Afghanistan’s future in copper

The Silk Road city of Mes Aynak, was in the 5th - 7th Centuries AD one of the richest cities in Asia based on copper resources so pure the mountain above the town is stained green. It contained 400 Buddha stupas and statues, some of them colossal and a 40ha. monastery complex as well as fortresses and a medium sized city. 

It is now the world’s largest rescue-archaeology site because the entire area has been auctioned to a Chinese mining company who will mine what is estimated to be the second largest deposit of copper in the world, worth perhaps $75 Bn. Everything will be excavated, mapped and photographed and all the portable treasures will be removed, but the site itself will become a massive open-cast mine. Only political instability, financial corruption and the catastrophic fall in global copper prices have prevented the destruction from already commencing.

In the meantime, the archaeology is taking place in a major combat zone: the district is a Taliban-held conduit for fighters transversing into Afghanistan from Pakistan. Indeed, it is believed that the 9/11 terrorists and Bin Laden himself spent some time at the end of the 1990s living in some of the early exploratory mining tunnels, to avoid being targeted by American cruise missiles. The archaeology site is guarded by 1300 soldiers in three unending rings of fencing

In a strange parallel with the Bamiyan Buddhas, archaeology and heritage is to be destroyed, except this time it is to secure Afghanistan’s financial future. But the result is the same.

This story was commissioned by National Geographic magazine

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