This photographic selection of treasures of Afghan heritage shows some of the pieces lent by the National Museum of Afghanistan since 2006 for the exhibition held previously in Paris, Torino, Amsterdam, Washington DC, San Francisco, Houston and currently in New York.
It was put together thanks to the French Archeological Delegation in Afghanistan (DAFA), the Afghan Ministry for Information and Culture, the generous participation of the Guimet Museum and the French Embassy in Afghanistan (SCAC).
The exhibition Afghanistan, Hidden Treasures from the National Museum of Kabul gives public access to heritage from four major archeological sites: Tepe Fullol, Aï Khanoum, Tillia Tepe and Begram. Beyond the unique adventure of these recovered treasures, the exhibition pays homage to the History of Afghanistan, at the centre of kingdoms and empires that spread from Central Asia to Northern India.
Thanks to the 220 pieces found during excavations of the DAFA (Begram, Aï Khanoum and Balkh) and the Afghan-Soviet expedition (Tillia Tepe), the exhibition puts into perspective the evolution of Afghan history from the Bronze Age to the Kushan Empire. Though the objects’ geographical and historical origins often differ, they illustrate the continuity, unity and richness of Afghan heritage, in a region under multiple cultural influences: Persian and Arab, Indian, Scythe, Chinese and Greek.
The exhibition coincided with the restoration of a great number of art works by French and Afghan restorers with the purpose of re-integrating the collections into the National Museum of Afghanistan. By restoring and highlighting the afghan heritage and the cultural influences it underwent, this unique exhibition reminds us of the fragility and necessity to protect these treasures, the memory of the Afghans.
In 1966, south of the city of Baghlan, gold and silver vases were found by chance. The intervention of local authorities allowed the National Museum of Afghanistan to keep some of them. Archeological digs on site revealed that this silverware was part of a funeral deposit in a tomb. Other pieces, fortuitous discoveries during digs in Turkmenistan, have since enriched this corpus of precious vases that can be founds from the northern borders to the eastern borders of Iran and the eastern border of the Indus valley. The decoration allows us, by associating them to Mesopotamian art, to date the vases between 2200 and 1800 BC. This was a period marked by dynamic exchanges and the appearance of larger towns and cities in the Oxus region and parts of the border with Iran, with a rich material culture.
Founded by Seleucus 1st on the banks of the Amou-Darya, along the current border between Afghanistan and Tadjikistan, Aï Khanoum, the « Alexandria of Oxus », the city had to control and manage the eastern Bactrian plains, acting as a rampart to the threats from the northern steppes. Work by the DAFA was conducted between 1964 and 1978. The city was lived in from the end of the 4th century BC to the 2nd century BC. It was an important centre of the independent empire of Bactria. Palaces with Corinthian columns, gymnasiums, theaters and ceramics with Greek inscriptions are proofs of the inhabitants’ faithfulness to the Greek cultural model, despite the successful symbiosis with Eastern tradition achieved in other places. The site has now been left devastated by pillages conducted since the 1980s.
Bagram, situated 60 km north of Kabul, is the ancient location of Alexandria of the Caucasus and became the capital of the Kapiça kingdom in the Kushan period. During excavations there between 1937 and 1939, the DAFA uncovered a treasure in two sealed rooms. Among the luxurious objects and curiosities discovered, there were Chinese enamel, a spectacular collection of Greco-roman glasses, Hellenistic bronzes and ivories from India. The whole collection could be from the 1st Century AC, prior to the rule of Kanishka for whom Bagram was a summer residence. This treasure highlights a culture with Greek cultural references, but also curious and open to the Chinese and Indian worlds.
Discovered in 1978 by a soviet-afghan mission, the treasure of Tillia Tepe, the “Hill of Gold”, is a collection of funeral ornaments that decorated the bodies of a chieftain and five women. These jewels show the refinement of the nomadic population that around the 1st Century crossed the Amou- Darya river in successive waves from the North or Turkestan. It reveals the existence of exchanges with China, India and the Roman world. The shapes and decorative motifs also show links to the region of the Bosphorus and Southern Russia where the Western Scythian art blossomed.
1922 - 2009: The Work of the French Archeological Delegation in Afghanistan
The DAFA was created in 1922, at the request of the Afghan Government, to conduct archeological research in Afghanistan. After an interruption during the Second World War, excavation work resumed from 1946 till its closure in 1982. In 2002, in agreement with the Ministry of Information and Afghan Culture, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to re-open and resume the activities of the DAFA in Afghanistan. The DAFA’s mission is to develop knowledge of Afghanistan’s rich past by organizing franco- afghan archeological missions. These involve continuing the inventory of archeological remains (prospection, etc) and leading excavations within certain scientific research programs and in order to save sites that were affected by pillaging. The other missions of the DAFA include the training of Afghan heritage professionals, the protection, restoration and promoting Afghan heritage.
Agreement between France and Afghanistan, creation of the DAFA instigated by King Amanullah, Alfred Foucher is its first director. Exclusive digging rights for 30 years with a share clause between the two countries.
Beginning of Alfred Foucher’s excavations in Balkh, first mission of Joseph Hackin in Afghanistan.
Reconnaissance by Jules Barthoux in the Nord-East, beginning of the excavations in Hadda.
End of the excavations by Barthoux in Hadda.
Archeological reseach in Bamiyan (Joseph Hackin, Jean Carl).
Joseph Hackin, excavations of Bamiyan, Croisière jaune.
Excavations of Khair Khaneh, a hindu-shahi period site.
Reconnaissance of Afghan Sistan (islamic and proto-historic sites).
Discovery of Begram’s « Treasure », excavations of Fondukistan and of Shotorak, Buddhist locations.
Re-negotiation of the agreements relating to the DAFA (the exclusivity clause is canceled).
Lashkari Bazar dig, Ghaznavid and Ghorid period (Daniel Schlumberger).
Mundigak excavations, Bronze Age (Jean-Marie Casal).
Surkh Kotal dig, Kushan site (Daniel Schlumberger).
Reconnaissance of the Djam minaret, Ghorid period (André Maricq).
Aï Khanoum, preliminary prospection (Daniel Schlumberger, Paul Bernard).
First excavations at Aï Khanoum (Paul Bernard).
First excavations by the Afghan Archeological Institute in Hadda.
Excavations in Shortugaï (Henri-Paul Francfort).
Discovery of the Treasure of Tillia tepe, soviet-afghan mission.
Suspension of the DAFA accords.
Re-opening of the DAFA. The share agreement is not renewed, Excavations in Bamiyan (Zemaryalai
Beginning of the excavations in Balkh, Tepe Zargaran (Roland Besenval).
Al Ghata stupa excavations (Wardak) and Balkh excavations continued: Greco-kushan complex, Achaemenid levels.