Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Museum Under Siege Volume 49 Number 2, March/April 1996
by Nancy Hatch Dupree

Attacked and looted by warring factions, Afghanistan's National
Museum has now been stripped of 70 percent of its collections.

When Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988, all but the capital of Kabul had fallen to the resistance, known as the mujahideen. When Kabul itself was taken in April 1992, ending the 14-year rule of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, mujahideen factions began warring among themselves for control of the city. Attacks were often launched from the south, and the National Museum in Darulaman, six miles south of Kabul, was often on the front line. Each time a new faction triumphed, it would loot the ruins. On May 12, 1993, a rocket slammed into the roof of the museum, destroying a fourth- to fifth-century A.D. wall painting from Delbarjin-tepe, site of an ancient Kushan city in northern Afghanistan, and burying much of the museum's ancient pottery and bronzes under tons of debris. Last November 16 another rocket hit the northwest wing of the museum, exposing storerooms to winter rain and snow and further depredations of the combatants. Despite efforts to mediate factional rivalries, the fighting and looting continue. About 70 percent of the museum's collections are now missing.

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© 1996 by the Archaeological Institute of America