This 2,600-Year-Old Buddhist Site Will Soon Be Turned Into A Chinese Copper Mine


Photo: Flickr/U.S. Embassy Kabul

Mes Aynak is a 2,600-year-old Buddhist site in Logar province, Afghanistan, that is home to both an ancient archaeological site and one of the largest copper deposits in the world.In 2007 a Chinese government-owned company paid $3 billion to lease the area for 30 years and plans to extract over $100 billion worth of copper from the area.

While preparing the land, laborers found a 100-acre monastery complex that holds a bunch of Buddhist temples, statues, relics and manuscripts.

In 2009 archaeologists were given three years to attempt to excavate the site, but they say it’s a 30-year job and they currently have limited tools at their disposal.

“This is probably one of the most important points along the Silk Road,” Philippe Marquis, a French archaeologist advising the Afghans, told the Daily Mail in 2010. “What we have at this site, already in excavation, should be enough to fill the (Afghan) national museum.”

So now archaeologists from around the world are campaigning to save the site with the help of documentary filmmaker Brent Huffman.

The site sits about 25 miles southeast of Kabul

More than 250 Afghans are working with a team of international archaeologists to excavate the ancient settlement

They've already uncovered more than 20 ruin locations, including four Buddhist monasteries from the 5th-6th century

In addition to a hillside fortress and settlements from the Bronze Age (2300 – 1700 BC)

The buried copper mine may have been first used by humans up to 5,000 years ago

There is already a camp for the Chinese workers but they haven't broken ground on a planned railway and power station

Archaeologists say Mes Aynak could be as significant as Pompeii if properly excavated and preserved

They want to attempt to protect its cultural treasures before and after mining begins

The site includes several intricate Buddhist stupas, or shrines

As well as numerous hallways and rooms

More than 200 statues have been found already

Some of which are so massive that they would be destroyed before they could be moved

While the team lacks the chemicals needed to keep most of the smaller ones from disintegrating when extracted

There is currently no hope for the ancient writing on the walls

There are also coins, glass, tools and other artifacts, including manuscripts that may reference Alexander the Great

Mining operations are scheduled to begin in January 2013

Mining experts say the copper mine will make the land so toxic that people will be advised to avoid the area

But first the site and everything still buried beneath it will be destroyed in December

It takes a lot of work to properly excavate an important find

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