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Afghanistan’s Hidden Treasures

Limestone fountain spout.

Gold necklace set with turquoise, garnet, and pyrite.

Folding gold crown. Could be laid flat and packed in a saddlebag when the tribe moved from place to place.

Omara Khan Massoudi knows how to keep a secret. Massoudi is director of the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul. Like the French citizens during World War II who hid works of art in the countryside to prevent them from falling into Nazi hands, Massoudi and a few trusted tahilwidars—key holders—secretly packed away Afghanistan’s ancient treasures when they saw their country descend into an earthly hell.

First came the Soviet invasion in 1979, followed about ten years later by a furious civil war that reduced much of Kabul to ruins. As Afghan warlords battled for control of the city, fighters pillaged the national museum, selling the choicest artifacts on the black market and using museum records to kindle campfires. In 1994 the building was shelled, destroying its roof and top floor. The final assault came in 2001, when teams of hammer-wielding Taliban zealots came to smash works of art they deemed idolatrous.

Afghanistan’s Hidden Treasures, National Geographic

Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
June 23—September 20, 2009

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