Showing posts with label Brent Huffman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brent Huffman. Show all posts

February 4, 2014

Tuesday, February 04, 2014 - ,, No comments

Fair Observer's Will Calhoun publishes two-part interview with documentarian Brent E. Huffman on "The Race to Save Mes Aynak"

GILDED BUDDHA HEAD DISCOVERED AT MES AYNAK.
 COPYRIGHT © BRENT E. HUFFMAN. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Will Calhoun interviewed Brent Huffman in the two-part article, "The Race to Save Mes Aynak" (Fair Observer, Feb. 1 and Feb. 2). Brent E. Huffman, an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, has been working on a documentary film about the site (see previous posts on the ARCA blog). Huffman has been awarded a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to complete his documentary, hopefully by this summer. What can people do? Huffman tells Calhoun that celebrity appeal would be helpful. Here's an excerpt from the interview:
Will Calhoun: Can you give us some background on Mes Aynak? How is the site significant? 
Huffman: I’ve described it as an ancient city of vast size. It was located at a major crossroad on the Silk Road. There are many layers of material. The top layer that archaeologists have done the most work on is a 2,000-year-old Buddhist site that’s over 500,000 square meters in size, or 98 football fields — so an enormous area. There are over 400 life-size or bigger Buddhist statues, ancient manuscripts, temple structures, just a wealth of discoveries and information. The Buddhists were mining for copper using ancient techniques, so archaeologists are really excited about the ancient mining and smelting that was done. Beneath that Buddhist site is a 5,000-year-old or older Bronze Age site, an enormous area filled with this treasure trove of Bronze Age material. 
Calhoun: When was the site first discovered? 
Huffman: That’s sort of when things get complicated. I’m sure the site was known about before this, but the first written evidence that the site was traveled to was in the 1960s by French archaeologists. I don’t know if there was any significant study of the site at the time. The site was left completely unprotected. No protection or way to visit the site was ever put in place, so Mes Aynak has been heavily looted since the 1960s.
The big irony is that when MCC arrived, they were unaware of the Buddhist site, so they signed the contract without knowing of the existence of the site above the copper deposit. When they came in they destroyed a local village to set up their camp, where they are currently staying. Initially they brought in 1,500 Afghan police officers to guard the mining compound and, in addition to guarding the compound, the officers were guarding the site. The Chinese have basically brought in this force that’s now protecting Mes Aynak really for the first time. Since the site is so famous, it is likely that it would be looted again if the Chinese were to leave, so it’s all quite complicated. 
Calhoun: Who is mainly doing the looting? 
Huffman: I would say that it is people from Pakistan who are crossing over, working with local people in Logar province who are very poor, starving to death, and have little employment. Selling these relics, unfortunately, makes sense for local people who have no other prospects. Looters from Pakistan return to the country and sell the relics. 
Calhoun: How has the Afghan government been involved in efforts to preserve the site, if at all? 
Huffman: In my opinion, the Afghan government has been part of the problem. There is massive corruption in the government, especially in the Ministry of Mines. When the deal was first signed in 2007, the rumor was that the minister of mines received a $30 million bribe from MCC. He denied accepting the bribe, but he did step down from his position. I think it is quite likely that he did accept the bribe. He has since been replaced, but I fear the same sorts of allegations of corruption are true within the new Ministry. Obviously they want mining to begin, and they want it to begin as soon as possible. I think the archaeological findings are a thorn in their side, delaying the time when they can extract copper.
[...]
Calhoun: How can people get involved in efforts to preserve Mes Aynak? 
Huffman: There’s a petition on my Facebook page with almost 70,000 signatures, but I think the best thing would be if a celebrity or politician would speak up and say that the US should work to preserve Mes Aynak. I think that would really rally support. I think if we could get hundreds of thousands of signatures — that would really save the site. The dream situation for me would be to save Mes Aynak and do a proper archaeological dig, save everything, and make it a tourist destination. But I think that will only happen with massive public support for the site, and UNESCO would have to come in and assist archaeologists. Sadly, when the Taliban blew up the Buddhas of Bamiyan, people were horrified and shocked and it really rallied them. However, it was too late. My fear is that the same thing will happen with Mes Aynak, that there will be silence until it is destroyed and then there will be outrage. But yes, people can come to my Facebook page and sign the petition. I’ve given money to the Afghan archaeologists to finally buy them computers and digital cameras.  They had been working for years with neither. The Afghan archaeologists are the unsung heroes in this story — they have been working in terrible and dangerous conditions, so people can also donate to the film to help the archaeologists.
 
Here's a link to the Brent E. Huffman's photographs which accompany the article in Fair Observer

December 15, 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013 - ,, No comments

Brent E. Huffman Presenting Special Advance Screening of "Saving Mes Aynak" at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York on Dec. 18

Brent Huffman: "Seated Buddha"
The Rubin Museum of Art, in co-presentation with NYU's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, will show the documentary "Saving Mes Aynak" on Wednesday at 7 p.m. on Dec. 18. The director Brent E. Huffman will be at the special advance screening on December 18 and talk afterward about Mes Aynak.
Brent E. Huffman’s documentary follows archaeologists from around the world as they fight to save a 2,600-year-old Buddhist city in Afghanistan from imminent destruction by a Chinese copper mining company. Under threat from the local Taliban as well as pressure from the mining consortium, the archaeologists confront great risk in seeking to document one of the great centers of the Silk Road before it is razed and erased from memory.
Additional screenings of the movie are scheduled for Dec. 20 and Dec. 27 (Huffman will not be in attendance). You may purchased tickets for $15 online.

The ARCAblog asked Professor Huffman for an update on Mes Aynak:
Unfortunately, the situation at Mes Aynak has taken a turn for the worse recently. Afghan archaeologists working at the site need international support more than ever. 
Most of the foreign archaeologists have left due to worsening security. The sites they were working at have been left abandoned and funding has dried up. 
The governor of Logar province (where Mes Aynak is located) was murdered last month - journalists speculate it was due to his support of the Chinese deal. 
Also, Karzai flew to Beijing to let MCC renegotiate the contract removing many of the benefits given tot he Afghan government. No more railway system, no smelter, no infrastructure, no $800 million dollar bonus and reduced royalties. I also fear that there are reduced regulations in this new contract. 
So Mes Aynak and those who are working there to protect the site need our help more than ever.
On the ARCA blog you may read additional posts on Mes Aynak's threatened by copper excavation; dangerous precedent; extension; and Kickstart funds usage.

April 15, 2013

American Institute for Roman Culture To Host Third Annual UNLISTED Conference on Archaeological Cultural Heritage

"Cultural Heritage in Digital Media: Conversation for Conversation, Sustaining Global Storytelling Online" is the subject for the third annual UNLISTED conference to be sponsored by the American Institute for Roman Culture.

This program, which offers simultaneous translations in English and Italian, will be held at the Marconi University in Rome from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 18.
"Conversation for Conservation" 
It is essential to tell a good story on a global level in an accessible manner through the various channels of digital media (e.g., FB, Twitter, Instagram), to foster conversation. This dialogue, in turn, leads to action, having a direct beneficial effect on sites and monuments because of the broad range of people and organizations involved through existing partnerships and participation."
Here's a link AIRC's conference page. The conference can be followed via live streaming courtesy of Marconi University.

Brent E. Huffman, producer of the documentary "The Buddhas of Mes Aynak" (2013), will speak at this conference. Other participants include Stephan Faris, a freelance journalist who writes for TIME (e.g. Gladiator Tomb); Nicolee Drake, professional photographer; Erica Firpo, freelance writer and social media consultant; Sam Horine, professional photographer; and AIRC Documentary Films.

April 14, 2013

The Buddhas of Mes Aynak: Kickstart Funds Used to Purchase Computers and Cameras for Afghan Archaeology Office in Kabul

New computer at Afghan Archaeology Office in Kabul
 (Photo via The Buddhas of Aynak on Facebook)
Documentarian Brent E. Huffman raised $35,200 on Kickstart for The Buddhas of Mes Aynak. On Friday he announced on Facebook (The Buddhas of Aynak) that new computers and cameras have been purchased from 10% of those Kickstart funds for the Afghan Archaeology Office in Kabul.

"Now the Afghan archaeologists can accurately record record their findings at the Buddhist city at Mes Aynak and other archaeology sites in Afghanistan," Huffman wrote.

Brent Huffman is an assistant professor at the Medil School of Journalism at Northwest University.

German Camera Productions has finished the documentary on the Buddhist monastery ruins sitting on top of a larger copper mine contracted to a Chinese company for extraction. (See previous ARCA blog posts here: archaeological wealth threatened; dangerous precedent; and archeologist's deadline in Mes Aynak extended.

Mary Ellen Gabriel reported for the University of Wisconsin-Madison News ("Archaeologists on front lines of protecting ancient culture in turbulent regions") that archaeologists may only have until June to work at Mes Aynak unless something can be worked out once the excavation begins.
The China Metallurgical Group said in June it will close the site to archaeologists and begin preparing the area to make way for a massive copper mine that will bring in an estimated $100 billion in revenue, of which $3 billion will be paid to the Afghan government. Archaeologists fear that everything will be destroyed, including artifacts from undiscovered levels beneath the Buddhist monuments that may date back to 3000 B.C., during the Bronze Age. 
Though the mine will go forward no matter what, there is still a chance — a small chance — that the excavation site could exist alongside it.
University of Wisconsin-Madison's professor of anthropology J. Mark Kenoyer is working to rally support to preserve the site [again quoting from Ms. Gabriel's article].

“Miracles can happen,” says Kenoyer, which is one reason he agreed to travel for the first time to the heart of Taliban country to help make a dramatic case for preserving this vital piece of global heritage. 

Around the world, archaeological sites are threatened by war, environmental degradation, mining, dam-building, and even mass tourism. Rebellions in Libya, Syria and Mali have endangered not only the lives of millions of people, but thousands of years of human history. 

Archaeologists and anthro-pologists play an increasingly vital role in communicating not only the importance of what will be lost, but the potential benefits to tourism and culture if it can be saved. In the digital age, the impact of a well-crafted story, or petition, or documentary can resonate much further than it might have 15 years ago.

January 8, 2013

Mes Aynak Archaeologists Given More Time to Remove Relics and Artifacts

Documentarian Brent E. Huffman has announced on his Kickstarter page, The Buddhas of Mes Aynak, that archaeologists have six to nine more months to remove relics and artifacts from the ancient monastery in Afghanistan before the site is transformed into the world's second largest copper mine.

The remains of Mes Aynak of more than 300 Buddha statues and stupas were scheduled to be destroyed at the end of 2012 (here's an ARCA interview with Mr. Huffman last September on the site's endangerment and background on archaeologists' efforts to protect the site).

Here's a link to a 12/12/12 interview on PBS with Huffman.  And here's a link to an Opinion article by freelance journalist Andrew Lawler in The New York Times "Chinese-Led Copper Mining Threatens Afghan Buddhist Monasteries" that notes Buddhism came to China from Middle Asia where it thrived from the 3rd to the 9th centuries.

September 13, 2012

Documentarian Brent Huffman Warns of Dangerous Precedent Being Set in Afghanistan if Mes Aynak is destroyed in order to mine copper

Brent Huffman filming one of the temples
set for destruction (Frank Petrella) 
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Documentary filmmaker Brent E. Huffman will return to Mes Aynak this December for what some archaeologists call the ‘funeral’ of the ancient site which will be cratered to extract copper (valued at over 100 billion dollars) underground, potentially setting a dangerous precedent for other ancient sites on top of gold, copper, oil and coal mines in Afghanistan.

“My documentary finishes in December which feels like the definitive end to the site,” Huffman said. “I started out with the goal of capturing what is there and to record the difficult process of salvaging objects. But I have come to hope that maybe I can help raise awareness to actually save Mes Aynak, or at least postpone its destruction.”

Huffman and German Camera Productions initially set out to record the Buddhist monasteries and stupas in “the red zone” of this ancient city before a Chinese state-owned company, China Mettalurgical  Group Corporation, (MCC) begins work on a 30-year lease (for which they paid $3 billion) to extract copper by demolishing the entire mountain range.


Abdul Qadeer Temore, lead Afghan archaeologist, working
on the large standing Buddhas. (Brent Huffman)
“My fear is that Mes Aynak will be a precedent and that every site with gold, copper, oil or iron underneath will also be dealt with by this same standard. This is what happens to cultural heritage. This Bronze Age site will be gone when the mountain range is destroyed and all the Afghans will be left with is a toxic crater that will pollute the river and the environment. The future of Afghanistan will be a rush job of leaving polluted craters that will destroy the environment and the cultural heritage.”


The December deadline to end rescue archaeological efforts is pretty firm, according to Mr. Huffman’s discussions with the Afghan Ministry of Culture and the U. S. Embassy. “But the big question is are the Chinese ready to start mining?”

The Mes Anyak archaeological site was rediscovered in the 1960s. Researchers now believe the site not only provides artifacts from the 1st through the 5th centuries but also going back to the Bronze Age. The 400,000 square meter site was never fully excavated or protected from looting during the decades of almost continuous fighting in Afghanistan.

A head sculpted in the Gandhara style. (Brent Huffman)
“Archaeologists are frantically performing rescue archaeology which is pretty destructive. Like looting, much of the context gets lost as archaeologists rush to salvage moveable objects,” Huffman said, explaining that DAFA, the French archaeological delegation, and Afghan archaeologists have worked intermittently over the past two years through harsh weather and dangerous war-zone conditions at this former Al Qaeda training camp.

“My understanding is that archaeologists were given three years to complete a project that should take up to 30 years,” Huffman said. “The area is so dangerous. Last summer a worker uncovered a land mind which blew up in his face.”

“This is an important project to a small group of Afghan archaeologists who have worked at the site for the past two years,” Huffman said. “International archaeologists have visited the site in an advisory capacity but the accessibility has been limited by ongoing military conflict.”

Local people from Logar province have been involved in the digging and the unearthing structures, according to Huffman.

Afghan archaeologists work with crude tools and often protection of the artifacts is limited to coverings by plastic tarps and wooden crates.

“Afghanistan is the Wild West with so much corruption,” Huffman said. “What I don’t like about the argument of mining ‘responsibly’ and ‘preserving’ cultural sites is that in the end it won’t be good for Afghanistan. The money will be lost in corruption, the high-level jobs will go to the Chinese, and the locals will get the low paid slave labor jobs. Plus, the toxins left over from mining will be in the ground permanently. Advocates for Mes Aynak have tried to get cooperation between the mining and cultural preservation but it doesn’t seem that anyone involved sees any value in the Mes Aynak site.” 

A Buddhist stupa from Mes Aynak (Huffman)
“The US Military will be pulling troops out of Afghanistan in 2014 which is not good,” Huffman said. “The World Bank has put in a lot of money to support the mining yet there’s a shortage of funds to support the archaeological work. For example, the Czech Republic promised $5,000 to the Afghan team for computers and digital cameras but I was told that the money was stopped from coming through.”

Huffman plans to return to Mes Aynak in December. “In October there will be some 3-D reconstruction work and I will send someone to film that if I can’t go. I will be there in December for what the archaeologists call the ‘funeral’ and I hope we can stop it from happening. There is something so disrespectful about blowing up the site. It’s troubling to have no reverence for the past as if someone is looting your grandparents’ cemetery.”

“In Mes Aynak, the silence gives me a sense of connection to the past,” Huffman said. “My mind floods with what life was like in this vibrant city. Recklessly destroying it is like erasing history.”

“The resilience of this site amazes me,” Huffman said. “It has been through so much as a major hub on the Silk Road. The murals and statues are so fragile and yet they have survived harsh winters, floods and snow and fighting amidst land mines and rocket attacks. Yet Mes Aynak still manages to survive and pull people in who fall in love with it and want to save it.”

“Most Afghans don’t know that this is happening because there’s been no coverage in the local media,” Huffman said. “Americans think of Afghanistan is terrorists or victims or terrorism but it’s not that – Afghans are warm, friendly and open-minded people. The Buddhist sites are a testimony to Afghanistan’s past. The Taliban are an external force that destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan and now the Chinese mining company will do the same thing at Mes Aynak. Afghans need someone like UNESCO to push back against these money deals that don’t care about cultural heritage, but this is not happening today.”

Here's a link to the petition to President Hamid Karzai to prevent the destruction of the archaeological site Mes Aynak and a relevant Facebook page, The Buddhas of Aynak.

Here's a link to the article Huffman wrote for the Asia Society on this subject.