Thursday, October 30, 2008

If SF has one world class museum, it’s the Asian. In "The Treasures of Afghanistan", the Asian continues its tradition of beautifully mounted exhibits of both artist and historical value.

Long thought to be lost, the collection of Afghan gold from the National Museum of Kabul has survived decades of war. Among the hidden treasures were Bronze Age gold pieces, hundreds of ancient coins, and the famous "Bactrian hoard," a collection of some 20,000 gold, silver, and ivory objects from burial plots at Tillya Tepe in northern Afghanistan.

Workers involved in the transfer swore secrecy and designated "key holders" for the vaults. They kept their covenant through civil war and Taliban rule at enormous personal risk.

The exhibit focuses on four main archaeological sites. Fullol is the oldest and gold vases found at this Bronze Age site are used to illustrate Bactrian sophistication c. 2000 BC. The gold was mined locally, but the decoration of the objects show that already at this early date the first recorded Afghans were reaching out to their neighbors and beginning to establish the trade links that would one day become the Silk Road.

The highlight of the exhibition must be the 1st-century BC Bactrian gold from the hoard found by Viktor Sarianidi at Tillia Tepe in northern Afghanistan in 1978. At the time the country was occupied by Soviet troops, and then closed to the world by the Taliban, so few archaeologists got to see these rare treasures before they were spirited off to a vault. They come from a part of the world we still know too little about due to decades of war and instability, but reveal both how affluent and sophisticated this region was, straddling the trade routes between East and West, and taking cultural influences from both. The six princely tombs from Tillia Tepe illustrate the funerary wealth of the period and its extensive trading links: a bronze mirror was made in China, the ivories came from India, and much of the jeweler is Graeco-Roman in design if not in origin,

The aim of ‘Afghanistan, Rediscovered Treasures’ is to raise funds to rebuild Kabul Museum and to raise awareness of the fascinating history of that great country. The hope is that when Afghanistan is secure the objects will return and the Afghans will also be able once more to appreciate their own ancient culture.

Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul
Through January 25, 2009

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