Archaeologists have uncovered countless priceless artifacts at an ancient Buddhist settlement roughly 35 km south of Kabul. Photo: Jerome Starkey
For the past two years, archaeologists around the world have been closely following the events at Mes Aynak, an ancient settlement with over 200 Buddha statues, stupas and a 100-acre monastery complex. A team of French and Afghan archaeologists there are racing against the clock to excavate and study the site before it is destroyed to make way for a mine targeting the world’s second largest copper deposit.
With Mes Aynak set for demolition when the China Metallurgical Group Corporation begins copper extraction in 2013, the archaeologists’ plan is to document the layout of the Buddhist settlement and store as many artifacts as possible in a proposed site museum. Many structures simply cannot be saved, either because they are too large or too fragile to be moved.
“The Buddhas of Aynak,” an in-production documentary directed by award-winning filmmaker Brent E. Huffman and partially funded by GHF, tells the story of the doomed archaeological site, as well as the dangerous environment the mine has created for archaeologists, Chinese workers and local Afghans.
The film follows several main characters, including Philippe Marquis, a French archaeologist leading emergency conservation efforts; Abdul Qadeer Temore, an Afghan archaeologist at the Afghan National Institute of Archaeology; Liu Wenming, a manager for the China Metallurgical Group Corporation; and Laura Tedesco, an American archaeologist working for the Kabul-based U.S. Embassy, which has used a million dollars of U.S. military funding to attempt to save the Buddhist ruins.
Situated on the Silk Road about 35 kilometers south of Kabul, Mes Aynak is located in the heart of Taliban country. In a recent article for the Asia Society, Huffman noted the death threats Temore receives every day from the Taliban, as well as the land mines that have killed and injured both Chinese and Afghan workers. Conditions at the site are clearly volatile, but Temore says his team of specialists will not stop excavating until they are forced to quit.
“The site is absolutely awe inspiring,” Huffman said in an interview with Northwestern University, where he is an assistant professor at the Medill School of Journalism. “You can feel history there. As archaeologists scramble to save what they can before the 2014 deadline, it’s become clear to me that a cultural wonder in Asia will be lost to a future focused on resources that ultimately benefit residents of other countries over Afghan citizens.”
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