Friday, 4 March 2011

Afghanistan exhibition - British Museum


Today we went to see much-expected Afghanistan exhibition at the British Museum - The hidden treasures of Afghanistan. At the heart of the Silk Road, Afghanistan linked the great trading routes of ancient Iran, Central Asia, India and China, and the more distant cultures of Greece and Rome. The country’s unique location resulted in a legacy of extraordinarily rare objects, which reveal its rich and diverse past. Nearly lost during the years of civil war and later Taliban rule, these precious objects were bravely hidden in 1989 by officials from the National Museum of Afghanistan to save them from destruction. The surviving treasures date from 2000 BC to the 1st century AD and include opulent gold ornaments found at a burial site of a nomadic tribe, to limestone sculptures of a Greek city set up by a former commander of Alexander the Great. The first exhibition of its kind to be seen in the UK in 40 years, this is a unique opportunity to discover the story of Afghanistan’s ancient culture, its immense fragility, and the remarkable dedication shown to its survival and protection.

Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World highlights some of the most important archaeological discoveries from ancient Afghanistan and displays precious and unique pieces on loan from the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul currently undergoing reconstruction. The geographical position, overland connections and history ensured that it was a region which enjoyed close relations with its neighbours in Central Asia, Iran, India and China, as well as more distant cultures stretching as far as the Mediterranean. Bank of America Merrill Lynch is supporting this unique opportunity to see rare treasures of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage in the UK.

The exhibition showcases over 200 stunning objects belonging to the National Museum of Afghanistan, accompanied by selected items from the British Museum. The artefacts range from Classical sculptures, polychrome ivory inlays originally attached to imported Indian furniture, enamelled Roman glass and polished stone tableware brought from Egypt, to delicate inlaid gold personal ornaments worn by the nomadic elite. Together they showcase the trading and cultural connections of Afghanistan and how it benefited from being on an important crossroads of the ancient world.

All of these objects were found between 1937 and 1978 and were feared to have been lost following the Soviet invasion in 1979 and the civil war which followed, when the National Museum was rocketed and figural displays were later destroyed by the Taliban. Their survival is due to a handful of Afghan officials who deliberately concealed them and they are now exhibited here in a travelling exhibition designed to highlight to the international community the importance of the cultural heritage of Afghanistan and the remarkable achievements and trading connections of these past civilisations.

The earliest objects in the exhibition are part of a treasure found at the site of Tepe Fullol which dates to 2000 BC, representing the earliest gold objects found in Afghanistan and how already it was connected by trade with urban civilisations in ancient Iran and Iraq. The later finds come from three additional sites, all in northern Afghanistan, and dating between the 3rd century BC and 1st century AD. These are Ai Khanum, a Hellenistic Greek city on the Oxus river and on the modern border with Tajikistan; Begram, a capical of the local Kushan dynasty whose rule extended from Afghanistan into India; and Tillya Tepe, (“Hill of Gold”), the find spot of an elite nomadic cemetery.

The exhibition truly deserves all of the positive reviews and opinions - I've learned a lot about the history of Afghanistan and although to me it's still a country in a state of war, but also a land with huge cultural heritage.

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