National Geographic : 2015 Sep
Mes Aynak 129 pickaxes and shovels or do other menial work at the archaeological site. But “if you have no food or salary, when your children are hun- gry, you’ll do anything,” says Habib Rahman. “Maybe join the Taliban. They pay a salary.” In 2001 the gray-bearded, 42-year-old father lost a leg to a land mine while herding goats. Now he walks with the aid of crutches two hours each way from his mountain village to wash pottery sherds at Mes Aynak. The hardscrabble lives of locals like Rahman are not likely to change much in the immedi- ate future. Many are ambivalent about the rich history they’re helping reveal, feeling no per- sonal ties to a pre-Islamic past. It doesn’t help that the Taliban have threatened some workers, accusing them of promoting Buddhism. Still, there’s admiration for the achievements of the past. “My forefathers were Muslim,” says one 36-year-old laborer and Afghan Army veteran who gave his name only as Javed. “But we know a lot of generations passed through this ground. When I am working, I am thinking that here was a civilization, a factory, a city, kings here. Yes, this is Afghanistan also.” j Searching for treasure, looters ravaged this larger-than-life-size Buddha. “Archaeology is the only way to protect the site,” says Philippe Marquis, who oversaw excavations until 2014.