Afghan students learn the centuries-old skills that carved out the giant buddhas blown up by extremists
Under perfectly carved niches that once held dozens of small buddha statues, the purposeful tap of chisel on stone echoed over the Bamiyan valley for the first time in centuries.
Twelve young Afghans had gathered to take the first tentative steps back towards a stone-working tradition that once made their home famous, at a workshop in a cave gouged out as a monastery assembly hall more than 1,000 years ago.
The cave-hall was part of a complex built around two giant buddhas that loomed serenely over Bamiyan for about 15 centuries – until the Taliban government condemned them as un-Islamic in early 2001 and blew them up.
"I was interested in this course because I want to restore our culture," said Ismael Wahidi, a 22-year-old student of archeology at Bamiyan University, who set aside more conventional studies for a week to learn how to turn a lump of stone into a sculpture. Read more.
While everyone else is worrying about Afghanistan’s future, a dedicated band of men and women is gathering up its past, hoping that a growing museum collection will show the world Afghan culture is more sophisticated than the tide of news reports suggest.
Kabul’s rebuilt National Museum, near the haunting remains the bombed-out royal palace, is running out of secure rooms to house centuries-old Buddhas, gold and silver coins from antiquity and other rare artifacts.
Many of the museum’s original pieces were broken, destroyed or stolen during the Taliban era or the civil war that preceded it in the 1990s, but some have been pieced back together and a series of archeological digs have also unearthed new treasures.
Among the fresh discoveries are a wooden Buddha dating back to the fifth century and Buddha heads made of clay and plaster.
They are helping a whole nation slowly rediscover a classical past as a confluence of cultures from India to China and from Iran and central Asia to the East. Read more.
It might be called the battle of the Buddha’s feet, a struggle to rescue one of the great Buddhist sites in Afghanistan.
The deadline has just been cut to a year for a team of Afghan and foreign archaeologists to rescue what they can from the sites of four shrines and temples round Mes Aynak - the Copper Mountain - in the plains of Logar, 25 miles south of Kabul.
The Chinese have signed a 20-year lease to make this the biggest open-cast copper mine in the world outside Africa. They plan to blow up the mountain and what is left of the Buddhist temples, hoping to dig as much as they can of the copper estimated to be worth £45 billion.
Initially, they’re offering £800 million a year for the concession.
It is a race between Afghanistan’s cultural past and commercial future. A team of 32 archaeologists is moving everything it can from the site, rediscovered in the Sixties, rebuilding one of the temples and putting the treasures in a custom-built museum.
They are helped by 900 local Afghan workers. Initially they were given three years, but under pressure from the Chinese, President Karzai has said the conservation must end for the blasting and mining to begin late next year. Read more.