Copper Mining Threatens Afghan Buddhas

The World

A gold-plated seated Buddha overlooks the MCC mine. (Photo: Brent E. Huffman)

For our Geo Quiz picture a golden Buddha sitting atop a mountain of copper. We're looking one of the largest underground copper deposits in the world. It's in an eastern province of Afghanistan southeast of Kabul. A Chinese company has purchased the right to mine the site. And cash strapped Afghanistan stands to reap billions of dollars in revenue from the deal. But there's a hitch. There's an ancient Buddhist monastery there and the site is full of centuries old Buddha statues and artifacts. Mining operations threaten all of them, and archaeologists are scrambling to save what they can. So which is more important? The copper representing Afghanistan's economic potential – or the Buddhas representing its cultural heritage? For now just tackle this simpler question: Name the site where ancient Buddhas may soon be destroyed by a copper mine that's set to start operations in December. The answer is Mes Aynak in Afghanistan's Logar Province where there's an ancient Buddhist monastery — full of thousands of years old Buddha statues and artifacts. But copper mining operations threaten all of them, and archeologists are scrambling to save what they can. Documentary filmaker and journalist Brent Huffman says the value of the ancient cultural heritage is greater than any economic promise to Afghanistan of mining the copper.