Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Mines on Your Mind - The Mes Aynak Copper Mine

In Logar province, Afghanistan, approximately 25 miles south of Kabul lays Mes Aynak, an ancient Buddhist city doomed to vanish forever under a project touted as a magic bullet for the war torn economy of Afghanistan. It's ancient streets and buildings pushed aside as rubble for one of the largest copper mines in the world.

There is some good news for the site, however. In 2009 a deal was struck with archaeologist to excavate and preserve as much as they can before the Mine is operational. They were given $8 million from the World Bank (one of the supporters of the mine) and permission from the Afghanistan Ministry of Mines to dig the site until the miners move in.

Since that deal was struck there has been no definite end date for the excavation. There is still no sign of the associated mining infrastructure, such as power plants and smelters, and the archaeologist think they may have until 2016 before they need to give up the site.

The Buddhist city, with its many monasteries, workshops and ancient mine shafts constructed at an altitude of 8200 feet, high in the cold mountains of Afghanistan, Mes Aynak is an important study in the convergence of religion (Buddhism), early mining and Silk Road trading some time in the fifth to the late eighth centuries.

A Budshist stupa inside one of the monasteries
City neighbourhoods with roads and alleys, monasteries propped on hills or ridgelines overlooking the city, buildings, domed shrines (stupas), coins – more than 700 in one building – smelted from the very copper that will be this sites undoing, over 1000 sculptures which include Buddha statues taller than 12 feet, ancient manuscripts, ornate woodwork.  All are of immense value to an archaeologist or person interested in this areas history. And all needing to go before the window closes.
It is a massive task to excavate it all and an even harder task to remove it all to other sites - such as the Kabul Museum - but they will try. Even the stupa shrines with their domed roofs will be taken down and reassembled elsewhere in this desperate attempt to save and preserve this precious history in perpetuity.
Even though the site should be preserved as it is - perhaps even World Heritage Listed (since the history of Afghanistan has already been desecrated by the Taliban as they systematically destroyed sites like these all over the country, while other sites have been ransacked by relic hunters) - it only seems fitting that if it has to go it should go for this reason. It was copper that brought the people to this city. It was copper that brought trade to this site along the equally ancient Silk Road that connected China and India to the Mediterranean. It was copper mined here that created coins for this countries economy many hundreds of years ago.
Mes Aynak, poised for progress

- MM

So if the site at Mes Aynak has to move aside for progress, what better reason than this.
In a thousand or two thousand years, this new mine will become just one more page in the history of this area.
The natural resource will be scooped and blasted and sifted from the earth, the mine will run out of copper, the people will leave, the dust will settle, and the structures of its progress will fall to ruin .

 Just as the Buddhist site did at the end of the eight century.  Brushed aside by Father Time once more.

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