At present, excavation of the site is only 10 percent complete and the bulk of the more significant findings would traditionally come to light in the remaining 90 percent of work. But here’s the problem: the remaining 90 percent of excavation would take an estimated 25 to 30 years to complete, while the mine project is slated to begin shortly. While the group initially planned to begin the project this month, Huffman reports that Mes Aynak has received a stay of execution.
“Two things are happening,” he told The Diplomat. “All the bad publicity plus logistical problems are holding up the Chinese project to an extent.” But keeping the project at bay is not a long-term solution, he acknowledged.
““My goal is full preservation of the site,” he said. “Rescue archeology, which is taking place at the site now, is very destructive: breaking structures to get what’s inside, chipping off small pieces of artifacts…While it is good that we are at least doing this, the bigger fight is to get it to become a UNESCO site. That would be the dream situation.”Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Having already produced videos on the story, including this op-ed documentary short for The New York Times, Huffman’s real mission in the Mes Aynak drama is completing a feature-length documentary, funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign, which will explore the unfolding fate of the site from multiple angles. The project is ongoing and Huffman hopes to wrap it by summer’s end. Huffman is sharing 10 percent of the funds raised with the hardworking Afghan archeologists on site at Mes Aynak, who have used the capital to purchase computers, cameras and other equipment.
After its Silk Road apogee, Mes Aynak was abandoned, only to be discovered again in 1963 by a French geologist based in Kabul, who stumbled on its ruins during a survey of the area’s copper deposits. The Marxist coup of 1978, the Saur Communist revolution of 1979, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan conspired to prevent a full investigation of the site.
In recent decades, Mes Aynak has served as an outpost and training ground for al-Qaeda’s fresh recruits. Professional Pakistani art thieves capitalized on the chaos, lifting what appears to have been a massive payload of Gandharan Buddha images from the site. And according to the Journal of Art Crime, Mohammad Atta, 9/11’s lead hijacker, purportedly tried to sell looted artifacts from Afghanistan to a German archaeologist to bankroll his flight training course in Florida.