Afghanistan: A Treasure Trove for Archaeologists

Excerpt:

The mid – 20th century blossoming of archaeological research in Afghanistan uncovered treasures of unimaginable value: carved ivories, Greek statues and Buddhist icons that mesmerized the world. Those findings also ignited gold fever in the country, inspiring hundreds of freelance “archaeologists” to dig for treasures of their own, with a black-market value that far exceeded a farmer’s annual earnings. Then, starting in 1979, war uprooted whatever fragile government protections had been put in place and thousands of priceless artifacts, some even looted from the national museum in Kabul, were spirited out of the country. But it was the fall of the Taliban in December 2001, and the subsequent power vacuum, that unleashed the most devastating rape of Afghanistan’s heritage to date. “Ironically, poverty and war are what kept these sites safe,” says Jolyon Leslie, head of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, which promotes the rehabilitation of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage. In times of conflict, civilians were afraid to leave home, he says, and the fear of land mines kept many from digging. Now that a nationwide campaign to clear the mines is bearing fruit, looters are returning to sites that have been untouched for years, and are even discovering new ones. “Given the price land mines exact, you don’t exactly want to promote them,” muses Leslie. “But it is tempting to put up warnings just for preservation.”

Complete at TIMES with photographs
via Treasure Hunt.

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