Monday, November 15, 2010

Archaeology vs. Development in Afghanistan: Bamiyan, Capitalist-Style

A major and largely unexcavated Buddhist site in Afghanistan, Mes Aynak, whose importance is comparable to that of Bamiyan, is being frantically studied by archaeologists to see what can be salvaged before the site is destroyed by a gigantic copper-mining operation. The Chinese government-run mining group is investing $3.5 billion, with the Afghan government standing to reap $1.2 billion per year, according to this article.  (That's in addition, one supposes, to the $880 million before production reported by the Wall Street Journal). Either way, it is big money. Only 18 archaeologists -- 16 Afghans and 2 Frenchmen -- are working the one square mile site with a few dozen laborers, an area that would normally need 100 laborers and several dozen archaeologists. The hoped-for budget for this minimal team? Only $10 million, of which the Afghan government has allotted $2 million. The US has promised funding but not said how much.

So to summarize: a major site is going to be destroyed after a totally inadequate salvage archaeological project, because the $20-30 million needed to do the job properly is not even going to be asked for, even though the profits following the site's destruction are going to be billions upon billions. The Afghan government should be going back to the Chinese and demanding that the costs of a fullbore salvage operation be covered, and the US government should be working the problem. Are we? Or does the prospect of destroying the equivalent of Bamiyam not matter when development rather than fanaticism is the motivation?

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