Monday, June 17, 2013

Western Buddhist Heritage: Mes Aynak

Artifacts such as a Buddhist sculpture have been extracted from the Mes Aynak [Copper Well] archaeology site where miners want to extract rich deposits of copper [gold, and rare earth minerals] (Jay Price/Getty Images).
Afghanistan is sitting on an estimated US $1 trillion dollars' worth of minerals including gold, copper, iron, barite, sulphur, rubies, emeralds, lapis lazuli, mercury, silver, lead, zinc, bauxite, and lithium (Andy Miller/

Mes Aynak highlights Afghanistan's dilemma over protecting [its fabulous Buddhist] heritage

The quest for copper [gold, and rare earth mineral] riches in Mes Aynak ["Copper Well"] is a battle pitting culture and commerce.
IN BRIEF: Archeologists have uncovered countless priceless artifacts at the ancient Buddhist settlement called Mes Aynak in Logar province, 21 miles (35 km) south of Kabul. The site includes an ancient copper and gold mine, a series of monasteries and nunneries, homes, and workshops. But a Chinese state mining company, MCC, won a $3 billion mineral contract in 2007 to plunder it, one of the largest in the world. The mine sits directly beneath the ancient settlement because the original artisans used the metals there. The Chinese have built a camp for their Chinese workers, who are being shipped in rather than hired locally and plant to build a railway and power station (Jerome Starkey).
The ruins of Mes Aynak straddle a copper deposit so rich that many of the rocks are brilliant green with oxidized ore from a seam of metal first exploited 5,000 years ago.
The remaining copper cannot be extracted without destroying not just the ruins but the entire hill they perch on, and efforts to develop the mine have often been cast as a battle between the heartless miners and valiant archaeologists, racing against time to save their heritage.

Mes Aynak treasure: precious jewellery from hoard dated 500-700 ACE (Salam Viking)
"Shakya" [Shakyamuni] means grey earth (WQ)
The Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (ARCH), a US non-profit organization, has led a publicity campaign to prevent the mine, as currently envisaged, from going ahead.
It has been so successful that the World Bank office in [the Afghan capital of] Kabul faces an internal investigation for supporting the dig and the mine development.
But none of ARCH's four directors have a background in cultural heritage, and several have connections to US mining companies interested in Afghan contracts. They are Zalmay Khalilzad, a former US ambassador to Afghanistan, his wife, his business associate in the lobbying firm Gryphon Partners, and a well-travelled restaurateur.
Mes Aynak, Afghanistan: a massive Buddhist temple complex in danger of demolition due to US war, Afghan desperation, and Chinese greed (Science, Vol. 329/Irtiqa).

Khalilzad has been openly critical of China's mining companies and a bidding system that he argues favors them in Afghanistan, the country where he was born and later returned as the first US ambassador after the fall of the [CIA-created] Taliban
"The performance of Chinese companies is improving but they have a long way to go," he wrote in a 2011 opinion article for Foreign Policy entitled How many ways can we lose in Afghanistan, which criticized Chinese firms on issues including [the planned demolition] of cultural heritage.

Mes Aynak Buddha II (
"It is certainly ironic that Chinese firms are at an advantage over western companies due to defence department procedures," he wrote, before ending on a slightly less gloomy note: "It is not inevitable that Afghanistan's valuable resources fall into the hands of the Chinese."
Afghan archeologists and experts working on mining have a more complex view of the [intended] mine's impact than ARCH.

Abdul Qadir Temori, head of the Afghan Institute of Archeology, who has committed his entire team of more than 30 graduate archaeologists to Mes Aynak, says the site is so complex and fascinating that experts could easily spend two decades picking over it.
In an ideal world that would be the case, he says. But Afghanistan is desperately poor and has suffered 30 years of violence, which means leaving artifacts in the ground... More

The archaeological dig at Mes Aynak
Workers in a futile rush to save history
Mes Aynak, a magnificent Buddhist city, is the most important archaeological discovery in a generation. But it is sitting on a vast mineral deposit and is about to be destroyed. William Dalrymple reports from Afghanistan.

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