"Lost" Afghan Gold Treasures Coming to U.S.

December 20, 2007

Ancient treasures thought lost in the chaos of Afghanistan's modern invasions, wars, coups, and countercoups will be on display in the United States for the first time, starting in May 2008, officials announced today.

The traveling exhibition will showcase more than 200 artifacts from four archaeological sites, including a hundred gold objects from the fabled "Bactrian hoard."

The 2,000-year-old Bactrian treasures were discovered in 1978 in the graves of six nomads who lived in the ancient nation of Bactria, which covered parts of what is now Afghanistan.

Russian-Greek archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi unearthed a trove of gold ornaments—necklaces, belts, rings, and headdresses set with semiprecious jewels—from a site called Tillya Tepe.

(See photos of some of the Bactrian gold treasures that will be on display.)

But the finds were later hidden and eventually thought stolen—until the Afghan government found them stashed in boxes in 2003.

In addition to the Bactrian objects, "Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum" will display a variety of artifacts dating back to 2100 B.C.

The exhibition will include bronze, ivory, and stone sculptures from the former Greek city Aï Khanum, as well as first-century A.D. trade items, many of which were imported from Chinese, Indian, Roman, and East Asian markets.

Cultural "Heroes"

The far-flung origins of the exhibition's pieces underscore Afghanistan's ancient role as a cultural transmission point along the set of trade routes known as the Silk Road, said archaeologist and exhibition curator Fredrik T. Hiebert.

Hiebert helped inventory the Bactrian objects when they were rediscovered in 2003.

"But this exhibit is really about heroism," said Hiebert, who has been funded by the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

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