Afghan treasures looted from Kabul have come to light nearly 20 years after they were stolen, thanks to an unknown benefactor.
Up to 80 per cent of the National Museum of Afghanistan’s artefacts were destroyed or looted by the Taliban during the early Nineties.
The twenty fragments of ivory, thought to be ornate furniture inlays dating back to the 1st Century, were recently identified and purchased by an individual, who would prefer to remain anonymous, and are now being returned to Afghanistan.
Discovered in 1937 and 1939 by French archaeologists excavating the ancient city of Begram, north of Kabul, they are among Afghanistan’s most famous collections.
The pieces were examined by scientists at London’s British Museum on behalf of the National Museum of Afghanistan as part of the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Art Conservation. They discovered traces of red, blue and black pigments demarking intricate patterns.
They will go on public display for the first time since the 1979 outbreak of war in Afghanistan this week at the British Museum alongside 200 artefacts loaned by the National Museum of Afghanistan.
They will be displayed alongside a superb collection of Hellenistic Greek sculptures, enamelled Roman glass and polished stone tableware brought from Egypt and delicate inlaid gold jewellery worn by the nomadic elite – all of which were salvaged from looters and hidden in the vaults of Kabul’s National Bank.
The existence of such objects is thanks to the curators and collectors who kept their whereabouts a secret for decades. The new exhibition has been launched to promote and further safeguard cultural heritage in Afghanistan.
‘Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World’ is at the British Museum 3 March – 3 July 2001, www.britishmuseum.org