The Afghans, today, are predominantly Muslims. But they have been Muslims for only for 1400 years of their 30,000 year old history. From prehistoric sites to proto-historic settlements, Afghanistan lies within the center of the once great, Silk Route.
This history of Afghanistan begins with the conquests of Kanishka the Great, the most glorious king of the Kushan Dynasty of India who was a follower of Buddhism. His military conquests gave him access to some of the most important parts of the trade route of ancient world. According to historians, he is the only Indian king to have ever defeated China in a war and make them agree to the terms he wanted. His empire saw the construction of some of the most amazing and beautiful Buddhist structures in the country of Afghanistan, out of which the Bamiyan Buddhas have been the most famous.
Even though the Bamiyan statues survived the test of time, they lost against the fundamentalism of a few. They statues were demolished by the Taliban in the year 2001. But now, archaeologists aren’t fighting for the statues but a few more important Buddhist sites that still survive in the land of the Afghans.
The ancient city of Samangan was once a hustling bustling town in the midst of the desert. Built on the banks of the river Khulm it was home to more than a hundred monks who lived in a rock cut monastery known as a stupa.
It was in this stupa that the Persian emperor Rustom got married, and that is why it is also known as Takht e Rustom or the Throne of Rustom. Today, this city is in danger of being exploited, not in the name of religion, but in the name of money.
The other important site is the Mes Aynak which was another busy city inhabited by monks. Comprising of multistory monasteries, the Mes Aynak had a copper factory dating back to ancient times.
Today this site in threatened by Chinese investors who have cracked a deal with the Afghan government to extract more than 12.5 million tons of copper which lies underneath. This might put the site in jeopardy and hence archaeologists are urging the Chinese to wait till they dig out all the important artifacts from the city.
We at History All Day hope that the archaeologists are successful, so that we do not lose the last of Afghanistan’s Buddhist heritage to mining and quarrying.