An Endangered Heritage
"Museum Under Siege"
April 20, 1998
The following artifacts are among the stolen or imperiled treasures of the National Museum:
Middle Palaeolithic tools dating 30,000 to 50,000 years ago, along with a skull fragment with both Neandertal and modern human characteristics, excavated in 1966 in Badakhshan province; 20,000 Upper Palaeolithic flint implements and a 15,000-year-old sculptured limestone pebble, possibly representing a human face, recovered in 1962 and 1965 from Aq Kupruk in Balkh province. Several boxes of Palaeolithic artifacts have been found, but their contents have not been checked, and the carving of the face has not been found.
Fragments of five gold and 12 silver vessels dated about 2500 B.C. found accidentally at Tepe Fullol near the ancient lapis-lazuli mines of Badakhshan. In 1966, before they were recovered by the government, the vessels were cut into fragments for distribution by the finders. The gold vessel fragments are missing; four pieces of silver vessels have been recovered.
Third-century B.C. Greek and Aramaic inscriptions found at Kandahar in 1963 and 1967, including the westernmost Ashokan Edicts yet discovered. The edicts proclaim the Doctrine of Piety of the Indian emperor Ashoka (ca. 262-232 B.C.), including abstention from killing man or beast and obedience to parents and elders. Condition and whereabouts unknown.
Fourth- to second-century B.C. finds excavated between 1965 and 1978 at Ai Khanoum in Takhar province, including pseudo-Corinthian capitals, marble and unbaked clay statuary, a gilded silver plaque, coins, Greek inscriptions, and a listing of Delphic precepts. The easternmost Greek city yet known, Ai Khanoum may have been established by order of Alexander the Great. Condition and whereabouts of most of the objects unknown; the site has been badly pillaged.
More than 20,000 gold ornaments dating from the first century B.C. to the first century A.D. excavated in 1978 from six burial mounds at Tillya-tepe, near Shibarghan, in the northern province of Jozjan. A seventh mound was left untouched when the war forced the excavators to close down their mission. Said to be in a bank vault in Kabul, but not seen since 1991.
Wall paintings with Greek, Buddhist, and Hindu motifs from Delbarjin-tepe, once a major Kushan city some 50 miles east of Tillya-tepe, excavated from 1970 to 1973. One painting destroyed when rocket hit museum in 1993.
A collection of 1,772 artifacts excavated between 1937 and 1946 from Begram (ancient Kapisa, the summer capital of the Kushan Empire), in Parwan province on the fabled Silk Route that linked India and China with Rome. The finds, dating from the first to third centuries A.D., include carved ivories in classic Indian styles, Chinese lacquers, and a wide variety of gold jewelry, Roman bronzes, and Alexandrian glass. Some ivories remain; others are known to be for sale on the art market.
A statue of Kanishka (ca. A.D. 128), the greatest Kushan ruler, found at Surkh Kotal, in Baghlan province, where excavations began in 1952. Other pieces from the site include a long inscription in the Kushan language, written in Greek script, and Gandharan art works employing classical, Iranian, and Central Asian motifs. Statue of Kanishka, a clay fire altar, limestone capitals, and pilasters remain at the museum.
Hundreds of schist and limestone relief sculptures, together with stucco and terra-cotta artworks that once adorned Buddhist monasteries throughout Afghanistan. Of note is the Dipankara schist relief from Shotorak (second to fifth centuries A.D.), a 33-inch-high relief depicting an encounter between the former Dipankara Buddha and Sumedha, a young Hindu ascetic, who would be reborn as the historic Buddha, Guatama. Large seventh-century A.D. painted sculptures from Fondukistan, made of unbaked clay reinforced with wooden frames and horsehair, illustrate characters from Buddhist mythology and scenes from the life of Buddha. Several schists taken, but some have been recovered in Kabul.
Marble sculptures depicting various forms of Hindu iconography from the period of Hindu Shahi rule in Kabul, from the sixth to the ninth centuries A.D., and exhibiting styles unique in the history of Indian art. It is feared that many large sculptures now missing have been sawed into fragments to facilitate smuggling and sale.
Some 5,000 bronzes, marble reliefs, ceramics, and frescoes from Islam's artistic and cultural flowering under the Ghaznavid dynasty, established late in the tenth century A.D. by a slave from Bokhara, and the Ghorid dynasty, from the central mountains of Afghanistan, that succeeded it in the twelfth century. Many of the bronzes were melted during the fire caused by the first rocket attack in May 1993.
More than 30,000 coins, from the eighth century B.C. to modern periods, among the largest such collections in the world. An important group was a Greco-Bactrian hoard of more than 600 coins dating from the third to the second centuries B.C. found in 1946 near Kunduz, in Kunduz province. This cache included the largest Greek coins ever discovered, double decadrachmas issued by the Macedonian king Amyntas ca. 120 B.C. and weighing 3.4 ounces each. It also included hoards from Chaman-i-Houzouri near Kabul (Greek and Persian coins from ca. 380 B.C.), Tepe Maranjan (gold and silver Sasanian coins including 368 silver drachmas of the fourth century A.D.), and Mir Zakah (8,000 fourth- to first-century B.C. Indian and Indo-Greek coins, 3,500 Indo-Scythian coins, and various Indo-Parthian and Kushan coins of the early centuries A.D.). Most are gone; some gold coins may be with Tillya-tepe gold said to be in bank vault in Kabul. Editor's note: according to The Art Newspaper (February 1994), a British dealer had been offered a coin from the Kunduz hoard, said to be very rare and one of six, presumably a double decadrachma.
Twenty Kafir ancestral wooden effigies from Nuristan in eastern Afghanistan dating from before Nuristan's conversion to Islam in 1895-1896. Many are still at the museum, but no one has checked them carefully.
© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America