Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rescuing Afghanistan's Buddhist history

Compiled by Wisdom Quarterly, , AFP, Science Religion News
"The Lost Buddhas of Afghanistan" ()

Last year [2010] the French archeological mission cooperating with the Afghan National Institute of Archeology began an excavation of an ancient Buddhist settlement at the Mes Aynak temple complex and mine.

Mes Aynak has the second-largest known unexploited copper deposits in the world. The team is racing to rescue as much as possible before the Chinese mining work begins.

Sacred buried treasure can be found throughout Afghanistan (Wall Street Journal)

The Afghan government awarded mining rights to the China Metallurgical Group Corporation [in collaboration with the Chinese government], which is keen to begin work at the site, 25 miles (40 km) from the capital Kabul.

First the Taliban mindlessly dynamited 1,500+ year old statues of the Buddha, the tallest in the world. Now a massive ancient Buddhist monastery is under threat in Afghanistan from a copper and rare earth mining company.

Mining in Afghanistan (NPR)

[This is so valuable to China that it recently pledged $3 billion to Nepal to build up its Lumbini as the Buddha's birthplace. This diverts attention from its more probable location in Islamic Afghanistan, which has many precious archeological sites that neither Chinese capitalists, atheist-communists, nor Afghani Muslims want more attention for.]

A Chinese company intends to blow up an ancient Buddhist monastery south of Kabul to make way for a massive copper mine. The plan has sparked outrage among Afghan and French archeologists, who have recently uncovered more than 100 statues within a large spiritual complex that includes seven burial mounds (stupas) built to house the relics of saints.

Located in a mountainous region southeast of Kabul, Mes Aynak is a hill topped by a 4500-square-meter monastery. [Monasteries were often built near precious metal deposits, which were used to create sacred art on the site.]

Although the site was spotted by archaeologists in the 1960s, it was never excavated. During the late 1990s, the hill was home to an al-Qaida " training camp," according to a 2004 report by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

In recent years, looters damaged much of the monastic complex in search of antiquities, according to Nader Rassouli, director of Afghanistan's National Institute of Archaeology in Kabul, which is also participating in the current excavations.

Two millennia ago, this region served as a critical conduit in the spread of Buddhism to Central Asia and China, says T. Richard Blurton, an archaeologist and curator at London's British Museum who has excavated in Afghanistan. He says Mes Aynak can provide new data on both the origin and demise of Buddhism in this culturally fertile region.
  • See more at Science Religion News with a link to a paid article in Science and AFP.
  • NOTE: Because Chinese mining in Afghanistan threatens an ancient tomb complex, Afghan archeologists have unofficially only been given a short time to excavate the site, which due to the US war and other limitations is actually only long enough to describe what is there. But will this informal delay be honored before mining and the site's destruction begins?
  • Rescuing Afghanistan's Buddhist history at Mes Aynak

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