At the end of the year, state-owned Chinese mining company China Metallurgical Group will take control of an ancient Buddhist city in Afghanistan, Mes Aynak.
Southeast of Kabul, the ancient, abandoned city is home to sculptures, art, and jewelry dating back to the time of Alexander the Great—as well as 5.5 million tonnes of copper ore, one of the world’s largest deposits.
Before China Metallurgical turns the site into a copper mine, a team of understaffed and underfunded archaeologists is scrambling to excavate the area, believed to be one of the most important (pdf) stops along the Silk Road and critical for understanding the spread of Buddhism.
It’s unclear exactly what will become of the area, but given that the company plans to build an open copper mine, most of Mes Aynak and the surrounding mountain range will have to be destroyed.
Experts say a full excavation of the 9,800-acre (4.8 million square-foot) archaeological site would take at least 25 years.
Afghan and Chinese officials aren’t likely to wait that long: China Metallurgical has a 30-year deal with the Afghanistan government, which is desperate for revenues.
“From one side, my people need food. We are poor people. My national budget needs to generate revenue. But on the other side, I have to protect the international heritage,” Nasir Ahmad Durrani, deputy minister of mining told Al Jazeera in June.
Instead, local and international archaeologists have been working on a “rescue excavation” since 2009, hiring locals from nearby Pashtun villages to remove as many valuable artifacts as they can and record on film the existence of structures or items that may not get saved.
Archaeologists are trying to remove stupas, structures, sculptures and painting but say they need specialized equipment and more diggers.
Activists, meanwhile, have been trying to halt the mine, and secure UNESCO protection for the area. Over 50,000 pro-protection signatures were collected and handed to president Hamid Karzai last year, but Afghanistan’s presidential election earlier this year, which has left the country in political paralysis, means there’s no president to lobby now.
Digging for the copper mine was supposed to begin last year, but has been put on hold as China Metallurgical tries to renegotiate parts of the deal, which includes the company building a power plant, processing facility and railway in addition to the mine.
Those negotiations are supposed to resume (paywall) once a new administration is in office, according to the South China Morning Post.
A prolonged audit of the election, and the fact that China Metallurgical has run into problems at home—its deputy chief engineer was dismissed from the communist party in June for “serious disciplinary and legal violations” could buy conservationists a bit more time.
Buddhism’s central figure may have lived more than a century earlier than previously thought.
Excavations at Nepal’s Lumbini pilgrimage center, among Buddhism’s most sacred sites and the birthplace of the Buddha, have revealed what archaeologists are calling the oldest Buddhist shrine in the world.
A wooden structure, hidden beneath the compound’s Maya Devi Temple, may date back to approximately 550 B.C. – a discovery that would push the Buddha’s birthday back by more than a century.
“What we have got is the earliest Buddhist shrine in the world,” said archaeologist Robin Coningham, lead author of the discovery study, according to National Geographic. “The big debate has been about when the Buddha lived and now we have a shrine structure pointing to the sixth century B.C.”
Though many Nepalese Buddhists believe that the Buddha was born in 623 B.C., many religious scholars contend that the Buddha lived and spread his teachings earlier – sometime in the fourth century B.C.
“Previous evidence of Buddhist structures at Lumbini went only as far back as the third century B.C.,” saidNBC News. “The find is likely to add to Lumbini’s archaeological and religious importance as well.”
Lumbini, located in the Rupandehi District of central Nepal near its border with India, was certified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. It is visited by more than one million of the religion’s 500 million global devotees each year.
The ancient timber shrine appears to be the inspiration for the brick Maya Devi Temple built on top of it – something that Coningham says could indicate a continuity of worship at the site. Even more intriguing is that the wooden structure features an open area where a tree once grew. Buddhists believe that their spiritual leader was born under a tree at the sacred Lumbini compound, making the newly discovered temple all the more significant.
OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — A small gesture is making a big impact on one Oakland neighborhood.
When a blocked off street at 11th Avenue and 19th Street in Oakland became a magnet for drug sales and illegal dumping, one neighbor had an inspired idea: he bought a small Buddha statue at an Ace Hardware and placed it in the median.
It’s now become a full-fledged miniature temple drawing dozens of Chinese and Vietnamese neighbors to the site everyday.
And miraculously as the structure grew, crime and blight began disappearing and neighbors who don’t speak the same language became connected.
So when the city decided this was a danger that should be removed, it got a unified response.
“We all worked with the city and were like ‘you better not tear this down, this is something that’s part of our space,’” said neighbor Christina Moicillo.
So far the city has shown an inspired wisdom by allowing the temple to remain.
“It’s people taking initiative and cleaning up our own space,” said Moicillo. “We’re doing it. It’s well-protected …. it’s part of our community now.”
Ironically, the statue was placed by a neighbor who does not practice Buddhism but thought it would help beautify the neighborhood.