Hanging over the situation is the memory of the Buddhas of Bamiyan — statues towering up to 180 feet high in central Afghanistan that were dynamited to the ground in 2001 by the country’s then-rulers, the Taliban, who considered them symbols of paganism.
No one wants to be blamed for similarly razing history at Mes Aynak, in the eastern province of Logar. MCC wanted to start building the mine by the end of 2011 but under an informal understanding with the Kabul government, it has given archaeologists three years for a salvage excavation.
Archaeologists working on the site since May say that won’t be enough time for full preservation.
The monastery complex has been dug out, revealing hallways and rooms decorated with frescoes and filled with clay and stone statues of standing and reclining Buddhas, some as high as 10 feet.
An area that was once a courtyard is dotted with stupas standing four or 5ft high.
More than 150 statues have been found so far, though many remain in place. Large ones are too heavy to be moved, and the team lacks the chemicals needed to keep small ones from disintegrating when extracted.
‘That site is so massive that it’s easily a 10-year campaign of archaeology,’ said Laura Tedesco, an archaeologist brought in by the US Embassy to work on sites in Afghanistan. ‘Three years may be enough time just to document what’s there.’