British Museum blog

Back to Kabul

St John Simpson, Curator, Middle East

This weekend sees the official hand-over in the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul of a large consignment of antiquities which was recently sent there by the British Museum with the logistic support of the British Armed Forces.

These objects included the 20 ivory and bone furniture inlays excavated at Begram which were stolen from the National Museum of Afghanistan during the civil war (1992–1994). They were generously acquired and donated by a private individual, and conserved at the British Museum with the support of a grant from Bank of America Merrill Lynch through its Art Conservation Project. These decorative inlays were exhibited last year at the conclusion of our exhibition Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World, also supported by Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

One of the returned objects: a double-tube cosmetic flask in the form of a camel with each hump acting as a hollow container. This type of object was frequently placed as a grave-good in Bronze Age cemeteries in northern Afghanistan (ancient Bactria) during the late third to early second millennium BC.

These were not all though. The consignment also included the large carved schist statue of Buddha which was identified in a private collection in Japan, privately bought and donated and again temporarily exhibited at the British Museum last year. Another much smaller private donation was a medieval coin belonging to the twelfth century Ghorid dynasty. The coin had been found on the surface at Bamiyan in 1970 by an English lady who kindly offered it as a donation to the Kabul museum after seeing the exhibition at the British Museum and meeting some of its staff at a Guardian debate hosted here. Last but not least there were as many as 821 additional objects which had been seized by the UK Border Force and the Art and Antiques Unit of the Metropolitan Police, which we had identified as originating in Afghanistan (of which more anon in another post).

Dr Massoudi, Director of the National Museum of Afghanistan, collecting the consignment at Camp Souter, Kabul, 15 July 2012 (Crown Copyright/MOD 2012)

The logistics of this return had to be co-ordinated carefully as these were not the only items to travel to Kabul. As part of our exhibition loan agreement, we had undertaken to produce 400 additional copies of our exhibition catalogue, plus another 600 copies specially translated into Dari and Pashto, and we finally received these from the printers in China in April this year. This represents quite a large and heavy stack of parcels!

The timing was finally triggered by a request from Dr Massoudi, Director of the National Museum of Afghanistan, who wished to display the Buddha as part of a larger exhibition celebrating Buddhist art in Afghanistan. Many different parties became involved as it was agreed that the transport would be undertaken by the Ministry of Defence but we had to avoid the Olympic build-up. The details and final stages were kept confidential until after the pieces had been safely collected by Dr Massoudi and his colleagues from the British Armed Forces headquarters at Camp Souter in Kabul on 15 July. We are extremely grateful to all who helped.

A British Armed Forces News video about the return of the objects to Afghanistan

A high profile announcement of their return was made during a joint press conference in Kabul on 19 July by President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister David Cameron. This was particularly fitting as President Karzai had opened the Afghanistan exhibition at the British Museum on 3 March last year and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office had facilitated the earlier negotiations. Neil MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, said: “I am delighted that these important artefacts have been safely returned to the National Museum in Kabul. This is the outcome of the ongoing dialogue between our cultural institutions as well as the support of the authorities to identify and preserve items from the national collection of Afghanistan that had been illegally removed during years of conflict”.

Unsurprisingly, our colleagues in Kabul are very pleased and the last word goes to Dr Massoudi: “I am very happy to receive this very fine collection of artefacts … for me all the pieces are very important. All of them tell and show our rich culture and history, but I especially like the Bronze Age collection and the axe we have from this period and the Fire Buddha with flames above his shoulders from the Buddhist period”.

Filed under: Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World, Exhibitions

2 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. It is rare that such an exchange takes place, which is nice… But these are lesser objects of value, compared to the others in controversy such as Parthenon pediment pieces to be returned to greece, Indian jewel collections etc etc

    Like

  2. zankaj says:

    Reblogged this on Zankaj's Blog.

    Like

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 16,341 other followers

Categories

Follow @britishmuseum on Twitter

British Museum on Instagram

This photograph shows a mountainside in #Angola featuring large engravings which may be thousands of years old. This rock art is found at Tchitundu-Hulu Mulume, one of a group of four rock art sites located in the south-west corner of Angola, by the edge of the Namib desert. The area is a semi-arid plain characterised by the presence of several inselbergs (isolated hills rising from the plain). Of the four sites, Tchitundu-Hulu Mulume is the largest, located at the top of an inselberg, 726 metres in height. There are large engravings on the slopes of the outcrop, most of them consisting of simple or concentric circles and solar-like images.

Our #AfricanRockArt image project team have now completed cataloguing 19,000 rock art images from Northern, Eastern and Southern Africa, and will be completing work on sites from Southern African countries in the final phase of the project. Follow the link in our bio to find out more about our African #rockart image project and the incredible images being catalogued.
Photograph © TARA/David Coulson. Our #AfricanRockArt project team is cataloguing and uploading around 25,000 digital images of rock art from throughout the continent. Working with digital photographs has allowed the Museum to use new technologies to study, preserve, and enhance the rock art, while leaving it in situ.

As part of the cataloguing process, the project team document each photograph, identifying what is depicted. Sometimes images are faded or unclear. Using photo manipulation software, images can be run through a process that enhances the pigments. By focusing on different sets of colours, we can now see the layers that were previously hidden to the naked eye.

This painted panel, from Kondoa District in #Tanzania, shows the white outline of an elephant’s head at the right, along with some figures in red that it is possible to highlight with digital enhancement.

Tanzania contains some of the densest concentrations of rock art in East Africa, mainly paintings found in the Kondoa area and adjoining Lake Eyasi basin. The oldest of these paintings are attributed to hunter-gatherers and may be 10,000 years old.

Follow the link in our bio to learn more about the project and see stunning #rockart from Africa. This week we’re highlighting the work of our #AfricanRockArt image project. The project team are now in the third year of cataloguing, and have uploaded around 19,000 digital photographs of rock art from all over #Africa to the Museum’s collection online database.

This photograph shows an engraving of a large, almost life-sized elephant, found on the Messak Plateau in #Libya. This region is home to tens of thousands of depictions, and is best known for larger-than-life-size engravings of animals such as elephants, rhino and a now extinct species of buffalo. This work of rock art most likely comes from the Early Hunter Period and could be up to 12,000 years old.

Follow the link in our bio and explore 30,000 years of stunning rock art from Africa. © TARA/David Coulson. Watch the incredible discovery of this colossal statue, submerged under the sea of thousands of years. This colossal 5.4-metre statue of Hapy was discovered underwater in what was the thriving and cosmopolitan seaport of Thonis-Heracleion. It once stood in front of a temple and would have been an impressive sight for traders and visitors arriving from the Mediterranean.

Come face to face with the ancient Egyptian god Hapy for yourself in our‪ #SunkenCities exhibition, until 27 November 2016.

Colossal statue of Hapy. Thonis-Heracleion, Egypt. About 380-250 BC. Maritime Museum, Alexandria. © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation. The discovery of this stela, which once stood at the entrance of the main entry port into ancient Egypt, was an extraordinary moment. Its inscription detailing taxes helped solve a 2,000-year-old mystery!

This magnificent monument was crucial to revealing that Thonis (in Egyptian) and Heracleion (in Greek) were in fact the same city. The decree was issued by the pharaoh Nectanebo I, regarding the taxation of goods passing through the cities of Thonis and Naukratis, and it originally stood in the Temple of Amun-Gereb. The inscription states that this slab stood at the mouth of the ‘Sea of the Greeks’ (the Mediterranean) in Thonis.

A bilingual decree found in 1881 refers in its Greek inscription to ‘the Temple of Heracleion’ and in hieroglyphs to ‘the Temple of Amun-Gereb’. Together these objects revealed that Thonis and Heracleion were the same place.

Learn more about the deep connections between the great ancient civilisations of Egypt and Greece in our #SunkenCities exhibition.
Stela commissioned by Nectanebo I (r. 380–362 BC), Thonis-Heracleion, Egypt, 380 BC. © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation. For centuries nobody suspected that the #SunkenCities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus lay beneath the sea. Recorded in ancient writings and Greek mythology, the ancient Egyptian cities were believed to be lost.

Over the last 20 years, world-renowned archaeologist Franck Goddio and his team have excavated spectacular underwater discoveries using the latest technologies. The amazing rediscovery of these lost cities is transforming our understanding of the deep connections between the great ancient civilisations of Egypt and Greece.

See more magical moments of discovery in our #SunkenCities exhibition, until 27 November 2016. © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation.

#archaeology #diving #ancientEgypt
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 16,341 other followers

%d bloggers like this: