Centuries-old shards of pottery mingle with spent ammunition rounds on
a wind-swept mountainside in northern Afghanistan where French
archaeologists believe they have found a vast ancient city.

For years, villagers have dug the baked earth on the heights of
Cheshm-e-Shafa for pottery and coins to sell to antique smugglers.
Tracts of the site that locals call the "City of Infidels" look like a
battleground, scarred by craters.

But now, tribesmen dig angular trenches and preserve fragile walls,
working as laborers on an excavation atop a promontory. To the north and
east lies an undulating landscape of barren red-tinted rock that was
once the ancient kingdom of Bactria; to the south a still-verdant valley
that leads to the famed Buddhist ruins at Bamiyan.

Roland Besenval, director of the French Archaeological Delegation in
Afghanistan and leading the excavation, is sanguine about his helpers'
previous harvesting of the site. "Generally the old looters make the
best diggers," he said with a shrug.