Karzai opens London show of rescued Afghan treasures

Wed Mar 2, 2011 10:22am EST
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By Stefano Ambrogi

LONDON (Reuters) - Even in the chaos and violence of war there is hope. That is the message running through a new British Museum exhibition of Afghanistan's ancient treasures thought lost, destroyed, or looted over the past 30 years.

The collection of 200 priceless artefacts spanning 4,000 years of history, from enameled Roman glass goblets, stunning solid gold headdresses and polished stone tableware from Egypt, were saved by a handful of Afghan officials who risked their lives hiding them.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in London for talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron, opened the exhibition "Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World," late Tuesday.

In ancient times, the country was the crossroads linking Asia to the Middle East and Europe. Sitting strategically along the heavily trodden trade routes, now known as the Silk Road, it was here that goods were exchanged -- including lacquer from China, ivory from India and luxuries from Roman Egypt.

Preservation of this enormously rich cultural heritage against all the odds is a theme revisited throughout the show which has toured internationally since 2006.

Included for the first time is a set of stolen first century Indian ivory furniture carvings bought on the antiquities market by a London dealer only last year for an undisclosed sum, specifically with the intention of returning them. They have rarely been seen in public before.

"An individual has gone out and retrieved what is probably the largest single group of antiquities that were known to have been looted from the national museum in Kabul during the civil war between 1992-1994 and has gifted them back," curator and show organizer StJohn Simpson told reporters.

CLASSICAL WORLD   Continued...

<p>A museum employee poses for photographers behind a gold crown circa first century AD, from Tillya Tepe, during a preview of the exhibition "Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World" at the British Museum in London March 1, 2011. The exhibition, which displays precious and unique pieces on loan from the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul, opens on March 3 and runs until July 3. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett</p>