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News and stories from the world of Archaeology and its related disciplines

The rescued treasures of Afghanistan

From Young Germany:

Tillya Tepe, Thierry Ollivier © Musée Guimet/Réunion des musées nationaux (RMN), Paris

Excavation of prehistoric sites has revealed that Afghanistan has some 50,000 years of human history. Its farming communities were some of the earliest anywhere in the world and it served as a strategic East-West point along the Silk Road trading route. The ancient Aryan tribes brought Indo-Iranian languages, and great empires conquered and absorbed the lands into their domains.

For the first time in Germany, the Bundeskunsthalle presents the legendary treasures of Afghanistan which have miraculously survived years of instability and war. The Bonn exhibition reveals this synthesis of cultures immediately. Greek, Persian and Indian motifs are on-display from a richly detailed Aphrodite with angel wings to an Indian bindi next to Eros riding a dolphin.

The spectacular gold, silver and ivory objects are witness to the Kingdom of Bactria, a civilization which grew in ancient Afghanistan at the interface of cultures along the Silk Road, becoming a kind of melting pot of East and West. Resulting from Alexander the Great’s campaign in 330 BC, more and more Greeks and Macedonians moved into the ancient cultural landscape, influencing the Bactrian high culture.

From the Bronze Age settlement Tepe Fullol in ancient Bactria (around 2000 BC) there are delicately crafted gold and silver objects – the oldest pieces in the exhibition. The gold vases reveal a refined aesthetic and underscore the fundamental importance that Bactria played in the exchange between the Middle East and India in particular.From Ai Khanum, one of the cities founded by Alexander the Great, evidence of the Greek-Hellenistic influence on the edge of the steppe is presented. The Greek presence in Central Asia was a cornerstone of the development of art south of the Hindu Kush. The findings show the purity of Greek tradition, as well as a symbiosis with oriental styles.

Bactrian Aphrodite, Tillya Tepe (Grave 6), Thierry Ollivier © Musée Guimet/Réunion des musées nationaux (RMN), Paris

The focus of the exhibition are the imposing gold finds from the six graves in the Tillya Tepe from the 1st century AD. The “gold hill” takes its name from the extraordinary diversity and sophistication of the jewelry found there with its precious stones. The exquisite jewels are obvious evidence of Greco-Roman, Indian and even Chinese interactions.

The exhibit concludes with the great finds of Bagram, the former Alexandria of the Caucasus. The treasures stem from two bricked-up chambers in a former royal palace. The artistically carved ivory objects testify to the Indian influence in the region. In addition there are numerous glass vases, bronzes and other pieces binding Alexandria and the Roman world.

The Afghan treasures are of priceless art and cultural value. For many years, the objects in the exhibition were thought to have been stolen or destroyed. Given the unstable situation at the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, courageous employees of the Kabul National Museum hid the most important objects and artifacts in the late 1980s. Only in 2004 was the Presidential Palace in Kabul opened again to reveal the treasures.

230 of the most valuable pieces are on-stage in Bonn. In addition to telling Afghanistan’s history, the unique exhibition hopes to elucidate the ancient interplay between cultures.

From Young Germany

The Exhibition “Afghanistan. Rescued Treasures” is on display until October 3rd 2010.

Official exhibition website

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