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Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World

Crown (Tillya Tepe, Tomb VI), 1st century BC - 1st century AD, gold and imitation turquoise, National Museum of Afghanistan. Copyright Thierry Ollivier/Musee Guimet.

Exhibition preview

AFGHANISTAN: Crossroads of the Ancient World has extended its run at the British Museum until July 17, 2011.

Previously Posted: An exhibition entitled Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World will be on display at the British Museum from March 3 to July 3, 2011.

The exhibition will highlight some of the most important archaeological discoveries from ancient Afghanistan and will display precious and unique pieces on loan from the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul currently undergoing reconstruction.

The geographical position, overland connections and history ensured that it was a region which enjoyed close relations with its neighbours in Central Asia, Iran, India and China, as well as more distant cultures stretching as far as the Mediterranean.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch is supporting this unique opportunity to see rare treasures of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage in the UK.

The exhibition will showcase over 200 stunning objects belonging to the National Museum of Afghanistan, accompanied by selected items from the British Museum.

The artefacts range from Classical sculptures, polychrome ivory inlays originally attached to imported Indian furniture, enamelled Roman glass and polished stone tableware brought from Egypt, to delicate inlaid gold personal ornaments worn by the nomadic elite. Together they showcase the trading and cultural connections of Afghanistan and how it benefited from being on an important crossroads of the ancient world.

All of these objects were found between 1937 and 1978 and were feared to have been lost following the Soviet invasion in 1979 and the civil war which followed, when the National Museum was rocketed and figural displays were later destroyed by the Taliban.

Their survival is due to a handful of Afghan officials who deliberately concealed them and they are now exhibited here in a travelling exhibition designed to highlight to the international community the importance of the cultural heritage of Afghanistan and the remarkable achievements and trading connections of these past civilisations.

The earliest objects in the exhibition are part of a treasure found at the site of Tepe Fullol which dates to 2000 BC, representing the earliest gold objects found in Afghanistan and how already it was connected by trade with urban civilisations in ancient Iran and Iraq.

The later finds come from three additional sites, all in northern Afghanistan, and dating between the 3rd century BC and 1st century AD. These are Ai Khanum, a Hellenistic Greek city on the Oxus river and on the modern border with Tajikistan; Begram, a capital of the local Kushan dynasty whose rule extended from Afghanistan into India; and Tillya Tepe, (“Hill of Gold”), the find spot of an elite nomadic cemetery.

An accompanying catalogue will be published by British Museum Press: Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World, edited by Fredrik Heibert and Pierre Cambon, March 2011, paperback £25.

Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World Gallery

Tickets: £10 (concessions available) – to book call 020 7323 8181 or visit

Times: Saturday to Thursday from 10am to 5.30pm, Friday from 10am to 8.30pm.

British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG