Scientists map out destroyed Buddha statue

Thursday, November 13, 2003

GENEVA -- Swiss-based scientists have created a model of a huge Buddha statue destroyed by the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan and said Wednesday they hope it will be used to rebuild the ancient figure.

The team used 30-year-old photographs and special computer software to build the three-dimensional model, which represents the larger of two standing Buddhas the hardline Islamic group blew up with dynamite in March 2001.

International outcry followed the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, which were chiseled into the cliff more than 1,500 years ago in the central Bamiyan Valley on the ancient Silk Route linking Europe and Central Asia.

The fundamentalist Taliban considered them "idolatrous" and against the tenets of Islam.

The larger Buddha was 174 feet high. The team is now working on mapping the other statue, which was about 125 feet tall and stood about a half-mile away, said professor Armin Gruen, a member of the team based at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

"This is a beautiful area, and it could develop into a major tourist attraction if the Buddhas could be put back in place," Gruen said.

Using details from three photographs, the team programmed a milling machine to create a polyurethane model 200 times smaller than the original -- and accurate to within a half-inch, Gruen said.

He said the team is now working on a replica one-tenth of the original, or about 17 1/2 feet high. That model should be completed by next spring and will go on display at the Kabul Museum, which is being rebuilt after Afghanistan's civil war and Taliban regime.

"We have to wait until there is at least a roof on the museum before putting in the Buddha," Gruen said.

It would be difficult or even impossible to rebuild the statues with their original materials, said Gruen, whose team estimates that the smaller Buddha is in about 4,000 pieces.

Rebuilding the Buddhas at their original location would cost around $30 million each, he said. Most likely, the recreation would be made of concrete covered with plaster.

Gruen stressed that the money for the project should be independent of aid for rebuilding infrastructure in Afghanistan.

"We believe there are enough private people in the world that have strong ties to Buddhism who would be prepared to donate the money if they had the approval of UNESCO," he said.

UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organization, has been discussing what to do about the Buddhas. Some experts support rebuilding them; others say they should be left as they are, because destruction also is part of a country's cultural heritage.

Gruen argues that reconstruction is an accepted practice, giving the example of his native Germany after World War II.

"If you go to German cities nowadays, it's all reconstructed," he said. "Reconstruction in the Western world is quite normal, is going on everywhere. Why should it not be going on in Afghanistan as well?"


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