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Embassy in the News

Treasures From Afghanistan to Tour the United States
By Carol Vogel

New York Times


A traveling exhibition of some 200 artworks from the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul will begin a 17-month tour in the United States in May, making its first stop at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

The show, organized by the National Gallery with the National Geographic Society, includes objects spanning 4,000 years of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage, among them a select group of gold artifacts from the Bactrian hoard, which dates from the first century A.D. The National Gallery stop runs from May 25 through Sept. 7.

The hoard, which includes bracelets, swords, figurines, a crown, a belt and other items, was unearthed by archaeologists in 1978 at a site at Tillya Tepe in northern Afghanistan, where six tombs from the ancient kingdom of Bactria were found.

The artifacts vanished from view sometime after Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan the next year, and they were thought to have been stolen or destroyed in the long civil unrest that followed. Then in August 2003 it was announced that they had been found in the presidential palace bank vault in Kabul.

“Afghanistan’s centrality in the Silk Road created a rich mosaic of cultures and civilizations,” Tayeb Jawad, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, said.

With the hoard as a centerpiece of the exhibition, he said, the show will “tell the story of some individuals who were involved in preserving this heritage.” Among them are the Afghan archaeologists who verified the recovered objects and compiled an inventory.

The United States tour was arranged by Fredrik T. Hiebert, who has organized the United States exhibition with Carla Grissmann, from the National Museum of Afghanistan.

In addition to the Bactrian hoard pieces, the exhibits include objects from three other archaeological sites. There are fragmentary gold vases dated between 2500 B.C. and 2200 B.C. from Tepe Fullol in northern Afghanistan; a group of bronze, ivory and stone sculptures from the site of a Greek settlement was excavated at Ai Khanum; and carved ivory reliefs and other objects from Bagram, formerly the summer capital of the Kushan Empire (first to third century A.D.) and now an American air base about 25 miles north of Kabul.

National Geographic struck a $1 million deal with the Afghan government in June to bring the objects to the United States. Given Afghanistan’s poverty and the damage done to its cultural heritage over decades of violence and turmoil, some cultural experts suggested that the country had been shortchanged. But Mr. Jawad said, “From the beginning, money was not a prime factor.”

The exhibiting institutions will cover the costs of insurance, shipping and other expenses.

Terry D. Garcia, the executive vice president of the National Geographic Society’s mission programs, said: “One million is not a small sum. The price was negotiated by the Afghan government. This is not a commercial exhibition.”

The show has traveled to the Musée Guimet in Paris and the Museo di Antichità in Turin, Italy, and is currently on view at the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam through April 20. Plans are in the works for it to travel to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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