National Geographic : 2015 Sep
irrigation channels called karez, which are still used in parts of Afghanistan. One 30-foot-long karez has been excavated in the northern sec- tion of the site, probably part of a network of such channels. The ongoing deforestation could have reduced the area’s rainfall, making water even scarcer. A paucity of water remains a concern in this drought-prone region, and a major obstacle to future mining. Integrity Watch Afghanistan, a Kabul think tank, reported in 2013 that vil- lagers around Mes Aynak complained that the water table dropped by more than six feet after preliminary drilling. “ When copper produc- tion starts, it will require seven million liters [1.85 million gallons] in one eight-hour shift,” says Javed Noorani, who authored the Integ- rity Watch report. “The area is already water deficient.” The archaeologists must cope with a prob- lem not of scarcity but of overabundance: The rate at which the excavation has proceeded risks out- pacing the ability to store and protect everything coming out of the ground. “Excavation is easy,” says Omar Sultan, Afghanistan’s former deputy culture minister and a Greek-trained archae- ologist. “Safeguarding is the hard thing to do.” More than a thousand of the most important pieces have gone straight to the National Mu- seum of Afghanistan in Kabul. “Unfortunately we cannot accept all the artifacts,” says Omara Khan Massoudi, for many years the director of the museum. “There is no place for them.” For now the thousands of Mes Aynak objects that aren’t at the museum sit in temporary storage at or near the site. Most have not been analyzed or studied. Massoudi and Sultan talk of erecting a local museum someday, but more likely, at least in the short term, there would be a virtual museum and online reconstruction to preserve Mes Aynak’s memory after the min- ing begins. But first Afghanistan’s security challenges must be resolved. And in the long term more mining delays could pose more dire threats. Mes Aynak’s security depends in large part on ensuring that local men, vulnerable to the lure or coercion of the Taliban, stay gainfully employed. Many resent having been displaced from their villages to make way for the copper mine. The World Bank, which has been supporting the archaeological work through a project with Af- ghanistan’s Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, estimates that the mine will eventually provide 4,500 direct jobs and many more thousands of indirect ones, though there’s growing skepticism that the jobs will ever materialize. Over the years a few hundred men have been paid generously by local standards to wield U.K. - based photographer Simon Norfolk specializes in landscapes. Over the past 12 years he has ex- plored through his work the meaning of the word “battlefield” and the many ways it can be interpreted.