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Bactrian gold crown, an archaeological treasure of Afghanistan

Are Afghanistan’s Archaeological Treasures Safe?

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Experts are concerned for the future of Afghanistan’s archaeological sites and treasures following the Taliban takeover. Even if the ancient sites are not looted and destroyed, there is still the worry that the extremist Islamic group may already be hunting for the famous Bactrian treasure - a collection of more than 20,000 gold, silver, and ivory objects recovered from ancient burial mounds in northern Afghanistan.

Ministry States that the Treasure is Safe

The Ministry of Culture and Information has responded to these concerns, stating that the treasure is in an unnamed safe place. Hamdullah Wasiq, the deputy of the Cultural Commission, said, “The Bactrian Treasure is under the government’s control. It is protected. There is no worry and steps are being taken to protect it.”

The Bactrian treasure, also known as the Bactrian gold, was discovered in 1978 in some 2,000-year-old graves at a site called Tillya Tepe. In the past the Bactrian treasure was protected when it was transferred to a bank’s underground vault. But many other artifacts were not so lucky.

Bactrian treasure ram figurine. ( Public Domain )

Experts Still Worry About Afghanistan’s Archaeological Sites

But experts are also worried about the safety of Afghanistan’s archaeological sites and the heritage professionals still in the country. A location of particular concern is Mes Aynak, a 5,000-year-old site famous for its complex of Buddhist stupas, temples, residential areas, markets, and a fortress. According to Live Science , sources have told them that “all the equipment used for excavation and conservation at the site is gone; and the Taliban have been visiting the site for unknown purposes.”

Furthermore, Khair Muhammad Khairzada, an archaeologist who led excavations at the site but recently had to flee to France to escape the Taliban, said:

“The situation for culture heritage is not OK, because right now no one is taking care of the sites and monuments. All archaeological sites in Afghanistan are [at] risk. [There is] no monitoring, no treatment and no care, all departments in all provinces [are] closed, without money and other facilities [to] take care [of] the sites and monuments.”

A Buddhist stupa at Mes Aynak. (Jerome Starkey/ CC BY-SA 2.0 )

The Taliban leadership has issued statements that they will protect archaeological sites and to date there are no reports of the Taliban intentionally destroying artifacts. In fact, there are reports of Taliban guards being posted outside the National Museum of Afghanistan to prevent looting.

No one knows if they will follow through on their promises. But if the Taliban’s past actions are anything to go by, concerns for the safety of the heritage professionals who are still in Afghanistan and the sites they protect is warranted.

Mes Aynak site, Logar Province, Afghanistan. (DidierTais/ CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Past Destruction

One of the worst historical tragedies that occurred in this conflict-ridden country is the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan – two enormous 1,700-year-old statues carved into the cliff face in the Bamiyan valley which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.  But that is not all the Taliban destroyed. Over the years, the country’s National Museum has seen 70 percent of its collection destroyed or stolen.

Most of the destruction occurred in 2001 after Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar issued an edict against un-Islamic graven images, which means all idolatrous images of humans and animals. As a result, the Taliban took to the Bamiyan Buddhas with explosives, tanks, and anti-aircraft weapons, and stormed the National Museum in Kabul, smashing every artifact they could find bearing a human or animal likeness, which they considered sacrilegious.

Top: Bamiyan Buddha. (Françoise Foliot/ CC BY-SA 4.0 ) Bottom: Explosive destruction of the buddha by the Taliban, March 21, 2001. ( Fair Use )

The ancient archaeological remains of Afghanistan were thrust into the cruel world of battles of ever-changing aims and alliances of national and international politics and religions. The National Museum in Kabul once housed one of the most important collections in Central Asia, with over 100,000 items dating back several millennia. Its collection reflected Afghanistan’s rich history - located on the Silk Road trade route linking China with the eastern Mediterranean, ancient Afghanistan was a magnet for settlers from different ethnicities and religions, from Hindus, Muslims, and Jews to Buddhists and Zoroastrians.

Defiance and Resilience

Fortunately, despite years of looting and destruction, many priceless artifacts were protected by “key keepers” who hid some of the more valuable items in secret vaults and banks.

In the years since then, archaeological teams have fought back defiantly against the Taliban by painstakingly reassembling thousands of artifacts. In addition, Interpol and UNESCO joined forces with international governments to intercept and return at least 857 stolen objects, with the help of customs agents around the world on alert for ancient Afghan art headed for the black market. Some 11,000 additional artifacts have been seized at Afghanistan’s own borders.

Among the 300 of the most important of the 2,500 objects destroyed by the Taliban that have been reassembled over the past few years are the statue of King Kanishka; a larger than life-sized, cross-legged statue of Bodhisatva Siddhartha dating to the second or third century AD; and a series of Greco-Bactrian Buddha statues that are some of the earliest representations of Buddha in human form.

Every piece of antiquity that is restored to the halls of the bombed, pillaged and now rebuilt National Museum of Afghanistan has sent a message of defiance and resilience against the Taliban, the warlords who looted the museum, some of whom are still in positions of power in Afghanistan, and to the corrupt custodians of the past who stood by while some 70,000 objects walked out the door.

“Archaeological artefacts are our national identity,” said the museum’s archival head, Mohammad Yahyeh Muhibzada in 2014, “It’s our national responsibility to protect them so future generations will know who we are and who we were.”

Top Image: Tillya Tepe crown, one of the artifacts in the Bactrian gold treasure hoard found in Afghanistan. Source: H Sinica/ CC BY-SA 2.0

Updated September 23, 2021.

Comments

Hi All,

This article was quite informative of course while reading about the thing's destroyed in Afghanistan; it felt familiar to me somehow, The Language describing the destruction to the priceless artifacts an it was through an Edict from the Taliban.
The destruction had to do with Islam ☪.

Favorite puzzles since I was little Connect the Dots, Mazes, an Word Searches; I'm starting to apply strategies, I utilize for these Puzzles, with other Subjects an Topics.

I've never sat back an read the Koran the Sacred Text of Islam to Moslem's globally but, I did hold a red Pocket;sized Koran; I leafed through the pages, however, taking the time to read Koran No.

As it is I only have minimum History of how it originated. Correct me if I'm wrong here but, I'd heard in passing that The Arch Angel Gabriel appeared on to The Prophet Mohammed who was reportedly A Devout Christian ✝.

While encountering Gabriel the Angel informed Mohammed He was an Ancestor of Ishmael an preceded in teaching Mohammed the Principles of Islam and what we now know today is in The Koran.

I can't be certain about this I thought The Prophet Mohammed was Egyptian which is significant to His Reported Ancestor Ishmael.

In The Bible Ishmael was the eldest Son of Abraham He was born of the Egyptian Slave Hager brilliant plan thought of by Abraham's Wife Sarah. Nevertheless, in The Bible at least He wasn't "The Promise Son" it was Isaac that was The Promise Son.

My point about The Prophet Mohammed an Gabriel His possible Family connection to Ishmael Eldest Son of Abraham where you clearly see within His name Islam; I've been Read to from The Bible, I've been preached to from The Bible, an of course Bible Study reading God's Word for myself.

With what I've just learned from reading this article about The Treasure's of Afghanistan's an The Destruction of Those Buddha's that lasted 1,700 year's I'm beginning too Connect those Dots an a pattern is emerging.

Does anyone know if The Koran has the Ten Commandment's in its Sacred Text? I know for Judaism ✡, Judeo-Christian, an Islam Moses is listed as The Greatest Prophet in Western Monotheism.
The Church I attend celebrates Ten Commandment's Day it's a huge deal.

Pastor's from various Churches an countries choose which of the Ten Commandment's to preach about, why do I ask?

Exodus ch. 20 an Deuteronomy ch.5
Thou Shalt Not Have Any other gods Before Me
Thou Shalt Not Make unto thee Any Graven Image; neither what is in The Air, What is on The Land, What is in The Water.

An basically as this article states the Taliban Order Graven Image's of animals to be destroyed as the Buddha's were as well.

In The Book of Judge's teaches how The Israelites God's Chosen People continuously turned their backs on God of in favor of chasing after The things of the World, Idol's engaging in Idolatry an how each time this occurred God then turned his back on Them.

So every now an then enemies would arise to takeover the very lives of the Israelites. So there is a passage in Judge's about
A Man named Gideon who as a Child of Israel came from the Lineage of Manasseh.

This was the days when The People were being tormented an violently over-ran by Sarcaens & Midianites. So Gideon is chosen by God to lead his people to Freedom by fighting these Desert Bandits off He's approached by one of God's Angel who Recommends that He Destroys the Graven Image's of Baal.

Afraid of the people's reaction Gideon took two servants with Him an Destroyed the Graven Image's of Baal, an in Baal's place He built an Alter on to The God of His Father's.

According to Judge's The people preparing to worship Baal finds his images destroy learns of Gideon's involvement. Naturally they want to kill him but, Gideon's own Father says if Baal is so great let Baal fight for Baal.

That's what this article reminded me of Exodus ch.20, Deuteronomy ch.5, an The Book of Judge's Gideon's Testimony.

That's not the last time a moment described in The Bible; occurs there's also 1 Kings ch.19 Elijah Mt. Carmel vs. 450 Priest of Baal with the challenge to the people Choose today whom you serve God or Baal.

An then after the Fire test from God due too Baals priest not getting an answer. Elijah made sure not only the 450 Priest of Jezebel be executed but, that the Alter too Baal was destroyed too.

Servance pay for The Murders Queen Jezebel had done to all the Prophet's of God.

The System of Government described in The Bible is known I'm sure everybody knows This Theogny. The Taliban wants to put too practice Theogny in Afghanistan. This Method is keeping God or in the case of Islam Allah primary form of Government.

The Taliban would run the country but, in theory at this point Allah is Head of The State.

The Taliban wants The Birth Right, The Covenant God made with Abraham there's a strong possibility The Taliban could be Biological Ancestors of Abraham. They may not be, they may not be Abraham's Ancestors.

Perhaps their Faith isn't genuine but, if it is anyone interested it's like their mimking certain parts from or rather The Torah.

The Taliban went out an did the exact same thing Gideon did, an Elijah had done with Baals Altars.

Let's hope the Taliban doesn't attempt something out of The Book of Maccabees. That battle got started when some Greek guy put a statue of zeus in The Temple or someone that was Syrian did it.

Israel an Syria has been fighting since before The United States came into existence.

These are my thoughts on what's happening in Afghanistan an those treasure's that the Taliban could consider Graven Image's.
Until next discussion everyone, Goodbye!

Hi All,

This article was quite informative of course while reading about the thing's destroyed in Afghanistan; it felt familiar to me somehow, The Language describing the destruction to the priceless artifacts an it was through an Edict from the Taliban.
The destruction had to do with Islam ☪.

Favorite puzzles since I was little Connect the Dots, Mazes, an Word Searches; I'm starting to apply strategies, I utilize for these Puzzles, with other Subjects an Topics.

I've never sat back an read the Koran the Sacred Text of Islam to Moslem's globally but, I did hold a red Pocket;sized Koran; I leafed through the pages, however, taking the time to read Koran No.

As it is I only have minimum History of how it originated. Correct me if I'm wrong here but, I'd heard in passing that The Arch Angel Gabriel appeared on to The Prophet Mohammed who was reportedly A Devout Christian ✝.

While encountering Gabriel the Angel informed Mohammed He was an Ancestor of Ishmael an preceded in teaching Mohammed the Principles of Islam and what we now know today is in The Koran.

I can't be certain about this I thought The Prophet Mohammed was Egyptian which is significant to His Reported Ancestor Ishmael.

In The Bible Ishmael was the eldest Son of Abraham He was born of the Egyptian Slave Hager brilliant plan thought of by Abraham's Wife Sarah. Nevertheless, in The Bible at least He wasn't "The Promise Son" it was Isaac that was The Promise Son.

My point about The Prophet Mohammed an Gabriel His possible Family connection to Ishmael Eldest Son of Abraham where you clearly see within His name Islam; I've been Read to from The Bible, I've been preached to from The Bible, an of course Bible Study reading God's Word for myself.

With what I've just learned from reading this article about The Treasure's of Afghanistan's an The Destruction of Those Buddha's that lasted 1,700 year's I'm beginning too Connect those Dots an a pattern is emerging.

Does anyone know if The Koran has the Ten Commandment's in its Sacred Text? I know for Judaism ✡, Judeo-Christian, an Islam Moses is listed as The Greatest Prophet in Western Monotheism.
The Church I attend celebrates Ten Commandment's Day it's a huge deal.

Pastor's from various Churches an countries choose which of the Ten Commandment's to preach about, why do I ask?

Exodus ch. 20 an Deuteronomy ch.5
Thou Shalt Not Have Any other gods Before Me
Thou Shalt Not Make unto thee Any Graven Image; neither what is in The Air, What is on The Land, What is in The Water.

An basically as this article states the Taliban Order Graven Image's of animals to be destroyed as the Buddha's were as well.

In The Book of Judge's teaches how The Israelites God's Chosen People continuously turned their backs on God of in favor of chasing after The things of the World, Idol's engaging in Idolatry an how each time this occurred God then turned his back on Them.

So every now an then enemies would arise to takeover the very lives of the Israelites. So there is a passage in Judge's about
A Man named Gideon who as a Child of Israel came from the Lineage of Manasseh.

This was the days when The People were being tormented an violently over-ran by Sarcaens & Midianites. So Gideon is chosen by God to lead his people to Freedom by fighting these Desert Bandits off He's approached by one of God's Angel who Recommends that He Destroys the Graven Image's of Baal.

Afraid of the people's reaction Gideon took two servants with Him an Destroyed the Graven Image's of Baal, an in Baal's place He built an Alter on to The God of His Father's.

According to Judge's The people preparing to worship Baal finds his images destroy learns of Gideon's involvement. Naturally they want to kill him but, Gideon's own Father says if Baal is so great let Baal fight for Baal.

That's what this article reminded me of Exodus ch.20, Deuteronomy ch.5, an The Book of Judge's Gideon's Testimony.

That's not the last time a moment described in The Bible; occurs there's also 1 Kings ch.19 Elijah Mt. Carmel vs. 450 Priest of Baal with the challenge to the people Choose today whom you serve God or Baal.

An then after the Fire test from God due too Baals priest not getting an answer. Elijah made sure not only the 450 Priest of Jezebel be executed but, that the Alter too Baal was destroyed too.

Servance pay for The Murders Queen Jezebel had done to all the Prophet's of God.

The System of Government described in The Bible is known I'm sure everybody knows This Theogny. The Taliban wants to put too practice Theogny in Afghanistan. This Method is keeping God or in the case of Islam Allah primary form of Government.

The Taliban would run the country but, in theory at this point Allah is Head of The State.

The Taliban wants The Birth Right, The Covenant God made with Abraham there's a strong possibility The Taliban could be Biological Ancestors of Abraham. They may not be, they may not be Abraham's Ancestors.

Perhaps their Faith isn't genuine but, if it is anyone interested it's like their mimking certain parts from or rather The Torah.

The Taliban went out an did the exact same thing Gideon did, an Elijah had done with Baals Altars.

Let's hope the Taliban doesn't attempt something out of The Book of Maccabees. That battle got started when some Greek guy put a statue of zeus in The Temple or someone that was Syrian did it.

Israel an Syria has been fighting since before The United States came into existence.

These are my thoughts on what's happening in Afghanistan an those treasure's that the Taliban could consider Graven Image's.
Until next discussion everyone, Goodbye!

Pete Wagner's picture

Most likely all the good stuff was looted right after 9/11.  CIA probably has an inventory of that and much, much more. 

Nobody gets paid to tell the truth.

Sad to think how many historical artifacts have been destroyed in the name of religion. Thankfully there are many people like these who care enough about history to protect it. 

archaeologyrocks

Very well-written article

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