Treasures of Afghanistan visit Washington

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Banner at the Afghanistan Treasures exhibit

Late one sunny August afternoon I went to see Afghanistan: Hidden Treasurers from the National Museum, an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art. The exhibit, from the National Museum in Kabul, is on limited display at the NGA’s East Building.


The Hidden Treasurers exhibit displays a collection of ancient artifiacts discovered in Afghanistan during the 20th century.

Entrance to the Afghanistan Treasures exhibit
Significantly, the items on display were thought to have been lost or destroyed during the Soviet invasion or by the Taliban regime. However, in 2004 it was revealed that the staff of Afghanistan’s National Museum had secretly hidden the most treasured objects in crates in the Central Bank within the Presidential Palace.


The exhibit is organized around the four archaeological sites in which the artifacts were discoverd. Each represents a different epoch and culture ranging from the Bronze Age (ca 2200 BCE) to the second century CE.


Tepe Fulloi in northern Afghanistan is the earliest site.

Banner displaying a gold and turquoise boot buckle
The ancient fortified city is represented by golden bowels fashioned in the shape of bearded cattle. The gold came from the nearby Oxus River, but the designs are said to show an Indus Valley influence.


The city of Ai Khanum was founded in the wake of Alexander the Great’s conquest of Bactria. Flourishing around 400-300 BCE, the city was laid out in the classical Greek style. Artificats retrieved from the site are typically Greek: Corinthain columns, sculptures, and architectural details. Jutting out of a wall is a waterspout with a jovial gargoyle-like Greek face. The spout or spigot was still in working condition when discovered.


Ancient storerooms at Begram were found to contain artifacts from Greece, Rome, Egypt,and China. Striking here are the Egyptian glass objects: colorful goblets and figurines of fish. So too are the ivory carvings from India, thought to have been inlaid details for wooden furniture. Whey were they collected there? The site was not a tomb or palace. Could it have been something as pedestrian as a distribution warehouse where luxury objects from distant lands were readied for trade along the Silk Road?


Tillya Tepe was a buiral site for a nomadic people that displaced the Greek-influenced culture in Bactria in the second century CE.

Hidden Treasures exhibit guide
The people may have been nomads, but they were not without their riches. A fantasic collapsible (and portable) gold crown was fashioned to resemble five delicate trees.  Gold and jewels adorned they garmets of a young woman buried at the site. She and her robes have vanished, leaving behind a phantom outline in gold.


I found one of the most impressive items to be one of the smallest. A gold figure of Aphrodite is only a few centimeters in length, yet the workmanship is amazing. So, too, is the evidence of multicultural influences. The body of the figure is Grecian, but the classically drapped Greek goddess has Persian wings and Indian bracelets and a forehead dot! The single piece attests to Afghanistan’s important position in the Silk Road trade route between East and West and of the many cultures that have passed through this crossroads and influenced the region’s history.

The motto of the Kabul National Musuem, “A nation stays alive when its culture and history stay alive," is displayed at the conclusion of the exhibit.

The exhibit will also travel to San Francisco, Houston, and New York City.

WalterC says:
I always love visiting these types of traveling exhibitions, and try to see them if I have the time.
Posted on: Sep 25, 2017
diisha392 says:
This looks awesome! I should try to head into DC soon :)
Posted on: Sep 05, 2008
tvillingmarit says:
Great blog Andy
Posted on: Sep 05, 2008
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Banner at the Afghanistan Treasure…
Banner at the Afghanistan Treasur…
Entrance to the Afghanistan Treasu…
Entrance to the Afghanistan Treas…
Banner displaying a gold and turqu…
Banner displaying a gold and turq…
Hidden Treasures exhibit guide
Hidden Treasures exhibit guide
Motto of the National Museum, Kabul
Motto of the National Museum, Kabul
National Gallery of Art East Build…
National Gallery of Art East Buil…