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September 11, 2012

Mes Aynak's archaeological wealth from the Bronze Age to ancient Buddhists threatened by excavation of world's second largest copper deposit

An Afghan archaeologist examines
 a Buddha in Mes Aynak (Penn Museum)
by Catherine Sezgin,
ARCA Blog Editor

What are Buddhas doing in Islamic Afghanistan?

In addition to the gigantic Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, another Buddhist site, Mes Aynak, in Afghanistan is being threatened by the country's desire to improve its economy by extracting natural resources.

Archaeologist believe Afghanistan may have been farmed by humans for as long as 50,000 years. Today's war-torn Afghanistan, with commercial centers and an art culture dating back to the Bronze Age, was controlled by numerous empires and dynasties -- Aryans and the Medes, Achaemenid invasion and Zoroastrianism, Greco-Bactrian rule, Maurya Empire, Sassanid Empire, and the Shahi dynasty. Darius the Great marched his Persian army into the region in 500 BC, almost two centuries before Alexander the Great defeated Darius III. The inhabitants of the area traditionally practiced Hinduism then Buddhism when it became part of the Kushan Empire in the first century.

Located 18 miles south of Kabul, the ancient site of Mess Aynak was rediscovered in the mid-20th century. Now archaeologists have less than four months to extract artifacts from Mes Aynak before a Chinese company begins mining the world's second largest copper deposit.

The Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (ARCH International) explains in a video the cultural importance of the monasteries and fortifications of Mess Aynak and the other pottery and jewelry found at this 5,000 site. The organization asks that responsible mining methods be used to help preserve the most important archaeological sites.

Here in a CNN video, documentary filmmaker Brent E. Huffman also shows the archaeological digs at Mes Aynak which will be closed in December. According to Mr. Huffman, it would take 30-35 years to properly excavate this site.

A petition to President Hamid Karzai requests the preservation of the ancient site of Mes Aynak. Here's a link to the petition.

Another petition sponsored by the Association for Protection of Afghan Archaeology (APAA) with more than 13,000 signatures asks UNESCO to include Mess Aynak, Afghanistan, on the Endangered Sites and the World Heritage List.

Afghanistan ratified UNESCO's 1970 Convention in 1979.  Two cultural sites are listed on the World Heritage List: Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley (2003) and Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam (2002).

Here's a link to the Penn Museum blog with a post about Mess Aynak.