Monday, March 21, 2011

Gold, Ivory and a Happy Ending

The young man has been in Kabul several times in the last few years, but the Tillya Tepe gold has always been on tour. So on Friday we went to see the Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World exhibition at the British Museum.

As we looked at the extraordinary detail on the ivory furniture supports, my brother muttered to me that the best of it - the jewel of the Begram hoard - had been stolen in the civil war. This was a great tragedy for the National Museum in Kabul, whose motto is "A nation stays alive when its culture stays alive".

We continue on and past the gold we arrive at the last room, room 6. And what do we find but some of the stolen ivories, which were recovered last year in London and are being conserved by the British Museum.

Who had them has not been made public. As was made clear at the exhibition, the objects here were hidden in Afghanistan during the wars and have only lately been recovered. They might have been taken in good faith to keep them safe.

One last interesting thing. Many of the artifacts we saw were sealed in storage rooms when the cities of ancient Afghanistan were being attacked by nomads. Later they were sealed in safes and buried by staff at the National Museum to keep them safe during the war. We shouldn't draw too close a parallel, but hiding these objects while the country is under attack is certainly a recurring motif.
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