A brightly colored mural unearthed in Uzbekistan likely dates from the second to third centuries and sheds intriguing light on the spread of Buddhist art along the Silk Road, researchers say.

It was discovered in 2016 during excavations at Kara Tepe, an archaeological site in suburban Termez, southern Uzbekistan, by local researchers and partners from Tokyo’s Rissho University.

The wall painting measures roughly 1 meter by 1 meter and features a number of people in hues of red and blue.

Images of the mural have been released with the approval of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences Fine Arts Institute, with which Rissho University collaborates.

“The mural may be part of a larger work depicting the life of Buddha,” said Haruki Yasuda, an art history professor at the university’s Faculty of Buddhist Studies. “It is a precious discovery that offers an insight into how Buddhism changed (under influences from different cultures).”

The archaeological site, situated near the border with Afghanistan, is not far from Bamiyan, where monumental Buddhist statues stood until Taliban forces dynamited them in 2001.

The mural was found in a stone chamber two meters underground beside a pagoda.

Buddhism originated in India around the fifth century B.C. It took 1,000 years for it to spread in a clockwise direction through Northwest Asia before reaching Japan.

Kara Tepe is located at the “crossroads of civilizations” on the Silk Road. Greek- and Roman-style human figures have been unearthed there, as well as a statue of the head of a large legendary bird in India called Garuda. Those finds also likely date from the second to third centuries.

It was the first time a large mural has emerged at Kara Tepe.

Akira Miyaji, professor emeritus of Nagoya University and expert on Buddhist art in Central Asia, called the find extremely significant for studies into early Buddhist paintings.

He noted that the mural combines both Eastern- and Western-style painting techniques.

“Depicting faces at an angle, along with shading and highlighting to create the impression of depth and solidity, are art techniques from Greece and Rome,” Miyaji said. “The flexible brushing and coloring style is a characteristic of art older than the Bamiyan Buddhist murals.

“There are also strong influences from the Hellenistic painting tradition, along with elements from India and Persia.”