Chinese Copper Mine Will Crush Ancient Afghan Buddhist Site

The Los Angeles Times reports the impending destruction of a 5th Century Buddhist monastery in Afghanistan to make way for a Chinese copper mine.

“As an archaeologist, of course I’m worried about this,” said Khair Muhammad Khairzada, a researcher at the Afghan Institute of Archaeology, which is overseeing the dig. “I want all of the archaeological sites to be saved. But at the same time, Afghanistan’s economy is also important. It needs to grow.”

And so, a dozen archaeologists and 100 Afghan laborers are working like army ants to finish the dig. Many valuable relics were looted long ago, and the archaeologists won’t be able to save the ancient edifices from the mining company. But they can remove the statues, pottery and gold and silver coins still buried within the buildings.

“We don’t know exactly how much time we have to excavate the site. Sometimes the deadline is 14 months and sometimes it’s two years. It will depend on the Chinese,” said Nicolas Engel, a young French archaeologist with James Joyce spectacles.

At The Atlantic, Joshua Foust compares the destruction with the Taliban’s demolition of colossal Buddha statues in Bamiyan and elsewhere:

While the Taliban’s relentless quest to erase Afghanistan’s Buddhist past for the sake of Islamic purity drew condemnation (however decreasing as time goes on), the Chinese quest to erase Afghanistan’s Buddhist past for the sake of some copper ore is drawing silence. There are many reasons for this: people can understand the desperate need for income and exports for the Afghan economy, the Chinese are not making a grandiose display of specifically targetting cultural heritage in the development of their mine, and, again, probably some measure of outrage fatigue.

Then again, the Chinese government didn’t seem particularly concerned when it flooded thousands of years of its own past in building the enormous Three Gorges Dam. It’s not like China is behaving out of character in Afghanistan.