Event — IIAS lecture

Recent excavations of the Buddhist remains from Mes Aynak, Afghanistan

Khair Mohammed Khairzada, general director of the Mes Aynak excavations, will talk about the spectacular finds at this huge archaeological site, which include stupas, statues, many wall paintings, five monastic complexes and a commercial centre. With an introduction by Afghanistan expert Willem Vogelsang.

Photo courtesy U.S. Embassy, Kabul, Afghanistan:
The remains of standing figures in a chapel at Tepe Kafiriat in Mes Aynak, Logar Province, Afghanistan.

A lecture by Khair Mohammed Khairzada, Institute of Archaeology, Kabul, and Dr. Willem Vogelsang, IIAS, Leiden.

Since the early nineteenth century, Afghanistan has become known for its Buddhist sites that date back to the early centuries of the modern era. Most famous of all are, or better, were, the two giant Buddha statues in Bamiyan, which were destroyed by the Taliban regime in the spring of 2001. But all over the country, and especially in the east, Buddhist stupas and other remains still crown many hilltops.

Mes Aynak excavation
Archaeological investigations were started again soon after the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, and one of the most spectacular sites is that of Mes Aynak, some 40 km south of the Afghan capital, Kabul. Here the Afghan Institute of Archaeology and the French Archaeological Mission in Afghanistan (DAFA)  have unearthed, since 2009, a huge site of some 40 ha that includes a number of stupas, five monastic complexes, many clay and wooden statues, some of which with the original colours, wall paintings, and a commercial centre. Hundreds of Buddha images were found, including a stone statue of Prince Siddartha.

Copper ore concession
The ancient settlement may have developed mainly because of the large deposits in this area of copper ore, which were mined, and the extracted copper being worked, from an early age. Unfortunately, these copper deposits, which are now known to be the second largest in the world, may also lead to the complete destruction of the ancient site, since the China Metallurgical Group won a concession in late 2007, for thirty years, for a price of some three billion dollar, to extract the copper ore from the area, which now extends over five square km. Provisions were made to carry out further excavations at the site, but it remains to be seen whether these can satisfactorily be concluded before the actual ore extraction will start. 

Khair Mohammed Khairzada is an Afghan archaeologist who in 2007-2008 studied at Leiden University with a grant from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and has since his return to Kabul been mainly involved in the excavations at Mes Aynak. From 2011-2012 he was the acting director of the Afghan Institute of Archaeology, and general director of the Mes Aynak excavations.

Willem Vogelsang has been working, intermittently, in Afghanistan since 1978, when he worked at the ancient site of Old Kandahar, in the south of the country, and which is also crowned by a Buddhist stupa from the mid first millennium. He will provide a brief introduction to the Buddhist remains in Afghanistan, after which Khairzada will talk about the excavations at Mes Aynak.