View Full Version : Culture Clash and Cultural Genocide: the case of the Bamiyan Buddhas

Vesuvian Sky
09-17-2013, 02:20 PM
When Chinese pilgrim Hsuan Tsang arrived in Bamiyan in A.D. 632 he was awed by the sight of two massive statues of Buddha, rising 125 and 180 feet above the rugged valley floor. The statues, situated in niches carved out of the soft sandstone mountain face, were brightly painted and decorated with gold and jewels. They would have been dazzling in the intense sunlight of central Afghanistan. Hsuan Tsang was no less impressed by the 10 monasteries clustered in the surrounding caves and at the feet of the statues, housing more than a thousand Buddhist monks.

The monasteries eventually fell into ruin, a century or two after the arrival of Islam in the eighth century A.D. A series of conquerors—from the feared Mahmoud of Ghazni who forged a vast empire in the area in the eleventh century to Genghis Khan whose armies rampaged through Central Asia—wreaked havoc on the remaining buildings and population. For another thousand years, Muslims, offended by the images of Buddha, defaced the statues and the cave paintings that dot the honeycombed interior of the cliff face. Weather ate away at the statues' surfaces. Despite the abuse, in addition to normal wear and tear, the Buddhas of Bamiyan still dominated the valley.

Then, on March 2, 2001, the Taliban began to fire artillery at the statues. "The artillery probably did little damage," says Brendan Cassar, chief of cultural heritage at UNESCO's Kabul office, of the first Taliban attempts. Only by detonating explosives placed up and down the statues did they succeed in dislodging the Buddhas from their niches. By the end of that month, the 1,500-year-old statues were no more.

In the intervening years since these events, archaeologists and art historians have turned their efforts to studying the rubble left behind for new insights into how and when the statues were created. According to the Technical University...

More can be read here. (http://archive.archaeology.org/1107/trenches/bamiyan_buddha_statues_afghanistan.html)

Vesuvian Sky
09-17-2013, 02:41 PM
Archaeologists have regarded this as a dilemna in preservation often times pointing to this event as underscoring intolerance, zealotry, and the fragility of historical memory.

The issue was also raised that even if these gigantic stones could be blotted from the archaeological record, then what was safe? Another compelling issue raised by archaeologists regards how does the international community's treatment of the statues shape our sense of the future of Afghanistan itself?

A question of stakeholders comes to mind here. Obviously UNESCO and its various NGO partners are some as well as the current Afghan government. Perhaps more immediate are the stakes of those who live closest to Bamiyan. Obviously Buddhist religious practice and history have few links to the contemporary population, and hence the preservationist agenda would almost certainly hold little to no interest for those in closest proximity.

A very idealist archaeolgist posed a universalist position for preservation here stating "that global humanity must celebrate and learn from what are couched as "high points" of social and cultural achievement". But the underlying issue at Bamiyan remains the inability to connect the statues' to the current population.

Ergo, the Bamiyan Buddha statues raise the question as to whether or not there can be a "global" archaeology that transcends both imperialist and nationalist paradigms.

Prisoner Of Ice
09-17-2013, 11:48 PM
It's not the collossus at rhodes but this is more than enough to justify hunting these scumbags down. There's simply no telling how much has been lost over the centuries. It blows my mind the Hittites were basically unknown until recently, when it turns out they were more advanced than the egyptians in most ways.

Vesuvian Sky
09-18-2013, 02:01 AM


A sense of ones' scale:


Destruction of one of the Bamiyan Buddhas, video still, 21 March 2001:


What came after, Skateistan: