Afghan treasure to dazzle the world

The world could soon catch a glimpse of Afghanistan's fabled Bactrian gold, as preparations get under way to exhibit some of the 20,000 pieces that make up the country's most important ancient treasure trove.

    The haul remained intact

    Dates and locations have yet to be finalised, but the US, France, Germany, Japan and Greece are among the countries interested in hosting the 2000-year-old haul that has remained intact despite years of war and upheaval.
     
    While other important archaeological sites are plundered or have been ruined by war, the Bactrian gold, discovered by a Soviet team near the northern town of Shiberghan just before the Red Army invasion of 1979, has had a number of narrow escapes, adding to its allure and mystery.

    "When the process of inventory is done, we will decide," said Culture and Information Minister Said Makhdum Rahin.

    "We will sit down with the Americans, the Germans, French and Japanese and make a joint decision on arranging a tour," he said.
     
    The favourites to host the collection first are the Americans and French, and Rahin hopes interest in the treasure will generate funds to build museums and combat looting.

    "This ministry is in need of much," he said, rubbing weary eyes. "I want to spend the money on new museums. We used to have museums in the provinces, and now we have none."

    Bamiyan, home to the destroyed
    Buddhas, will get a museum 

    Plans are underway to build a museum in Bamiyan, home to giant Buddhas cut into cliffs, which were blown up by the Taliban in 2001.

    A new museum may also be built in Kabul, where the Bactrian gold will eventually be kept.

    Rahin is aware that a series of exhibitions could be vital to supporting his ministry, but there is plenty more on his mind.

    "My mind is busy with many other sites and historical objects. The main problem is looting of those sites by war lords and the international mafia; even now hundreds of pieces are going out of the country."

    Priceless collection 

    An Afghan official who viewed the Bactrian gold recently in an underground vault in the heavily guarded presidential palace in Kabul described the pieces he saw, including an intricately designed belt and a gold broach, as "priceless".

    "This ministry is in need of much. I want to spend the money on new museums. We used to have museums in the provinces, and now we have none"

    Said Makhdum Rahin,
    Culture and Information Minister

    Hardly anyone sees the collection, and those who do are searched by armed US mercenaries hired by Washington to protect President Hamid Karzai.

    The paranoia is understandable.

    Retreating Soviet forces left behind the Bactrian treasure.

    So did the Taliban, according to several accounts, despite desperate efforts to access the vault as US bombers pounded Kabul on the eve of the regime's demise in November 2001.

    Many assumed the gold had disappeared, but it was discovered intact after the vault was finally opened in August for the first time in 14 years.

    Rahin said there were 20,600 gold pieces in the collection. The trove was from a nomad burial site in what was once Bactria, lying between the Hindu Kush mountains and the Amu Darya river, also known as the Oxus.
     
    The coins, necklaces set with gems, belts, medallions and crowns have never been seen outside Afghanistan.

    But while curators pitch for a part in what promises to be a glittering roadshow, Rahin has other things on his mind.

    "We recently established a 500-man guard with the Interior Ministry," he said, referring to a force set up to protect what is left of Afghanistan's heritage.

    "It took me a year to get this far. But it is not mobilised yet; we need cars and equipment."

    SOURCE: Reuters


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