Team finds Buddhist caves on Afghanistan cliff

Keligan, Afghanistan - Japanese researchers have found Buddhist stone caves believed to date back to the eighth century about 120 km west of the Bamiyan ruins in central Afghanistan.

The team, headed by Ryukoku University professor Takashi Irisawa, confirmed in late October the discovery of a group of caves built on cliffs 1 km west of the Keligan ruins.

The discovery indicates the influence of Buddhism may have extended to the upper reaches of the the Band-e-Amir River, centering around the Keligan ruins, in about the eighth century, and that the religion's sphere of influence may have been greater than previously thought, team members said.

Islam began to gather strength in the region around that time.

The discovery "will provide an invaluable clue in researching the sphere of Buddhism stretching westward," said Irisawa, an expert on Buddhist culture at the Kyoto university.

The group of caves is composed of four layers with seven rooms. The bottom layer, the largest, is 4 meters high, 5 meters wide and 15 meters long.

Three rooms in the bottom layer have spaces where Buddhist statues are believed to have been placed, indicating they may have been used for prayer, team members said.

Irisawa said there is "little doubt that the caves are Buddhist caves, as they closely resemble the structure and architectural style of the Bamiyan stone caves."

Xuanzang, a Chinese monk known as Genjo Sanzo in Japan, who visited Bamiyan in the seventh century, wrote in his travelogue "The Records of the Western Regions of the Great Tang Dynasty" that he passed more than a dozen temples and some 300 monks on his way to Bamiyan.

The area of the Keligan ruins may have been located along Xuanzang's route, team members said.

A group of stone caves was also found in a village 2 km east of the Keligan ruins.

The cultural landscape and archaeological remains of the Bamiyan Valley, which were destroyed by Afghanistan's former Taliban regime in 2001, were registered on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's list of World Heritage sites in 2003.