The common image of the Western Front in World War One is of muddy trenches and artillery barrages. That was certainly the experience of most soldiers. But while huge armies slugged it out in the mud and ruin of France and Belgium, another war was going on underground. Sappers from both sides dug tunnels under enemy trenches, packed them with explosives, and blew them up.
The explosions were huge, like this one the British detonated under the German position on Hawthorn Ridge on 1 July 1916. The explosion used 40,000 pounds of high explosives and marked the beginning of the Battle of the Somme.
Sapping was extremely dangerous. Tunnels collapsed or got blown up by enemy mines. Sometimes mines intersected one another and there were hellish fights in the near darkness. Two good fictional portrayals of this war-beneath-a-war are the novel Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks and the Australian film Beneath Hill 60.
Now part of that underground battlefield is being studied by a team of British archaeologists. After detailed research in archives of several nations they’ve pinpointed a network of British and German tunnels under the French town of La Boisselle and have tracked down who fought there and when. They even know where some of these poor fellows got buried alive.
Right now the team is using ground-penetrating radar to map the tunnels and will being excavating in October. Some tunnels can still be entered while others are too unstable or have collapsed. Eventually the site will be opened up as a museum commemorating those who fought underneath the Western Front.
[Photo courtesy UK government]
We all remember the Bamiyan statues, those giant stone Buddhas the Taliban blew up in 2001. One of the 1,500 year-old statues is pictured here. Pictures are all we have left of them.
Now another Buddhist site in Afghanistan is under threat of destruction. This time the danger isn’t the Taliban, but a Chinese mining company. The site of Mes Aynak in eastern Afghanistan was home to a thriving Buddhist monastery in the seventh century. It’s also right next to an abandoned Soviet mine that may have the world’s second-largest reserve of copper. A Chinese mining company has invested $3.5 billion to exploit the mine and Afghan officials are eager for work to get underway.
A team of Afghani archaeologists is busy excavating the site and has found an entire monastery complex with more than 150 statues. They were originally given three years, a woefully inadequate length of time for a team of barely forty people, and now they’re being pressured to finish by the end of this year. The archaeologists fear that once the miners move in, the monastery will get wrecked.
The mine will bring much-needed jobs and wealth to Afghanistan, which is also courting adventure tours, so the in the rush to yank copper out of their land they might want to think about preserving some of their past.
[Photo courtesy Marco Bonavoglia via Wikimedia Commons]
More and more adventure travelers are discovering Namibia, a nation in southwest Africa that offers deserts, beaches, safaris, and hikes. Unfortunately this rise in tourism has led to a rise in tourist scams. Namibia’s Mines and Energy Minister, Isak Katali, has warned miners to stop selling fake gems and minerals to tourists. Mining is big in the country, and many miners are independent prospectors who scratch out a difficult and hazardous living from the rock.
One way to make extra money is to sell their finds to tourists. This has proved too tempting for some, and they’re using their specialized knowledge, and the average tourist’s cluelessness, to fob off colored glass as precious stone. While most miners are honest, buying minerals and gems in Namibia has become a tricky game. Mr. Katali says this has already hurt tourism and the country’s reputation.
Namibia is certainly not the only country where cheap imitations are fobbed off to unsuspecting visitors. People will fake pretty much anything if they think it will sell. When visiting the ancient oasis city of Palmyra in Syria, I was offered a “genuine Roman coin” made of aluminum! Back in 2008, Italian police broke up a gang selling fake Ferraris.
Have you ever bought something overseas only to discover later it was a fake? Share your tale of woe in the comments section!
[Image courtesy Arpingstone]