Germany returns two millennia old Afghan sculpture

Tue Jan 31, 2012 2:03am EST
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman

KABUL (Reuters) - Germany this week returned an ancient pre-Islamic sculpture looted during Afghanistan's civil war, giving hope to Kabul's cultural mavens that the rest of its stolen treasures will also make their way home.

Eight figures, one missing a torso and others without noses, make up the 30-cm high (12 inches) limestone antiquity from the second century AD, a reminder of Afghanistan's rich classical past as a confluence of cultures on the crossroads of Asia.

Faces turned to their left, they are believed to be audience members watching Buddha on his throne in the ancient kingdom of Gandhara, which stretched across part of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Foreign Ministry said.

"This is a masterpiece ... I am optimistic that in the future we will get the other artifacts back," said Omara Khan Massoudi, the director of Afghanistan's National Museum, which housed the sculpture before it was stolen.

Afghanistan's embassy in Berlin has been investigating who owned the sculpture since it appeared in Munich a year ago. It was flown to Kabul earlier this week.

As warlords battled for control of Kabul in the early 1990s following the Soviet exit, fighters pillaged around 70 percent of the museum's antiquities, or around 70,000 pieces, selling the choicest artifacts on the black market.

Massoudi, whose museum was also heavily shelled in the war, is working to get them back. "This is our responsibility... According to our laws, they must be returned to Afghanistan," he told Reuters.

Afghanistan's looted treasures have appeared across Europe, the United States and Japan. Kabul might see twenty ivories currently held in the British Museum return sometime this year, Massoudi said.   Continued...

<p>An Afghan specialist displays an ancient pre-Islamic sculpture that was returned to Afghanistan at the Afghan National Museum in Kabul January 30, 2012. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani</p>