2,600-year-old Buddhist monastery found:
Major discovery in Afghanistan
The monastery found
while digging for the copper mine
In 2001, Afghanistan's ruling Taleban blew up two giant Buddha
statues in defiance of international efforts to save them. United
Nations former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in Pakistan on a tour at
that time, described the Taleban's acts as a disservice to themselves
The monuments, in Bamiyan were once a big tourist draw, and one of
them was the tallest of its kind in the world. They dated back to
between the Second and Fifth Centuries AD, before the advent of Islam,
when Afghanistan was a centre of Buddhist learning and pilgrimage.
The 2,000-year-old Buddha statues were believed to have been carved
during the time of the Kushan dynasty which is thought to have been the
ancestors of the Hazara tribe that inhabits Bamiyan, the heart of the
Nine years after this barbaric event that produced a global public
outcry, a Chinese company digging an unexplored copper mine in
Afghanistan had unearthed ancient statues of the Buddha in a
2,600-year-old Buddhist Monastery in Mes Aynak.
Knowing the dangers posed to them by the Taleban, international
archaeologists are rushing to salvage what they can from a major Seventh
Century BC religious site along the famed Silk Road connecting Asia and
the Middle East.
The ruins include a monastery and 'Stupa' and were discovered as
labourers excavated the site on behalf of the Chinese Government-backed
China Metallurgical Group Corp (MCC), which intends to develop the
second largest copper mine in the world, lying beneath the ruins.
This picture is believed to have been
taken by the Taleban, as they got ready to blow up the
MCC wanted to start construction work on the mine by the end of 2011,
but under an informal understanding with the Kabul Government, it has
given archaeologists three years to carry out a salvage excavation.
Archaeologists working on the site since May say that there won't be
enough time for a full preservation. The monastery complex has been dug
out, revealing breathtaking hallways and rooms decorated with frescoes
and filled with clay and stone statues of standing and reclining Buddhas,
some as high as 10 feet and mighty in their grandeur.
An area that was once a courtyard is dotted with mini stupas standing
four or five feet high. More than 150 statues have been found so far,
though many more are believed to be in place.
The larger ones are too heavy to be moved, and the team lacks the
chemicals needed to keep the small ones from disintegrating when
"That site is so massive that it is easily a 10-year campaign of
archaeology," said Laura Tedesco, an archaeologist brought in by the US
Embassy to work on the sites in Afghanistan.
The team hopes to lift some of the larger statues and shrines out
before winter sets in this month. Around 15 Afghan archaeologists, three
French advisers and a few dozen labourers are working in the area, a far
smaller team than the two dozen archaeologists and 100 labourers
normally needed for a site of such size and richness. They say that the
salvage effort is minimal due to lack of funds and personnel.
An Afghan archaeologist standing
inside the monastery Pic: AP
"This is probably one of the most important points along the Silk
Road," said Philippe Marquis, a French archaeologist engaged in the
project. "What we have at this site, already in excavation, should be
enough to fill the (Afghan) National Museum."
Mes Aynak's (20 miles from the south of Kabul) religious sites and
copper deposits have been bound together for centuries and throughout
the site's history, artisan miners have dug up copper to adorn statues
When China won the contract for the mine in 2008, there was no
discussion with Kabul about the ruins, only about funds, security and
building a railroad to transport the copper out of Logar's dusty hills.
But a small band of Afghan and French archaeologists raised a stir
and put the antiquities on the agenda. Some believe that Afghan
archaeologists have known since the 1960s about the importance of Mes
Aynak, but almost nothing had been excavated.
Although the mine could be a major boost for the Afghan economy,
worth tens of billions of dollars, a Mining Ministry official working on
the antiquities issue said MCC shares the government’s goal of
protecting their heritage while starting mining as soon as possible.
But people all over the world are worried that the Taleban will soon
destroy this historic site as they do not allow 'non-Islamic' relics or
religious sites to exist in their country.
Pre-Islamic period of
historians suggest that humans had set up habitats in
Afghanistan at least 50,000 years ago, and that farming
communities of the region were among the earliest in the
world. An urbanised culture had existed in the land between
3000 and 2000 BC. Artefacts typical of the Palaeolithic,
Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages have been found
Afghanistan was inhabited by
Aryan tribes and controlled by the Medes until about 500 BC
when 'Darius I' marched with his Persian army to make it
part of their empire. In 330 BC, Alexander the Great invaded
the country and Afghanistan became part of the new Greco-
Bactrian kingdom. Some eastern parts of the country were
controlled by the Indian Maurya Empire, whose main religion
was Hinduism. In the first century, the land became part of
the Kushan Empire whose official religion was Buddhism.
The Kushan Empire was
powerful -and spread from the Kabul River valley to defeat
other Central Asian tribes that had previously conquered
parts of the northern central Iranian Plateau once ruled by
the Parthians. By the middle of the first Century BC, the
Kushans' base of control became Afghanistan and their empire
spanned from the north of the Pamir Mountains to the Ganges
river valley in India. Early in the second century 'Kanishka'
became the most powerful of the Kushan rulers, the empire
reached its greatest geographic and cultural breadth to
become a centre of literature and art.
Kanishka was a patron of
religion and the arts. It is believed that it was during his
reign that Mahayana Buddhism (imported to northern India
earlier by Emperor Ashoka) reached its zenith in Central
Asia.The Kushans supported local Buddhists and Hindus as
well as the worship of various local deities.