• By The Financial District

The Taliban May Be Hunting For Afghanistan's Famous Treasure

With the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the country's archaeological remains face a grim future even if the extremist Islamic group decides not to loot or intentionally destroy them, Owen Jarus reported for Live Science.

Photo Insert: Tillya Tepe crown

Some news reports suggest the Taliban are already hunting for one of the country's most famous caches-- the so-called "Bactrian Treasure"— a collection of more than 20,000 artifacts, many made of gold, that was found in 2,000-year-old graves at a site called Tillya Tepe in 1978.

The treasure was kept in the National Museum of Afghanistan and was on display at the presidential palace, but reports indicate that its present location is unknown. There are at least 25,000 archaeological sites in Afghanistan.

Other archaeological remains that could be threatened by the Taliban include Mes Aynak, a Buddhist city that flourished around 1,600 years ago. The city was located along the iconic Silk Road and was used for both trade and worship; numerous ancient Buddhist monasteries and other ancient Buddhist artifacts are buried there.

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, they destroyed many of these Buddhist artifacts, including two massive sixth-century statues known as the "Buddhas of Bamiyan "that were carved into a cliff there. The extremist group used rockets, tank-fired projectiles, and dynamite to take down the towering statues, according to news reports.

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The two giant Buddhas carved into a cliff in Mes Aynak were destroyed by the Taliban at Bamiyan, on March 12, 2002, as they were deemed to be offensive to Islam. At 175 feet (53 meters) and 120 feet (36 m), respectively, the statues were the tallest standing Buddhas in the world.

The future of Mes Aynak looks particularly bleak as sources told Live Science that all the equipment used for excavation and conservation at the site is gone - and the Taliban have been visiting the site for unknown purposes.

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"The situation for cultural heritage is not OK, because right now no one is taking care of the sites and monuments," said Khair Muhammad Khairzada, an archaeologist who led excavations at Mes Aynak.

"All archaeological sites in Afghanistan are [at] risk," said Khairzada, noting that there is "no monitoring, no treatment, and no care, all departments in all province [are] closed, without money and other facilities" that are needed to "take care [of] the sites and monuments."

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Recently, Khairzada was forced to flee to France to escape the Taliban. Khairzada said that all the equipment that they had used for excavation and conservation at Mes Aynak is "gone."

China holds mining rights in the nearby areas and even before the Taliban took over archaeologists feared that parts of the site could be destroyed if it were turned into a mine. After the Taliban took over Kabul they announced that they would seek economic support from China, but it is unclear if China intends to build a mine in the area.


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