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Bactrian Gold Makes International Debut in France

Paris 's Guimet Museum of Asian art has become the first international museum to exhibit ancient Afghanistan’s fabled Bactrian gold. These ancient treasures resurfaced three years ago, after longstanding fears that they had been lost to the world. More than 220 pieces from the Afghan National Museum will go on display in an exhibit including numerous pieces from the 2,000-year-old Bactrian collection and numerous masterpieces of gold and ivory that have never been seen in public. France’s strong archeological relationship with Afghanistan helped secure its nomination to be the first country to show the famous artifacts.

These priceless items were thought to be lost for decades, until the former curators of the Afghan National Museum came forward in 2002 and revealed that, fearing looting, they had hidden away these treasures during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The National Geographic Society and the National Endowment for the Humanities traveled to Afghanistan in 2003 to inventory over 22,000 objects which dated back hundreds, even thousands of years.


The Bactrian Treasure is stored in the central bank vaults in Afghanistan’s presidential palace. The full collection comprises around 21,600 pieces -- more than 20,000 of them in gold, including figurines of beasts, jewelry and gem-encrusted scabbards.

Visitors to the Guimet Museum can view these glittering gold pieces that are a testament to Afghanistan's rich history and culture: brilliant medallions of Athena and Aphrodite, magnificent adornments showing cherubs riding dolphins, a panther mauling an antelope, a gold dagger with a Siberian bear carved on the handle, and a pair of turquoise-encrusted, gold boot buckles, each with a chariot covered by a parasol being pulled by a dragon, among others.

The display of these items is a testament to the courage and sacrifice of the Afghan people. During the decades of war in Afghanistan, museum guards and curators transfered the most valuable items to secret hiding places around Kabul. In these dark days, the National Museum was rocketed numerous times, looted by guerrilla groups and finally visited in 2001 by Taliban and al-Qaeda members who smashed its statues with sledgehammers. UNESCO estimates that 70 percent of the museum's 100,000 artifacts were stolen or destroyed.

Deputy Minister of Information of Culture Omar Sultan spoke at the inauguration of the exhibition in Paris on December 5. “The safeguarding of all aspects of cultural heritage in my country, both tangible and intangible, is of particular significance in terms of strengthening cultural identity and a sense of national integrity. Cultural heritage can become a point of mutual interest for former adversaries, enabling them to re-build ties, to engage in dialogue and to work together in shaping a common future,” said Deputy Minister Sultan.

"This exhibit is important to show the world that Afghanistan is not only war and killing and terrorism," said Pierre Cambon, chief curator at the Guimet.

The exhibition will run until April 30, and may potentially travel to the United States soon thereafter.




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