By Kayla Stoner
For years, people around the world have recognized Afghanistan for the natural resources hidden underground. However many Americans, and even Afghans, are unaware of the cultural resources that reside next to the copper and oil mines beneath the land’s surface. Ancient Buddhist relics lie hidden beneath the dirt in the Logar province of Afghanistan, a region known primarily for its violent association with the Taliban.
Assistant Professor Brent Huffman set out to expose the little-known cultural treasure through film. He traveled to the province on the first of three trips in July and returns having seen only a portion of the history at stake if copper mining continues its current trajectory.
“About 90 percent [of the artifacts] are still underground,” he says, “so there’s this huge wealth of cultural relics still underground and is potentially going to be destroyed, so archeologists are kind of scrambling.”
Huffman first became aware of the situation from an article in The New York Times. He says Chinese officials paid only $2.5 billion for the more than $100 billion worth of copper in the Logar region. They’re now giving archeologists less than a year to extract the ancient relics before they begin mining. The preservation process is difficult, he says, because some of the artifacts are too large to move.
The mining site will displace modern culture as well. Abundant resources in the country mean sites are large and will dot the countryside. Entire villages will be relocated while copper is extracted from beneath Afghans’ former homes.
“There are so many complexities to this story, so many layers,” Huffman says.
His goal is to reveal each of those layers in a long-form documentary. On his July trip, Huffman only had the opportunity to speak with archeologists and Afghan people. His next trip will focus on the story from Chinese stakeholders. Huffman expects to return to Afghanistan in the fall or spring with a Mandarin speaker to aid him in interviews with Chinese officials.
Securing such interviews and traveling to the mining site in one of the most dangerous provinces in Afghanistan carries great risk. On roads peppered with landmines and explosives, Huffman says he tried to stay safe by “looking local.” He rode to the site in local taxis and pickup trucks.
“The more they are aware of you, the more you stand out, the more risk you’re taking,” he says.
However, he says the risk is worth preserving the “breathtaking, Indiana Jones-like” site, at least in film.