Monday, January 30, 2012

Treasures from the National Museum of Afghanistan on View at the British Museum

Treasures from the National Museum of Afghanistan on View at the British Museum

A 1st century AD Roman Egyptian enameled glass goblet discovered in Begram, Afghanistan, is seen on display in an exhibition entitled 'Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World', at the British Museum in London, Tuesday, March 1, 2011. The exhibition is showcasing over 200 objects belonging to the National Museum of Afghanistan which is currently undergoing reconstruction and accompanied by selected items from the British Museum. AP Photo/Sang Tan.

By: Jill Lawless, Associated Press

LONDON (AP).- The British Museum's latest exhibition displays ancient artifacts in gold, glass, stone and ivory from Afghanistan, a country whose fortune, and curse, has long been to lie at a crossroads of cultures, traders, artists and armies.

That these objects have survived for thousands of years is remarkable. That they have survived the last three decades of Soviet invasion, civil war, Taliban vandalism and continuing conflict seems little short of a miracle.

The items in this touring show, whose London leg was being opened Tuesday by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, were thought lost in the destruction of the National Museum of Afghanistan in the 1990s. In fact, they had gone underground, hidden away just before the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 by museum staff, who kept the secret, despite personal risk, during the years of Taliban rule.

"Many times they brought forces to the National Museum (to ask) 'Where are these artifacts?'" said Abdul Wasey Feroozi of Afghanistan's institute of archaeology. "We said, 'We don't know.' Nobody gave answers to anybody about where these objects were."

Seventy percent of the museum's artifacts were wrecked or looted during the post-Soviet chaos or destroyed by the fundamentalist Taliban, who demolished much of the country's pre-Islamic art in the belief that it was idolatrous.

But two years after the Taliban regime was toppled by a U.S.-led 2001 invasion, Karzai announced that six safes full of objects had been found in an underground vault in the grounds of the presidential palace. When archeologists and museum curators cut into the cases with circular saws, they found a treasure trove — 22,000 gold items from a 2,000-year-old nomadic burial ground, some of which form the climax of the current exhibition.

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