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Buddha statute excavated in Bamiyan

Seven years after Taliban militants blew up the two 1,500-yr-old statues in a fit of Islamist zealotry, a French-Afghan team in September uncovered a new, 19-metre "Sleeping Buddha" buried in the earth.

world Updated: Nov 09, 2008 13:53 IST

"We got him!" screamed Afghan archaeologist Anwar Khan Fayez as he leapt from the pit beneath the towering sandstone cliffs, where the Bamiyan Buddhas once stood.

Seven years after Taliban militants blew up the two 1,500-year-old statues in a fit of Islamist zealotry, a French-Afghan team in September uncovered a new, 19-metre "Sleeping Buddha" buried in the earth.

The news that a third Buddha escaped the Taliban's wrath has caused excitement in this scenic valley, where the caverns that housed the ruined statues are an eerie reminder of Afghanistan's past and present woes.

"It was a happy moment for all of us when the first signs appeared. Our years-long efforts had somehow paid off," Fayez told AFP.

The team, led by France-based archaeologist Zemaryalai Tarzi, made the find while hunting for a lost 300-metre reclining Buddha mentioned in an account by seventh-century Chinese monk Xuan Zang.

The Afghan-born Tarzi began mapping the site nearly 30 years ago but decades of conflict and the rise of the 1996-2001 Taliban regime put the search on hold.

Then in March 2001 came the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, until then the world's largest standing Buddha statues.

"This is the most significant find since we started here," Abdul Hameed Jalia, the director of monuments and historical sites for Bamiyan province, told AFP at the excavation site of the new 19-metre Buddha.