Monday, 13 October 2014

From Afghanistan to Perth: Long hidden riches of the silk road on display at the WA museum

From: ABC News Australia  1 August 2014

By Emma Wynne

Most associate modern Afghanistan with war and the Taliban. Images on the news show fully covered women, bombed streets and desperate poverty. 
But there is another side to the country; a side that reflects Afghanistan's history at the centre of ancient trade routes and as a repository of priceless cultural artefacts. 
230 pieces are now on show at the Western Australian Museum, in a new exhibition, Hidden Treasures from the National Museum of Kabul.
The display includes Corinthian columns from 145 BC, enamelled glass from ancient Egypt and a tomb stuffed with gold jewellery from the Greek city of Ai Khanum in the north.
Dr Moya Smith, head of anthropology and archaeology at the museum, said Afghanistan was a natural meeting point for cultures of the east and west travelling the Silk Road. 
"It was a natural geographic funnel for the movement of people and ideas from China and India on the east, through over to the western world, connecting to Macedonia, Rome and Egypt," Dr Smith told 720 ABC Perth. 
"It is this central geographic area between all these massive movements of material, people and ideas."
In 1922 the Afghanistan government created the National Museum in Kabul to preserve centuries old treasures from ancient Greece, Egypt, India and Persia. In 1979 the country was thrown into decades of conflict, starting with Soviet invasion.
Much of the collection was looted, stolen or destroyed, but in 1998 group of curators arranged to hide some of the items in a vault under the presidential palace compound in Kabul, only revealing the trove when a measure of stability returned to Afghanistan in 2003.
It is these items which are now on show in Perth. 
"We have a very small selection of what the total treasures of Afghanistan were," Dr Smith said.
"It represents a period from about 4000 years ago until 2000 years ago. 
"The collection dates from the beginnings of the bronze age settlements and real complex urbanisation, through to the period when the nomadic invaders swept in from all directions and totally changed Afghanistan, and ends with the Greek presence."
"The materials are every imaginable material that you can think of: gold, chameleon, bronze, terracotta, stone, imported ivory, glass.
"The gold itself is often infilled with turquoise, which is another local product that Afghanistan was famous for. 
"It's a very rich cultural heritage."
Dr Smith praised the bravery of the Kabul curators who hid the trove for safe keeping.
"Dr Omar Khan Masudi, the director of the Kabul museum, says 'A nation stays alive when its culture stays alive',"
"That underpins not just people's pride in their heritage but also their resolution in hiding the material against everybody who demanded to know what happened to it."
Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul is on display at the WA Museum until November 16.

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