Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Tilya Tepe Triumph Volume 56 Number 6, November/December 2003
by Jarrett A. Lobell

A remarkable ancient treasure with a dramatic history has been found safe in a Kabul bank vault after 14 years. The 2,000-year-old Tilya Tepe hoard was excavated near Shebergan, northern Afghanistan, just before the Soviet invasion in 1978. The 20,000 objects, mostly gold coins and jewelry dating back to the ancient kingdom of Bactria, were stored in the bank vault, which had last been opened briefly in 1989 during Communist rule. In the 1990s, the Taliban unsuccessfully tried to force bank employees to open the vault, and the important collection of ancient goldwork was spared from a regime notorious for its destruction of Afghanistan's pre-Islamic heritage. Following the defeat of the Taliban in 2002, Afghan officials tried to open the vault, which was rumored to have been emptied of its treasure. They too were unsuccessful--despite efforts to contact its original manufacturer, who had gone out of business. Local locksmiths were finally able to crack the vault in August, revealing that the exquisite ancient treasure had survived Afghanistan's tumultuous recent history intact.

© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America