On the Eve of Destruction: The Magnificent Archaeological Complex at Mes Aynak (Afghanistan)

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Afghanistan has been a major topic of discussion in archaeology for the past decade.  Since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, archaeologists have debated the importance of archaeological preservation in war zone areas, as well as lamented the destruction of much of the cultural heritage of the country through continued political and military conflict.  Archaeological work in Afghanistan since 2001 has illustrated a number of threats to the record.  In addition to issues of looting and military destruction, development projects in Afghanistan promise to provide much needed economic and infrastructure support, but often at the cost of the archaeological record.

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Guest Dr. Rita Wright

As part of the ongoing debate, Dr. Schuldenrein is in Arizona participating in a one-day symposium on Cultural Heritage in Afghanistan.  The symposium, entitled Afghanistan:  Cultural Heritage at the Crossroads, was organized by the Drachman Institute at the University of Arizona and held yesterday, December 3rd.  The goal of the symposium is to “focus on strategies for integrating cultural heritage preservation and management in economic and infrastructure development in Afghanistan.”  In addition to discussing the design and implementation of a cultural heritage program for Afghanistan, the symposium also invited papers on cultural heritage initiatives already in place.  As part of this session, Dr. Schuldenrein and his colleague Dr. Rita Wright presented on The Mes Aynak Cultural Resource Management Plan.

The complex of Mes Aynak represents one of the most spectacular archaeological treasures in the world. Situated in Logar Province, Afghanistan, Mes Aynak is South Asia’s earliest mining complexes and distribution centers. This 2,600 year old city was also the center of Buddhist monasteries that flourished at around the time of Christ. Today the entire site is in danger of destruction because of pressure to develop this ancient mining site into the most profitable copper mine in a country. Archaeologists have been working on the site for several years, but their efforts have been uneven, often disjunct, and discontinuous.

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Guest Brent Huffman.

Our special encore presentation will feature a discussion of this site amongst Dr. Schuldenrein, Dr. Wright, and Bren Huffman, a documentary film-maker who has visited the sit on numerous occasions.  You can read and view more about his experiences at Mes Aynak here.  As part of his work, Mr. Huffman as created a documentary film entitled The Buddhas of Mes Aynak and has been an active proponent of the site’s preservation through Facebook and Kickstarter.  Check out the Facebook page to learn about the current state of preservation at the site and the continued threat poised by development in 2014. Join us tonight to learn more about the potential cultural tragedy that may seal the site’s fate unless large scale appeals to save the site are championed by concerned diplomats, politicians, and the public at large.

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