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One Belt, One Road—is China’s new Silk Road project threatening archaeological sites?

Mes Aynak, Afghanistan

China has embarked on an extensive economic development initiative that primarily would connect Asia and Europe through various trade policies, infrastructure investments, real estate deals, and commodities. Known previously as the One Belt and One Road Initiative, and recently shortened to Belt and Road Initiative, the proposals involve six primary corridors, effectively building off the idea of the Ancient Silk Road. As such, extensive development is being planned for places that contain numerous archaeological sites of ancient civilizations, including settlements, trading centers, and resource extraction sites. The initiative even includes a maritime version called the Maritime Silk Road.

One major site that has received a great deal of attention for several reasons is Mes Aynak, which is located in Afghanistan approximately 25 miles southeast of the capital of Kabul. This ancient Bronze Age site, situated on the Ancient Silk Road, contains Buddhist temples and an extensive monastery complex overlaying the largest copper deposit in Afghanistan. The Chinese government obtained a mining lease in 2007 (the China Metallurgical Group is the official lease holder) but delayed preparation of its secretive environmental plan for the site. (The 2011 photo of Mes Aynak above by Didier Tais is shared here under CC By-SA 3.0)

Archaeologists and other scholars of the ancient world have responded with great alarm at the devastation development of the mine would cause to the Bronze Age archaeological site. In 2010 and 2011 emergency rescue excavations were conducted and in 2012 an international conference resulted in some good news, noting that the 5-year lead time required for the Chinese interests to develop the mining operation provided time for archaeologists to study the site. Both the World Bank and the US Embassy in Kabul have provided support, and an international team of archaeologists lead primarily by the French have had the opportunity to conduct extensive excavations. Site security, however, is still difficult due to the continued presence of the Taliban.

For more information on Mes Aynak, the Bronze Age site, and the status of the mining development, visit the following links.

China Pressuring Pakistan on Terrorism?

By Arushi Kumar

The Diplomat

September 17, 2017

Afghanistan: New Security Dilemma

Dr Muhammad Khan

Pakistan Observer

October 3, 2017

Government approves 20 contracts worth 2.3 billion Afghanis

By Khaama Press

September 26, 2017

For more background, read

The Story Behind China’s Long-Stalled Mine in Afghanistan

By Mohsin Amin

The Diplomat

January 7, 2017

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