In 2007, Taliban forces drilled into the face and torso of a 1,500-year-old Buddha relief in Jahanabad, Pakistan, injecting explosives. The dynamite in the shoulders of the 20-foot-tall carving failed to go off, but the charges in the face exploded, sheering off all but the lower left chin and jaw. This callous act of destruction was ideologically motivated: Muslim extremists view the Buddha as a false idol, and have been destroying and defacing artifacts and antiquities for centuries before the terrorist group came to power. (Infamously, the Taliban dynamited the Buddhas of Bamiyan in central Afghanistan in 2001, demolishing them completely.)
Thanks to the work of an Italian archaeologist and his team, some of this international cultural heritage may be coming back together. Luca Olivieri, the 49-year-old head of the Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan, has been working in the area for two decades, though he was forced to leave in 2008. After returning in 2010, he has recently begun the conservation and reconstruction of the Jahanabad Buddha’s face.
The Jahanabad reconstruction effort led by Olivieri is financed by the Italian government, which works with the Pakistani antiquities authority. The team is motivated than more than just reverence for the past: It hopes that the project will help return tourism to Swat, which had been popular with Asian religious tourists but has become more isolated during the recent periods of violent upheavel.
Whatever the outcome of Olivieri's efforts, however, a perfect reconstruction of the relic is all but impossible. "Whatever you do in the absence of perfect data is a fake," he told the AP.