The way monasteries are arrayed around the city and mine creates almost a wall around the site, which almost suggests a type of military activity, too, which would be a previously unknown role for monks.
The success of the project from a scientific and economic standpoint is becoming a positive lesson for the Afghan population and once-skeptical officials in the government, who thought the archaeological efforts would slow the mine and cause problems. Instead they’ve pumped money into the local economy, improved security and made it clear that such work can coexist well with economic development projects.
It’s also showing that even projects unrelated to mines may have big benefits for local communities, Marquis said.
It seems unlikely, he said, that the Afghan government will stop work on the excavation without any mining. That not only would trigger an international uproar but also would make hundreds of workers jobless, a major security issue. Many workers here already acknowledge that they were part of a rocket attack last August that was staged to protest the destruction of villages that sat atop the mine, Marquis said. Their hostility, however, has turned into enthusiasm now that they’ve been hired on.
The plan is to remove all the artifacts, even the largest statues and the domed shrines called stupas. For now, some statues are being stored in shipping containers at the site, and some have been sent to the national museum in Kabul. Afghan officials hope to build a museum just north of Mes Aynak.
Marquis said it was possible that time wasn’t the major challenge now.
"Our biggest problem has become the long-term conservation of all these things that are being saved," he said. "We need to work on a plan for what to do with them."