THE gold still glistened after a more than 1,000 years underground; the gemstones glinted at their first touch of sunlight, undimmed by a millennium in the dirt.
“It’s a necklace,” said a Polish archaeologist breathless with excitement. “They’ve found a gold necklace!”
As the fine grey sand of Afghanistan’s sun-bleached mountains was gently sieved away, there was treasure in the pan: tiny golden orbs adorned with even smaller gold beads, tulip-shaped pendants no bigger than a fingernail, red gemstones and swirling gold bowls, like acorn lids.
Next to them were two spoons and a brooch made of copper, green from corrosion, and two copper hairpins embellished with gold.
Excavations at Mes Aynak have already unearthed three Buddhist monasteries and an ancient copper mine replete with statues, coins, reliefs and murals – which is more than enough to secure its place as one of the most significant archaeological digs in a generation.
Yet last week’s discovery was the first time since archaeologists started work in 2009 that anyone has found jewellery in the mountains, 35km south of Kabul, and with at least three more monasteries still to be explored, Afghan officials hope the discoveries will elevate Mes Aynak into the archaeological pantheon, alongside Tillya Tepe, home of the Bactrian hoard. Read more.