Protecting the Mes Aynak Archaeological Site and its Works of Art
Mes Aynak, Afghanistan
Identification of the remains of a significant 3rd – 7th century Buddhist settlement, partially excavated at Mes Aynak, represents one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the region over the past four decades. The settlement was initially established by the Buddhists as a mining colony to extract copper at the site of what is now believed to be the second largest such deposit in the world. The settlement grew to cover an estimated 45 hectares and includes multiple mining areas, residential quarters, and religious complexes containing clay statues, wall murals, and stupas dating to Late Antiquity.
Following an award for copper extraction rights in 2007, an emergency archaeological salvage operation was launched in 2009 that resulted in the discovery of more than 3500 major artifacts and the identification and relocation of dozens of statues and wall paintings over a 10-year period. Salvage operations were suspended in 2019 resulting in extensive decay and degradation of exposed archaeological areas and artifact remains.
In view of the renewed commitment from both Afghan authorities and the mining company to continue preparations towards mining operations, AKCSA, with support from The International alliance for the protection of heritage in conflict areas (ALIPH), is undertaking emergency conservation to prevent further loss and damage to key artifacts and heritage at the Mes Aynak site. This work includes compiling a comprehensive record of the whole site, building and expanding temporary protective structures above key archaeological areas and installing a drainage system, as well as consolidating archaeological and architectural remains.
This project will also launch a pilot program to establish scientific procedures and methodology for the salvage and relocation of select artifacts.