Category Archives: Afghanistan

Experts identify 25 archaeological sites in Zone IV

AUGUST 15, 2017 BY APP

ISLAMABAD: A team of archaeological experts has identified 25 ancient archaeological sites in Zone IV of the federal capital, through its ongoing, first ever, archaeological survey.

The Department of Archaeology and Museums (DOAM) is conducting the survey to find potential sites for excavation, preservation and documentation, and saving the precious heritage for future generations.

The survey is being carried out by the archaeological experts who have divided Islamabad into five zones, and the objective behind the survey is to conserve the endangered archaeological sites and monuments.

“The number of identified archaeological sites and monuments has reached up to 25 in Zone IV of the capital, and most of the sites and monuments belong to the Mughal and Sikh periods,” said an official of DOAM while talking to APP.

The official said that the survey has been completed in the zone, which is the biggest zone among all five zones. The survey was discontinued due to monsoon rains and will be continued in Zone V during mid-September.

The discoveries include historical monuments, worship places of the Sikhs before partition, mosques of the Mughal period, remains of the Buddhist period and memorial of the British period wars, in the zone.

The team, conducting the survey, is comprised of archaeological experts, photographers, draftsmen and other staff members, who are recording the details of the sites for documentation and finding potential sites for excavation, said the official.

The project of conducting archaeological surveys in the capital, at the cost of Rs 2 million, was approved by National Fund for Cultural Heritage (NFCH) to address the threat of endangered sites and monuments due to climate changes and construction.


The Case for Rebuilding the Bamiyan Buddhas to Their Original Glory

A girl watches over her sheep and goats as they graze before one of the destroyed Bamiyan Buddhas. From

A girl watches over her sheep and goats as they graze before one of the destroyed Bamiyan Buddhas. From

By Buddhistdoor Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-01-27 |

After a long and difficult journey across the precipices and through the blizzards of the Tian Shan mountain ranges, Xuanzang (fl. c. 602–64) finally reached the town of Bamiyan in modern-day Afghanistan. His celebrated pilgrimage to India was one of astonishing tenacity, aided by the protection of bodhisattvas from the forces of nature, and on this leg of his journey Xuanzang arrived in a valley separating the Hindu Kush from its western extension, the Koh-i-baba. The residents of Bamiyan, according to the Chinese monk, wore furs and rough woolen clothes, and made a living growing spring wheat, flowers, and fruit, and herding cows, horses, and sheep. The people had coarse, uncultivated manners, but Xuanzang admired their simple and sincere religious faith, which they expressed by carving two colossal Buddha images into the rocky northeastern hill overlooking their settlements (a third reclining Buddha recorded in Xuanzang’s journal has yet to be found).

It is not known when the affectionately bestowed nicknames for the larger Buddha, Salsal (“light shines throughout the universe”), and Shamama (“Queen Mother”) for the smaller image, came into use. Historian Mahmud ibn Wali of Balkh (b. c. 1004 or 1095) wrote in his hagiography Bahr al-Asrar: “One cannot believe that there were made by human hands.” Frédéric Bobin of Le Monde put it quite well: “For 15 centuries the two mystic colossi gazed down as the trading caravans and warring armies streamed past. Monks came from China to worship here. Others meditated in nearby caves.” (The Guardian) Until they were desecrated and destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, the Bamiyan Buddhas inspired Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim observers alike, with one mullah (who no doubt represented the tolerant Islamic community in Bamiyan) lamenting, “The statues symbolised Bamiyan.” (The Guardian)

The Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (ARCH)* supports full restoration of the Bamiyan Buddhas and has carried out a rigorous study of eight options for rebuilding them. This is a proposal that makes many conservators at UNESCO blanch. It was UNESCO that declared in 2011 that the statues would be best remembered by their absence. “The two niches should be left empty, like two pages in Afghan history, so that subsequent generations can see how ignorance once prevailed in our country,” said Zamaryalai Tarzi, a Franco-Afghan archaeologist. (The Guardian) This is the dominant school of conservation at Bamiyan, which has been the victim of continuous political wrangling from different organizations and experts. Official UNESCO policy is based on the 1964 Venice Charter, which demands that “original material” be used for the conservation and restoration of monuments and sites, and if this rule is disregarded, there is the threat of UNESCO striking the site off its World Heritage List. Continue reading

China plans to destroy an ancient Buddhist city to get the copper buried there

Brent Huffman | Saving Mes Aynak

Brent Huffman | Saving Mes Aynak

Mariam Amini | @mariamamini
Wednesday, 1 Feb 2017 | 10:40 AM ET

Two Chinese state-owned mining companies plan to destroy an ancient Buddhist city in Afghanistan in order to get the copper underneath it, according to a new documentary

According to the film “Saving Mes Aynak,” Metallurgical Group Corp. (MCC) and Jiangxi Copper are in the initial stages of building an open-pit copper mine 25 miles southeast of Kabul. The location is home to a walled Buddhist city that dates back 5,000 years.

According to the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, the site is also home to the world’s second-largest copper deposit. China is an importer of copper and a major global refiner of the industrial metal.

In 2007, under the administration of President Hamid Karzai, MCC agreed to pay Afghanistan $3 billion to lease the Mes Aynak area for 30 years.

MCC plans to extract over $100 billion worth of copper deposited directly beneath the Buddhist city, according to the documentary. Archaeologists are trying to save the site.

A spokesman for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, Zabih Sarwari, told CNBC that the project is slated to start after the completion of a feasibility study. Continue reading

Rebuilding history?

Afghan men walk at the site of the giant Buddha statues last month. The Buddhas were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 in Bamiyan province. Photo: AFP/ Wakil Kohsar

Afghan men walk at the site of the giant Buddha statues last month. The Buddhas were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 in Bamiyan province.
Photo: AFP/ Wakil Kohsar

Taipei Times
Sat, Dec 03, 2016

Debate rages over lost Afghan Buddhas

By Anne Chaon / AFP, BAMIYAN, Afghanistan

For centuries they stood, two monumental ancient statues of Buddha carved into the cliffs of Bamiyan, loved and revered by generations of Afghans — only to be pulverized by the Taliban in an act of cultural genocide.

It felt like the loss of family for many who live and tend their crops nearby — but some 15 years on they are hopeful these awe-inspiring relics can be reconstructed. But experts are divided on the value of rebuilding the artifacts, with some insisting it is more important to preserve the remains of the entire crumbling site.

Archaeologists and restorers, mostly Afghan, German, Japanese and French, working in the Bamiyan Valley in central Afghanistan will meet today in Munich, Germany.

There they will try to move forward on the issue, as much a matter of the conservation of the UNESCO World Heritage Site as of the memories and culture of a brutalized community. All Afghans, especially the peasants tending potatoes at the front of the cliffs, mourn the loss of the tutelary silhouettes — the largest, the Salsal, was 56m high; its feminine version, the Shamama, 38m.

They were blasted in April 2001 by the Taliban, who had taken control of the province and killed thousands of Hazara civilians, a Shiite Muslim minority in Bamiyan. “For us, they were like parents,” said Hakim Safa, the 27-year-old representative from the Afghan culture ministry selling tickets at the site. “I feel as though I had lost family.”

“In the villages local people very much want the Buddhas to be rebuilt… They are always asking us, when will you be ready to begin?” says Rassoul Chojai, professor of archaeology at the University of Bamiyan.

But the statues were so thoroughly destroyed that it is not even clear if they ever could be reconstructed. UNESCO and the archaeologists have gathered fragments, a clutter of rocks and stones of various sizes. But the bulk of the monuments has simply vanished, reduced to dust.
“The destruction of the great Buddhas is total,” confirms Julio Bendezu-Sarmiento, director of the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan (DAFA) and member of the committee for the preservation of Bamiyan which will meet in Germany. The cliff, he says, is “pierced with thousands of decorated caves, connected by stairs, corridors, used in the past by monks and hermits” until the slow arrival of Islam from the 8th to the 11th centuries. It was the Buddhist history of the area that the Taliban wanted to erase in the name of Islam, when they blew the statues up in 2001. The explosions left deep cracks along the niches, which over the years have expanded, weathered, the rock crumbling against the elements. Continue reading


Mes Anyak

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Afghanistan’s giant Buddhas rise again with 3D light projection

Lion’s Roar blog

From VOA TV Ashna, via Facebook.

The giant Bamiyan Buddhas of Afghanistan have been rebuilt — this time with light. On Sunday, fourteen years after the ancient statues were destroyed by Taliban militants, artists animated the Buddhas with 3D light projection technology, filling the empty cavities where the Buddhas once stood.

The Atlantic reports that the $120,000 projector used for the installation was donated by a Chinese couple, Janson Yu and Liyan Hu. Yu and Hu were saddened by the destruction of the statues in 2001. Wanting to pay tribute, they requested permission from UNESCO and the Afghan government to do the project. 150 local people came out to see the unveiling of the holographic statues on Sunday, observing and playing music through the night.

The two statues, built in the sixth century, were 115 and 174 feet tall. Before their destruction, the statues were a treasured feature of the local culture. Earlier this year, the BBC interviewed Mirza Hussain, one of the men who was forced by the Taliban to destroy them. “I regretted it at that time, I regret it now and I will always regret it,” he said. “But I could not resist, I didn’t have a choice because they would have killed me.”

In February, UNESCO unveiled designs for a new cultural heritage center at Bamiyan, to showcase not only the monuments that were lost in 2001, but also the vibrant culture that still thrives in the region. Earlier this month, the region was named South Asia’s Cultural Center for 2015.

For more on the Bamiyan Buddhas, read our feature article, “Buddhist Treasures of Afghanistan,” watch this interview with Danny Fisher and Brent Huffman about Mes Aynak — the historic region near Bamiyan that is now facing destruction — and look at conceptual drawings of the new cultural center to be built at Bamiyan.


1st century AD coins, arrowheads discovered


TAXILA: The Federal Department of Archaeology has discovered coins and arrowheads dating back to the 1st century AD at the site of a Buddhist stupa that dates back to somewhere between 200 to 500 AD in Taxila. The discoveries were made during excavations in a remote part of the Margalla Hills.

The archaeology department director general, Mohammad Arif, told Dawn at the site on Tuesday that the stupa and monastery were from the Kushan period, between 200 and 500 AD. The stupa is locally known as Ban Faqiran. It is located about two kilometres from the Giri Buddhist monastic complex in Taxila valley.

Mr Arif said renowned archaeologist and professor, the late Ahmad Hassan Dani, Dr M Ashraf, Dr Mark Kenoyer and Dr F.D. Kakar discovered the stupa. He said excavations were held at the site for the first time, as it was located in a particularly remote and hilly area. He said remains of the complex were scattered around a 1,000 square metre area on a hilltop. Continue reading

Jamal Garhi: Tremors unhinge Mardan’s architectural treasure

By Hidayat Khan
Published in The Express Tribune, November 9th, 2015.

Like other historical sites and buildings in the province, the fifth century CE Buddhist monastery and circular stupa, Jamal Garhi, also took a jolt. And so it lost a wall in the 7.5 magnitude earthquake on October 26.

Numerous stones from the collapsed wall skidded through the monastery and monk quarters, creating significant damage throughout the structure. According to an employee, Mahmood Khan, “One of the ancient walls completely collapsed from the massive earthquake. We are currently busy collecting the scattered stones and placing them in their proper place.”

Mardan’s historical grandeur

An ancient Gandharan architecture, it is located 13 kilometres north of Mardan city and rises 122 metres above ground level. The monastery is situated a short distance from Shahbaz Garhi and UNESCO World Heritage site of Takht Bhai, all of which contribute to Mardan being one of the prime tourist attraction spots in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Archaeologists believed Jamal Garhi was established during the era of Gandhara civilisation when Buddhism flourished within the Indian subcontinent. According to Sir John Marshall, a famous British archaeologist, the monastery is one of the earliest sites built in the region. It was first discovered by Sir Alexander Cunningham in 1848 and excavations were carried out from 1852 to 1873. Buddhist and Kharosthi inscriptions were discovered during the work and portions were shifted to Peshawar Museum for display and preservation.

Recent excavations in 2012, funded by the government of Japan and UNESCO, discovered coins from 158 CE, sculpture plate, head of Buddha and traces of a lake and other findings.

ANJ1190-copy Continue reading

Gandhara and Beyond: The Influence of Andhra on the Art of Gandhara

The Courtauld Institute of Art
Left: Nagarjunakonda. Archaeological Site Museum, inv. no. 13, photograph by Wojtek Oczkowski. Right: Gandharan relief. Museum für Asiatische Kunst, Berlin, inv. no. I 10198, photograph by Monika Zin with kind permission of Archaeological Survey of India/ Museum für Asiatische Kunst, Berlin.
Left: Nagarjunakonda. Archaeological Site Museum, inv. no. 13, photograph by Wojtek Oczkowski. Right: Gandharan relief. Museum für Asiatische Kunst, Berlin, inv. no. I 10198, photograph by Monika Zin with kind permission of Archaeological Survey of India/ Museum für Asiatische Kunst, Berlin.

Date: 13 November 2015 (Friday)
Time: 18.00–19.00 p.m.
Venue: Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN
Booking details: Open to all, free admission (no booking required)
Organized by: Professor David Park and Dr. Giovanni Verri (The Courtauld Institute of Art)

The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Centre for Buddhist Art and Conservation at The Courtauld and The Sackler Research Forum jointly present a lecture by professor Monika Zin on how the artistic style of Andhra on the Indian continent shaped Gandharan aesthetics and iconography.

Western (particularly Greek) influences on Gandharan art have been discussed in detail by a large number of scholars. However, other influences have not been investigated as thoroughly. This lecture will introduce and consider much less familiar stylistic and iconographic sources that constitute an invaluable body of materials for a more comprehensive interpretation of Gandharan art.

Please join the speaker and other attendees for a reception in the Entrance Hall following the lecture.

About the Speaker

Monika Zin is professor of Indian Art History at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich. She is an expert on Indian and Central Asian art history. Her publications include Mitleid und Wunderkraft. Schwierige Bekehrungen und ihre Ikonographie im indischen Buddhismus (Pity and Miracles. Difficult Conversions and their Iconography in Indian Buddhism) (2006) and Samsaracakra, Das Rad der Wiedergeburten in der indischen Überlieferung (Samsaracakra, the Wheel of Rebirth in Indian Tradition), with Dieter Schlingloff (2007).

What’s Better For Afghanistan’s Future: Buddha Tours Or A Copper Mine?

By the time archaeologists uncovered this statue of the Buddha at Mes Aynak, its head was gone — likely broken off by looters. © Simon Norfolk/National Geographic

By the time archaeologists uncovered this statue of the Buddha at Mes Aynak, its head was gone — likely broken off by looters.
© Simon Norfolk/National Geographic

AUGUST 30, 2015 7:03 AM ET

About an hour’s drive south of Kabul, there’s a vast Buddhist archaeological site dating back at least 1,500 years. It happens to be sitting on top of one of the biggest untapped copper deposits in the world, potentially worth billions of dollars.

Eight years ago, the Afghan government made a deal with a Chinese conglomerate to mine the copper, but mining hasn’t begun and likely won’t for several more years. The area in which the copper is located, Logar Province, presents challenges in both security and infrastructure: no reliable water or power supply, no railway for transporting copper and increasing threats from the Taliban.

The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that Afghanistan holds $1 trillion in mineral wealth but none of it has ever been developed. This could represent a huge and much-needed source of revenue for a country long dependent on foreign aid. But given other countries’ experience with the so-called “resource curse,” concerns have been raised over whether Afghanistan’s natural resources can or will be exploited responsibly. Part of the concern has centered on whether extracting copper at Mes Aynak must result inevitably in the destruction of a spectacular archaeological site that has been compared to Machu Picchu and Pompeii. Historical riches like this, advocates argue, represent a different kind of wealth and could hold the key to a thriving tourism industry in the future.

Nearly a hundred ancient Buddhist shrines like this one have been uncovered by archaeologists at Mes Aynak, south of Kabul. © Simon Norfolk/National Geographic

Nearly a hundred ancient Buddhist shrines like this one have been uncovered by archaeologists at Mes Aynak, south of Kabul.
© Simon Norfolk/National Geographic

Hannah Bloch wrote about Mes Aynak in the September issue of National Geographic magazine and talks to us here. The images in this post are from that issue.

Tourism in Afghanistan?

It may sound far-fetched now, but keep in mind that tourists think nothing of going to Angkor Wat, and Cambodia was completely ravaged by war just a few decades ago. Tourism is big in Vietnam, too. Afghanistan has breathtaking natural beauty and historic sites. Before all the years of conflict that have come to dominate what we think we know of Afghanistan today, the country was a tourist destination for adventure travelers. It was a must-stop on the “hippie trail” as travelers (many in search of cheap drugs) went overland through Asia, and tourists flocked to Bamiyan to see two colossal, sixth-century statues of the Buddha carved into a cliff face. Continue reading