KABUL – Hundreds of archaeological treasures looted from Afghanistan were returned to the war-torn country’s National Museum on Sunday after being recovered with the help of the British Museum.
Many of the 843 artefacts were seized as they were being smuggled into Britain after some 70 percent of the museum’s contents were stolen during Afghanistan’s civil war in the early 1990s. Others were identified on the black market and acquired on behalf of the museum by private donors.
The returned treasures include “exquisite examples” of the Begram Ivories, a series of decorative inlays dating back to the first century AD, the British Museum said ahead of Sunday’s handover ceremony. Among others items are a statue of Buddha from the second or third century, Bactrian Bronze Age items, Greco-Bactrian and medieval Islamic coins. Omara Khan Massoudi, director of the national museum, said some of the returned objects would now go on temporary display.
The Telegraph quoted him as saying, “I’m very happy to have these artefacts at the museum. It’s very important to us.” The museum– rebuilt with international aid – was largely destroyed as rival warlords unleashed artillery and rocket fire on the capital in a brutal struggle for power in the early 1990s. And the country achieved global notoriety for cultural barbarism when the Taliban regime, which came to power in 1996, blew up the famed and ancient Bamiyan Buddhas shortly before being overthrown by a US-led invasion.
British Consul General in Kabul Colin Crorkin was quoted by the Telegraph as saying, “They show Afghanistan’s other face. They remind us that the troubles of the Taliban age and the battles against the insurgency are relatively small events in the bigger picture.” The famed and priceless 2,000 year-old Bactrian Gold collection of more than 20,000 gold ornaments, hidden by museum staff during the civil war, has been touring the world since 2006.