and his team were able to better determine the sculptures' age using mass spectometer tests (previous research was based on the style of garments the two figures are clothed in). Material in the clay fragments dated the larger statue at 544 to 595AD, and the smaller at 591 to 644AD.

It was also discovered that the statues had once been brightly painted (see the artist's impression in the gallery below), something that was maintained over the years with additional coats of paint before the region converted to Islam and the practice was dropped. The results chime with ancient texts that cite stories of giant Buddha sculptures, one red and one white. The clothes were made separately of clay, while the bodies of the statues were carved straight out of the cliff side

"The surfaces are perfectly smooth -- of a quality otherwise only found in fired materials such as porcelain," says Professor Emmerling.

The base layer was held together inside with ropes attached to wooden pegs that miraculously survived the explosion, leaving clues about the construction we would otherwise never have known. The site is also filled with countless other historical relics, after Buddhist monks built shrines in caves surrounding the cliff.

The Paris conference held to determine the fate of the statues' conservation will be followed by a two-day meeting of the Bamiyan Expert Working Group, which was set up in 2002 to protect the site.

On remembering the 10th anniversary of the statues destruction, the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, said: "The two monumental statues had stood for one and a half millennia as proud testimonies to the greatness of our shared humanity. They were destroyed in the context of the conflict devastating Afghanistan and to undermine the power of culture as a cohesive force for the Afghan people."

UNESCO is expected to be against the reconstruction, preferring other methods of preservation, however the decision is ultimately down to the Afghan government.

Source,

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2011-03/01/afghanistan-buddhas-of-bamiyan-reconstruction?page=2

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