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OSAKA — A Japanese scholar said Monday he believes the discovery of 19 Buddha statues at an ancient site in Iran challenges current theories on the spread of Buddhism.

According to one established theory, Buddhist statues were first created in Gandhara, northwestern Pakistan, in the early second century using Greek techniques from the west that later spread eastward and southward, said Takayasu Higuchi, professor emeritus at Kyoto University.

But the latest discovery, made in the Iranian state of Fars, which is about 1,700 km west of Gandhara, is quite unusual, Higuchi said.

“It may be possible to formulate a new theory on the background of how Buddhism spread,” he said, suggesting the religion may have been present in Iran.

Statues with characteristics similar to the Fars statues have also been unearthed farther north, in eastern Afghanistan, and Higuchi said that this could mean Buddhism also spread west at an early stage.

The 19 statues, between 5 cm to 20 cm tall, are made of clay and plaster and look similar to the statues in Gandhara, according to Higuchi.

Some are partially burned and colored, but the faces are almost intact, he said. They also bear some of the characteristics of items found between the first and third centuries in the state of Kusana in northern India, he said.

Higuchi examined the statues in late April, when he was invited by Iranian authorities to go through various items stored at Iran’s national museum of archaeology.

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