Archaeology in Logar Province-Mes Aynak
UNESCO’s representative in Afghanistan, Paolo Fontani visited the ancient Buddhist site of Mes Aynak in Logar, 40 Km southeast of Kabul. He was accompanied by the culture team, Brendan Cassar and Sara Noshadi and representatives from the Ministry of Information and Culture of Afghanistan.
The team visited the excavations and was briefed by the national and international archeological delegations that are currently pursuing a salvage excavation of the 2600 year old site.
Mes Aynak, meaning “little copper well” in Dari, comprises an ancient Buddhist monastic complex, city, devotional temples, ancient copper mining galleries and hundreds of exceptional sculptures. At the same time, Mes Aynak is home to the largest undeveloped copper reserve in the world and mining operations are due to begin at the site in the near future. It is understood that directly beneath the Buddhist site lie mineral deposits worth an estimated $100 billion USD.
UNESCO continues its advocacy for the ongoing scientific documentation and salvage of significant archeological materials from this site, as well as other ancient sites in the nearby area.
The site of Khawar, for instance, is another extremely important archaeological site only a few kilometers from Ainak. It has largely been overshadowed by the attention given to Mes Ainak recently, but it is equally rich and contains magnificent examples of the Buddhist heritage of Afghanistan. This site does not fall within the planned area of the copper mine, but it is in danger of complete destruction due to looting which seems to be on the increase at this and other sites in provinces across the country. .
This situation has prompted the Ministry of Information and Culture to release a statement calling upon security officials in Afghanistan “to take action against the thieves of historical relics in Kharwar” and to control the illegal export of cultural objects from the country. They also called upon the scientific and international community to strengthen Afghan archeological capacity to deal with and safeguard sites such as Kharwar and many others throughout the country.
Brendan Cassar, UNESCO’s cultural specialist in Afghanistan said “the illicit excavation and illegal export of cultural objects remains probably the greatest threat to Afghanistan’s cultural heritage.”
Paolo Fontani added that, “UNESCO will do everything it can to raise awareness and mobilize resources to contain this problem and support the Ministry of Information and Culture in its endeavor to preserve the nation’s movable heritage.”
UNESCO continues to raise awareness of the problem of ongoing looting of archeological sites throughout Afghanistan. With the support of the government of Italy, UNESCO will implement intensive training at the Academy of Afghanistan Customs Department to train customs officers from all over Afghanistan in the fight against the illicit traffic of antiquities from 2013. We are also in the process of developing a strategy and mobilizing resources for the long-term preservation of the material being excavated at Ainak and to have it exhibited to the people of Afghanistan and international community.