One of Afghanistan’s biggest archaeological treasures may soon be turned to dust as a Chinese mining company which has bought the site turns it into a sprawling, billion-dollar copper mine.
The Buddhas of Aynak, situated in a desert region 20 minutes southwest of Kabul, is an archaeological site containing ancient Buddhist artifacts dated over 2,500 years old. It also holds rich mineral deposits, especially copper. Formerly an ancient Buddhist monastery complex, the historical center has more than 150 Buddha statues. It is of immense worldwide importance and is one of Afghanistan’s richest historical sites.
The site also has a violent and troubled history. A common rumor is that Al-Qaeda planned the 2001 September 11 attack from a camp in Aynak. The area is also a major transit route for insurgents coming from Pakistan into Afghanistan.
Archaeologists have found a number of artifacts dating backing over a millennium on the site, even unearthing manuscripts that may provide evidence regarding the presence of Alexander the Great’s troops in the area.
The Buddhist ruins are scheduled to be destroyed at the end of December 2012. In November 2007, a 30-year lease was granted for the copper mine to the China Metallurgical Group (MCC) for $3 billion, making it the biggest foreign investment and private business venture in Afghanistan’s history.
The Afghan Mining Ministry estimates that the mine holds some six million tons of copper. The mine is expected to be worth tens of billions of dollars, and to generate jobs and economic activity for the country but all of this critically threatens the site’s archaeological remains, which are now being hurriedly excavated by private organizations.
Brent Huffman, a volunteer working to preserve this archaeological site, has produced a documentary about the Buddhas of Aynak, and is busy collecting donations to boost the excavation work. In an interview with Huffman, I asked about the history and the status of the excavation of the Aynak.