Speaking Event: The Buddhist Site of Mes Aynak, Afghanistan

When & Where
Institute of East Asian Studies, UC Berkeley
2223 Fulton Sreet
Berkeley, CA 94720
February 20, 2014 - 5:00pm


Zemaryalai Tarzi, Professor Emeritus, Strasbourg University, France

The site of Mes Aynak, Afghanistan, consists of an ensemble of ancient Buddhist settlements presently threatened by the modern exploitation of an adjacent copper mine by a joint Chinese-Afghan venture. The Buddhist art of Mes Aynak has been the object of meticulous attention by archaeologists and art historians, and several monastic settlements and hundreds of sculptures have been excavated. Stylistically, it is closely linked to the Kabul-Kapisa schools of art and, in a broader sense, is in keeping with the Central Asian art of the Hindukush, such as that of Hadda and Gandhara.

Although the chronology of the Buddhist settlements has yet to be determined, most of the monuments seem to date from the reign of the Kushano-Sassanids and the Hephthalites. However, to date no palace or administrative buildings have been unearthed, making it difficult to assign the site to a particular period of dynastic rule. One possibility is that Mes Aynak was managed by an independent commercial Buddhist brotherhood that had a monopoly on the copper, gold and glass mines. In this regard, it is interesting to note that the most impressive buildings are monastic.

Zemaryalai Tarzi, Professor Emeritus at Strasbourg University, is currently President of the Association for the Protection of Afghan Archaeology (APAA), the Director of the DIRI/APAA Mes Aynak Mission, Director for the French Excavations at Bamiyan, and a member of the UMR 7044 at the CNRS (MICHA-Strasbourg). Born in Kabul in 1939, Professor Tarzi has devoted his life to the protection and preservation of the archaeological heritage of Afghanistan, working as former Director for the Archaeology and Conservation of Historical Monuments of Afghanistan, as well as the former Director General for the Archaeology Institute of Afghanistan. He is the author of three theses and hundreds of articles and books.