National Geographic : 2015 Sep
Mes Aynak 115 on foreign assistance and now facing a seven- billion-dollar annual deficit. Mes Aynak’s archaeological potential has been known for decades. When the Chinese deal became public, Afghan cultural heritage advocates demanded that the place’s ancient treasures be excavated and recorded properly before they were lost to an open-pit mine. But the artifacts were already in danger: not from de- struction by the Taliban, but from being plucked out piecemeal by looters, lost to science. “If it will not be destroyed by mining, it will be de- stroyed by looting,” says French archaeologist Philippe Marquis, who directed excavations at the site from 2009 to 2014. Better, he says, to document as much as possible now in a sys- tematic way. Despite the heavy security, present-day dan- gers have delayed the mine’s development. The blue-roofed compound, built for Chinese en- gineers, was abandoned after a series of rocket attacks in 2012 and 2013. Land mines left be- hind by the Soviets in the 1980s and explosive devices left more recently by the Taliban and al Qaeda pose yet another danger, and eight Stained by copper in the soil, a skeleton lies next to a stupa at Mes Aynak. Whether the individual lived when the monasteries were functioning or in a later era is unknown.