Friday, October 31, 2014

Copper load of this! Company digging mine in Afghanistan unearths 2,600-year-old Buddhist monastery

By Daily Mail Reporter

A Chinese company digging an unexploited copper mine in Afghanistan has unearthed ancient statues of Buddha in a sprawling 2,600-year-old Buddhist monastery.

Archaeologists are rushing to salvage what they can from a major 7th century B.C. religious site along the famed Silk Road connecting Asia and the Middle East.

The ruins, including the monastery and domed shrines known as ‘stupas,’ will likely be largely destroyed once work at the mine begins.

The ruins were discovered as labourers excavated the site on behalf of the Chinese government-backed China Metallurgical Group Corp, which wants to develop the world’s second largest copper mine, lying beneath the ruins.

Historic find: Ancient Buddha statues inside a temple in Mes Aynak, south of Kabul, Afghanistan. Chinese labourers digging a copper mine made the astonishing discovery

Hanging over the situation is the memory of the Buddhas of Bamiyan — statues towering up to 180 feet high in central Afghanistan that were dynamited to the ground in 2001 by the country’s then-rulers, the Taliban, who considered them symbols of paganism.

No one wants to be blamed for similarly razing history at Mes Aynak, in the eastern province of Logar. MCC wanted to start building the mine by the end of 2011 but under an informal understanding with the Kabul government, it has given archaeologists three years for a salvage excavation.

Archaeologists working on the site since May say that won’t be enough time for full preservation.

The monastery complex has been dug out, revealing hallways and rooms decorated with frescoes and filled with clay and stone statues of standing and reclining Buddhas, some as high as 10 feet.

An area that was once a courtyard is dotted with stupas standing four or 5ft high.

More than 150 statues have been found so far, though many remain in place. Large ones are too heavy to be moved, and the team lacks the chemicals needed to keep small ones from disintegrating when extracted.

‘That site is so massive that it’s easily a 10-year campaign of archaeology,’ said Laura Tedesco, an archaeologist brought in by the US Embassy to work on sites in Afghanistan. ‘Three years may be enough time just to document what’s there.’

Philippe Marquis, a French archaeologist advising the Afghans, said the salvage effort is piecemeal and ‘minimal’, held back by lack of funds and personnel.

The team hopes to lift some of the larger statues and shrines out before winter sets in this month, but they still haven’t procured the crane and other equipment needed.

Dig: A wooden Buddha statue, estimated to be about 1,400 years old, is discovered during the excavation at the sprawling 2,600-year-old Buddhist monastery

Dig: A wooden Buddha statue, estimated to be about 1,400 years old, is discovered during the excavation at the sprawling 2,600-year-old Buddhist monastery

Around 15 Afghan archaeologists, three French advisers and a few dozen labourers are working within the 0.77-square-mile area – a far smaller team than the two dozen archaeologists and 100 labourers normally needed for a site of such size and richness.

‘This is probably one of the most important points along the Silk Road,’ said Marquis. ‘What we have at this site, already in excavation, should be enough to fill the (Afghan) national museum.’

Mes Aynak, 20 miles south of Kabul, lies in a province that is still considered a major transit route for insurgents coming from Pakistan.

In July, two US sailors were kidnapped and killed in Logar. Around 1,500 Afghan police guard the mine site and the road.

Mes Aynak’s religious sites and copper deposits have been bound together for centuries — ‘mes’ means ‘copper’ in the local Dari language.

Throughout the site’s history, artisanal miners have dug up copper to adorn statues and shrines.

Afghan archaeologists have known since the 1960s about the importance of Mes Aynak, but almost nothing had been excavated.

When the Chinese won the contract to exploit the mine in 2008, there was no discussion with Kabul about the ruins – only about money, security and building a railroad to transport the copper out of Logar’s dusty hills.

But a small band of Afghan and French archaeologists raised a stir and put the antiquities on the agenda.

Deadline: Archaeologists digging at the site of the ancient ruins have three years to finish the excavations

The mine could be a major boost for the Afghan economy. According to the Afghan Mining Ministry, it holds some 6 million tons of copper, worth tens of billions of dollars at today’s prices. Developing the mine and related transport infrastructure will generate much needed jobs and economic activity.

Waheedullah Qaderi, a Mining Ministry official working on the antiquities issue, said MCC shares the government goal of protecting heritage while starting mining as soon as possible.

Understanding Afghanistan through the Prism of History

A Glimpse into Afghanistan Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow at Stony Brook University

On 4 November, just hours after the debate on the Situation in Afghanistan in the United Nations General Assembly, Stony Brook University hosted a crucial discussion on “Afghanistan: The Current Situation through a Historic Lens.”  Introductory remarks were given by Professors Said  Amir Arjomand and Paul Zimansky to welcome a full crowd of students and community members at the Center for Global and Local History.

The theme of the discussion was that in order to understand what is happening in present day Afghanistan, it is essential to recognize the history behind the conflict.  H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative and Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United Nations  gave an enlightening presentation at the event.  While seeking to debunk the common misconception that Afghanistan has always been at war through pointing out a century of relative calm and peace in the nation prior to the 1980s, the focus of the discussion was on the torrential period of conflict from the last three decades.

As Ambassador Tanin outlined, three foreign interventions or invasions, and three civil wars have taken place in the past thirty years.  First was the Soviet invasion of 1979, then the war of resistance against that invasion, followed by the invasion of Afghanistan by al-Qaeda and foreign Mujahideen with the support of Pakistan in 1994, accompanied by the Mujahideen fighting the Taliban in the 1990s.  Interventions by international forces led by the US began in 2001 which led to fighting between Taliban and the international and Afghan forces.  Dramatic regime or ideological shifts have characterized recent history in Afghanistan.  “Each change you see here is a bloody change,” Ambassador Tanin reminded the audience, as he pointed to the timeline of the last three decades.  The millions of deaths, major destruction of economy, and disintegration of state from this complex history have reversed much of Afghanistan’s progress over the previous century, he said.

Nevertheless, Ambassador Tanin expressed optimism about the progress of the country and its future, starting with a new beginning in 2001 which involved increased international support.  He described key human rights successes which include dramatically improved access to health care, advancements in women’s rights particularly in the area of political participation, a rising number of female students, 71% enrollment rates in schools, and the building of 4,000 new school buildings in the last decade.   He also expressed some of the former challenges, particularly in the coordination and adequacy of troops and funding.  Despite ongoing struggles, Ambassador Tanin has hope that with the second term of President Karzai, the strong commitment of the Afghan government to the national agenda, and the sustained role of the international community for a successful transition to Afghan-led ownership and responsibility, peace and progress can be achieved.  However, as Ambassador Tanin expressed, with this optimism comes the burden of hard work, and diligent follow through ahead.

Ambassador Zahir Tanin

Ambassador Zahir Tanin at the General Assembly Plenary Meeting on the Situation in Afghanistan on November 4, 2010