Afghanistan’s hidden treasures

22 March, 2013

A collapsible nomadic crown (Tillya Tepe), 100 BC - 100 AD
A collapsible nomadic crown (Tillya Tepe), 100 BC - 100 AD
Image: © Thierry Ollivier / Musée Guimet
Source: National Museum of Afghanistan

A remarkable exhibition of priceless ancient artefacts from the National Museum, Kabul, is on show at Melbourne Museum from 22 March to 28 July 2013.

On view for the first time in Australia, Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul features more than 230 precious objects from archaeological sites along the ancient Silk Road.

For decades these treasures were thought to have been lost or destroyed during years of conflict in Afghanistan, but in 2003 were unexpectedly recovered from vaults where they had been hidden for safekeeping by museum staff.

“It is an enormous privilege to have the opportunity to see these extraordinary treasures, some of the most precious in the world, here in Melbourne,” said Dr Patrick Greene, CEO, Museum Victoria.

Organised by the National Geographic Society, Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul, features gold jewellery, bronze and stone sculptures, ivories, painted Roman glassware and other ancient works of art, all excavated in the twentieth century.

“These beautiful treasures – and the remarkable story of the brave individuals who risked their lives to keep them safe – are testament to the rich cultural heritage of Afghanistan, once at the heart of the Silk Road and an historic link between China, India, Persia, the Middle East and the West.”

“This exhibition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Australians to see the significance of Afghanistan as a place of wonderful diversity and fascinating history – a very different perspective compared to the one that results from years of conflict.”

The National Museum, Kabul housed many precious artefacts from Afghanistan’s cultural history. After more than ten years of war in 1989, thousands of artefacts from the collection were hidden in a bank vault in Kabul by a small group of courageous staff from the National Museum to protect them from bombing and looting. Known as the ‘key-holders’, these men and their brave acts ensured that these priceless treasures remained safe for 14 years before they were once again revealed to the world, as some of the only remaining artefacts from ancient Afghanistan.

Ranging in date from 2200 BC to the second century AD, the objects are drawn from four major archaeological sites in Afghanistan – the ancient city of Fullol, where gold bowls from the Bronze Age were unearthed; the former Greek city Aï Khanum, founded in the wake of conquests by Alexander the Great; treasures from what is thought to be a merchant’s storeroom in Begram; and lavish gold jewellery and ornaments found in the graves of six nomads in Tillya Tepe.

“Presenting this exhibition in Australia is very significant, because of the opportunity it represents to build greater understanding between our two countries and because of the hope it offers for Afghanistan’s future," said Dr Patrick Greene, CEO, Museum Victoria.

“The National Museum in Kabul proudly states that a nation stays alive when its culture stays alive, and nothing demonstrates this more than these treasures, connecting us to Afghanistan’s cultural history when so many other artefacts from this time have been destroyed or lost.”

Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul
Melbourne Museum
22 March to 28 July 2013
Adults $24, concession $16, children $14, MV Members $14 (includes entry to Melbourne Museum)
Tickets on sale now via phone: 13 11 02 or visit www.museumvictoria.com.au/melbournemuseum
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For further media information, interviews or images, please contact:
Amanda Linardon on 03 8341 7726, 0400 130 307 or alinardon@museum.vic.gov.au

This exhibition is organised by the National Geographic Society and Museum Victoria, in association with the Queensland Museum, Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Western Australian Museum.

Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul exhibition is supported by the Australian Government International Exhibitions Insurance (AGIEI) Program. This program provides funding for the purchase of insurance for significant cultural exhibitions. Without AGIEI, the high cost of insuring significant cultural items would prohibit this major exhibition from touring to Australia.