archaeology

Watch the “Saving Mes Aynak” official trailer

I’ve talked here before about Brent E. Huffman’s film, Saving Mes Aynak, the making of which Wildmind helped sponsor. Mes Aynak is a unique archaeological site: an abandoned Buddhist city in Afghanistan, where priceless relics have been unearthed. Unfortunately a Chinese mining consortium plans to destroy the entire site in order to mine for copper. This is equivalent to Greece bulldozing classical buildings like the Parthenon.

Saving Mes Aynak follows archaeologist Qadir Temori as he races against time to save this 5,000-year-old Buddhist archeological site from imminent demolition. So far only 10% of Mes Aynak has been excavated, though, and some believe that future discoveries there have the potential to redefine the history of Afghanistan and the history of Buddhism itself.

This brief trailer gives just a flavor of some of the precious finds that have been excavated from Mes Aynak.

According to the Saving Mes Aynak Indiegogo fundraising page:

The only way for Mes Aynak to be saved is if the Afghan government intervenes, halts mining, and officially petitions to UNESCO to make Mes Aynak a World Heritage Site. Only the Afghan government can approach UNESCO.

Through our film Saving Mes Aynak, our major goal is to raise mass awareness of the impending demolition, creating an international movement to put pressure on the mining company, the Afghanistan government, and UNESCO to make Mes Aynak a World Heritage Site.

This is the ONLY WAY to #SAVEMESAYNAK.

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We can save a precious Buddhist archaeological site!

Brent Huffman, who travelled to Afghanistan to film the desperate efforts by archaeologists to document the ancient city of Mes Aynak before it turns into a Chinese-funded open-cast copper mine, wrote today to point out these new artifacts, which were recently unearthed:

The unheard-of level of preservation on discoveries just like this is one of the many reasons why Mes Aynak provides such a unique insight into Buddhism and Afghanistan’s past. This historical treasure must be protected and preserved!

Mes Aynak (“little copper well” in Pashto) is a mountainous site in the Taliban-controlled Logar Province, Afghanistan, 25 miles southeast of Kabul near the Pakistan border. Mes Aynak contains the ancient remains of a 2,000-year-old Buddhist city, on top of a 5,000-year-old Bronze Age site. Massive, at nearly 500,000 sq. meters, this historic Buddhist city contains dozens of unique and never-before-seen stupas and temples, thousands of artifacts, and around 600 large Buddha statues – similar to those destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 at Bamiyan.

These archaeologists working at Mes Aynak risk their lives daily to discover and protect the priceless cultural heritage found at the site. Learn more about the sacrifices they make in our new video, featuring footage from “Saving Mes Aynak”. Please help by sharing their story, and the story of Mes Aynak.

Please do contribute to Saving Mes Aynak’s Indiegogo fundraiser, which will go towards advocacy and education in order to build a strong international case for saving the city,

Also please sign the change.org petition in order to pressure the Afghan government to reconsider its decision regarding Mes Aynak, and a separate petition to ask UNESCO to add Mes Aynak to a list of endangered sites.

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Mummified monk found inside Chinese buddha statue

Irish Archaeology: A remarkable study carried out recently in the Netherlands has revealed that a Chinese’s Buddha statue actually contains the remains of a mummified monk. The statue dates from c. 1050-1150 AD and is believed to hold the body of a Chinese Buddhist master, Liuquan.

The study of the mummy was carried out under the supervision of Erik Bruijn, an expert in the field of Buddhist art and culture and guest curator at the World Museum in Rotterdam. He was aided by a team of medics including Reinoud Vermeijeden, a …

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“New” Buddha statues discovered in Afghanistan

The Taliban may have destroyed the two historic Buddha statues of Bamiyan, but in a sort of compensation, three new statues have been excavated by Afghan archaeologists in the historic city of Mes Aynak. These aren’t giant sculptures, like the ones at Bamiyan were, but they’re still life size and one has escaped damage by looters.

The earliest Buddhist remains in the city are almost 2,000 years old. Mes Aynak, an important stop on the Silk Road, was at the peak of its prosperity between the fifth and seventh centuries. It went into decline in the eighth century and the settlement was finally abandoned 200 years later.

The Buddhist ruins were scheduled to be destroyed at the end of July 2012 for the purposes of mining copper, but for reasons that include political instability, this has been delayed, although the destruction may take place later this year.

Wildmind helped sponsor the making of a documentary, Saving Mes Aynak, by Brent E. Huffman, showing the work that archaeologists are undertaking in order to retrieve as much as possible of the ancient city’s precious past.

You can help save priceless discoveries like these by buying a limited-edition film poster today. The proceeds of these poster sales go to Afghan archaeologists working at Mes Aynak.

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“Journeys on the Silk Road” by Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters

journeys-on-the-silk-roadMarc Aurel Stein was a superstar of his time. When he returned from the Taklamakan and Gobi desert in central Asia after a successful expedition that lasted from 1906 to 1908, weighed down with treasure in the form of ancient documents, the newspapers in London were full of his exploits. Today, almost nobody has heard of him. I certainly hadn’t until I read Journeys on the Silk Road by Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters. Morgan and Walters have travelled from their native Australia to England, Wales, India and China in order to retell Stein’s story and that of the document most associated with his explorations: the Diamond Sutra from the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas — the oldest printed and dated document in the world.

The book can be read from a number of different points of view. One such perspective is the insight into the last hurrah of colonial exploration, which Morgan and Walters call The Great Race. The first third of the book introduces us to a Stein who is always looking over his shoulder looking for signs of his French, German and Russian rivals, as he struggles first with bureaucracy and then with the desert to reach his goal before they do. He has heard rumours of a store of ancient texts in a long-forgotten waypoint on the Silk Road, and wants to claim them for his adopted England (Stein is Hungarian-born but became a citizen of the United Kingdom). Stein’s ambition and single-mindedness typify the attitude of the Western powers of that time towards the cultural heritage of the rest of the world.

Title: Journeys on the Silk Road
Author: Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters
Publisher: Lyons Press
ISBN: 978-0762782970
Available from: Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

Another way to read the book is as a story of Stein, the man. But we are only offered glimpses of him. He is somebody who lived for the adventure of travel, competition and discovery. He was meticulous in his preparations, dapper in his appearance, frugal in his lifestyle, but prone to taking unnecessary risks with his own life and the lives of those in his pay. He wrote an enormous number of letters and multi-volume books recounting his expeditions, but he seems to have hidden himself behind an official language of reserve and distance. For example, on the return leg of the Diamond Sutra expedition, he lost a number of toes due to frostbite (the result of an unplanned detour up a snowy peak). His letters from his sick-bed were written with a stiff upper lip that would have impressed any natural-born Englishman, but there are indications from other sources of a deep and lasting suffering on Stein’s part. Another example of his tendency to whitewash is the fact that he never wrote of his fourth and failed expedition to the Chinese desert. In many ways it would have been more interesting for its depiction of the changing times and the end of the Great Race, but for Stein it was something to be hidden from view. Stein was a lifelong bachelor, and although he struck up some important friendships with men he worked with, there is no insight into whether those relationships were built on anything other than a shared interest in adventure.

One issue occurs to the reader before the authors eventually explicitly deal with it — the ethical considerations of what Stein and others like him were doing. In today’s China, he is remembered as a ignoble thief who bribed and cajoled the monk in charge of the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas until he got the documents he wanted. Note that Stein understood very little about the contents of what he discovered and it was ironically his French rival who was engaged to analyze the texts once they were back in London, that first appreciated the significance of the Diamond Sutra. But it could also be said that even if this was a typical cultural smash-and-grab of its time, the alternatives might have been worse. Once word of the find reached Beijing, those documents that remained behind were ordered to be sent to the capital. But they were inexpertly packed for their journey and fell foul of the dampness of the climate outside their desert cave home, as well as falling into the wrong hands as they made their long trip. If Stein was a thief, perhaps he was the right thief at the right time.

What we can say about him with some amount of confidence is that he was a fascinating if not always very likeable person who seems to have been driven by a thirst for adventure and a desire for recognition.

A third key to this book is the Diamond Sutra itself. Each chapter in the book begins with a quote from this Buddhist text — a nice idea, but in the end it felt a bit contrived as I didn’t see how the quotes had an immediate relevance to the contents of the chapters. However, the history and significance of the Diamond Sutra are dealt with well, and would certainly provided a good overview to a reader (like me) who has very little knowledge of Buddhist scripture. The authors look into the distant past with a discussion of how the script might have come to be in the caves and the historic figures associated with it. And they zoom forward to the present day, describing how the Sutra is being preserved and digitized, and even going so far as to interview the 14th Dalai Lama on the contents and importance of the Diamond Sutra.

The Diamond Sutra famously ends with a verse about impermanence:

All conditioned dharmas
Are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, or shadows;
Like drops of dew, or flashes of lightning;
Thusly should they be contemplated.

Morgan and Walters point out the positive irony in the fact that a document that teaches impermanence has survived so long, against so many odds, and is now safer than ever and available to the world through the internet.

In summary, the book was not what I was expecting. I had ideas of fast-paced adventure and breathless story-telling. But Stein was no Indiana Jones, and the book itself is not written in a style that sweeps the reader along. The subject, however is undeniably fascinating and the book is well researched. The authors don’t intrude with their judgements on Stein and his times, but instead outline the facts, present the various arguments, and allow the reader to draw their own conclusions. I recommend it to readers interested in the historic context and also to those intrigued by the Diamond Sutra itself.

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Temporary reprieve for the threatened ‘Buddhas of Mes Aynak’

We’ve had some great news from Brent Huffman, who ran a Kickstarter campaign, raising funds to finish a documentary on the Buddhas of Mes Aynak. Mes Aynak is an ancient Buddhist city in Afghanistan, which was scheduled to be destroyed about now in order to construct a copper mine that’s being built by the Chinese.

Here’s what Brent had to say:

Due to the success of our international campaign that reached out to the US including the Smithsonian and State Department, Thailand and other Asian countries, South American, Canada, Europe, etc., the Ministry of Mines in Afghanistan is FINALLY recognizing the importance of the ancient Buddhist site and is paying attention.

Archaeologists, who have been doing INCREDIBLE work at Mes Aynak, now have 6-9 more months to continue rescue excavation. During this time they can save movable relics and artifacts.

The bad news is that Mes Aynak will STILL BE DESTROYED in 2014. So we still have our work cut out for us. The documentary should be complete in late March/April, so it should have maximum impact to help save the site when it airs.

Here is an updated list of news stories about the film:

I will be making a donation of 10% of the Kickstarter money to Afghan archeologists sometime during this month as soon as I receive the funds. This money will be used to buy necessary equipment like cameras and computers.

Also, check out the new poster design by Wendy Tay.

To keep in the loop on current developments in this project, please like our Facebook page here.

Thanks again for all the continued support! Let’s save Mes Aynak in 2013!!!

Best,

-Brent Huffman

Wildmind is proud to be a contributor to the film’s Kickstarter project, and will be on the credits. More importantly, though, there’s a precious opportunity to document the artefacts of Mes Aynak, and possibly to put further pressure on the Afghan and Chinese governments in order to preserve the entire site.

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Ancient Buddhas, modern peril

Andrew Lawler, New York Times: When the Taliban blasted the famous Bamiyan Buddhas with artillery and dynamite in March 2001, leaders of many faiths and countries denounced the destruction as an act of cultural terrorism. But today, with the encouragement of the American government, Chinese engineers are preparing a similar act of desecration in Afghanistan: the demolition of a vast complex of richly decorated ancient Buddhist monasteries.

The offense of this Afghan monument is not idolatry. Its sin is to sit atop one of the world’s largest copper deposits.

The copper at the Mes Aynak mine, just an hour’s drive south of Kabul, is …

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Ancient site needs saving not destroying

Brent Huffman, CNN: Please bear with me as I ask you to briefly use your imagination. Close your eyes. Imagine Machu Picchu at dawn cloaked in fog. Now imagine the fog slowly lifting to reveal an enormous ancient city perched on the edge of a mountain.

Picture a sense of mystery being immersed in thousands of years of history as you walk between antiquated hewn stone structures. There is tranquility in the wind-blown stillness of the primeval site. You feel a renewed sense of kinship with the past and with your ancestors and feel a deep reverence for their lives and accomplishments …

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Pakistan struggles with smuggled Buddhist relics

Sebastian Abbot, AP: Lacking the necessary cash and manpower, Pakistan is struggling to stem the flow of millions of dollars in ancient Buddhist artifacts that looters dig up in the country’s northwest and smuggle to collectors around the world.

The black market trade in smuggled antiquities is a global problem that some experts estimate is worth billions of dollars per year. The main targets are poor countries like Pakistan that possess a rich cultural heritage but don’t have the resources to protect it.

The illicit excavations rob Pakistan of an important potential source of tourism revenue, as valuable icons are spirited out of …

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Buddhist statue with Nazi connections discovered to be made from a meteorite

It sounds like an artifact from an Indiana Jones film; a 1000 year-old ancient Buddhist statue which was first recovered by a Nazi expedition in 1938 has been analysed by scientists and has been found to be carved from a meteorite. The findings, published in Meteoritics and Planetary Science, reveal the priceless statue to be a rare ataxite class of meteorite.

The statue, known as the Iron Man, weighs 10kg and is believed to represent a stylistic hybrid between the Buddhist and pre-Buddhist Bon culture that portrays the deity Vaiśravana, the Buddhist King of the North, also known as Kuberu, and as Jambhala in Tibet.

The statue was discovered in 1938 by an expedition of German scientists led by renowned zoologist Ernst Schäfer. It is unknown how the statue was discovered, but it is believed that the large swastika carved into the centre of the figure may have encouraged the team to take it back to Germany. Once it arrived in Munich it became part of a private collection and only became available for study following an auction in 2009.

The first team to study the origins of the statue was led by Dr Elmar Buchner from Stuttgart University. The team was able to classify it as an ataxite, a rare class of iron meteorite with high contents of nickel.

“The statue was chiseled from an iron meteorite, from a fragment of the Chinga meteorite which crashed into the border areas between Mongolia and Siberia about 15.000 years ago. “While the first debris was officially discovered in 1913 by gold prospectors, we believe that this individual meteorite fragment was collected many centuries before”, said Dr Buchner.

Meteorites inspired worship from many ancient cultures ranging from the Inuit’s of Greenland to the aborigines of Australia. Even today one of the most famous worship sites in the world, Mecca in Saudi Arabia, is based upon the Black Stone, believed to be a stony meteorite. Dr Buchner’s team believe the Iron Man originated from the Bon culture of the 11th Century. “The Iron Man statue is the only known illustration of a human figure to be carved into a meteorite, which means we have nothing to compare it to when assessing value,” said Dr Buchner. “Its origins alone may value it at $20,000; however, if our estimation of its age is correct and it is nearly a thousand years old it could be invaluable”

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