An Ancient City in Jeopardy: Saving Mes Anyak

Saving Mes Anyak, a brilliant, upsetting, life-affirming film by Brent Huffman released at the close of 2014, charts the attempt by Afghan, French, Swedish and British archaeologists and labourers to uncover and preserve an ancient city in the face of tremendous adversity (to put it very, very mildly), and focuses in particular on the heroic local archaeologist, Qadir Temori. Mes Anyak, situated in a stark, mountainous landscape in the troubled Logar province, 40 km southeast of Kabul, was once a wealthy Buddhist city the size of Pompeii, brimming with monasteries and stupas adorned with stucco relief sculptures of the Buddha depicted on various stages of his journey towards nirvana. Most of the monuments date to sometime between the 3rd and 8th centuries CE, though the history of the settlement goes back much further. Ancient Silk Road routes once led from the city, which formed part of ancient Gandhara, to modern-day Pakistan, India, China and Iran, making it a lively trading hub. Its location on the busy trade route also informed its artistic production, drawing influences from far and wide.

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Photo credit: Simon Norfolk

In 2007, Mes Anyak and its environs were purchased by a Chinese metallurgical mining company who made a ‘generous’ concession to the Afghan government by allowing excavations to continue for a set period of time. In due course they plan to blow up the ancient city complete with undiscovered secrets and priceless antiquities – despite there being less destructive methods of mining. Ironically, it was the presence of copper that attracted the Buddhists to the area in the first place, and now it is the copper that is expected to spell the end for Mes Anyak. This is not the only challenge that the archaeologists led by Temori face. They receive regular death threats from the Taliban and make an extraordinarily dangerous daily commute from Kabul to the site. Their determination to save their heritage is really inspiring and demonstrates how important tangible, artistic history is for us, and for our sense of belonging and self-worth.

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Photo credit: Simon Norfolk

Many of the finds from Mes Anyak have been transferred to the National Museum of Kabul, but due to space shortages, much is left on site in makeshift sheds. Hopefully these historically important and fascinating artefacts will be digitalised soon, so that we can all enjoy them.

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~ by laxshmirose on April 26, 2018.

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