In 2011 a major exhibition came from Afghanistan to the British Museum in London, although I didn’t see it. However, I recently came across the exhibition catalogue in a charity shop, and was stunned by the beautiful photographs in it.

On display, and pictured in the book, were objects from over 2000 years of history, found at four historical sites in Afghanistan, which was a major location along ancient trading routes.

Most fascinating to me were the images of artifacts recovered in 1978 from the ‘Bactrian Hoard’ at Tilya Tepe in northern Afghanistan, where six nomads were found buried alongside their possessions. But war broke out in the same year, and these items were confirmed to have survived the ensuing decades of repeated conflict only in the early 2000s, after the Taliban had been routed. You can get an idea of the opulence and craftmanship of the haul from the picture below, of a gold belt buckle from the 1st century BCE, which was found buried alongside its owner, and which brilliantly depicts a carriage driven by dragons:

Other treasures include a gold ram that may have been used as a head ornament, a wide variety of ornate gold jewellery, pendants fashioned from fossilized shark’s teeth and soles made from thin sheets of gold, and thought to signify high status – an aristocratic way of life meant that your feet rarely touched the ground, living mounted on horseback or seated on carpets.

It is a miracle that these things have survived. I hope that with the return in 2021 of the Taliban regime, which in 1996-2001 led to a draconian interpretation of Islam and the destruction of works of art depicting any living being (and the banning of television), the security of these historical treasures is not threatened. Many remember the destruction of the enormous 6th century Bamiyan Buddhas. For now, at least, the National Museum of Afghanistan is open, and the Taliban pledged in August 2021 to protect it and the cultural heritage it contains.

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