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Archive for the ‘Afghanistan’ Category

Archaeology has returned to Afghanistan in a big way. First there was the announcement regarding the Bactrian Gold.. Then there was constant news about the search for a third reclining Buddha in Bamiyan by Zemaryali Tarzi based on a note written by Huen Tsang. Now a Japanese archaeologist team has found some new structures in Bamiyan.

A Buddhist residence and a religious meeting place have been discovered from under a huge amount of debris in the Bamiyan province of Afghanistan.

(…) Habibolah Takhari, Afghanistan cultural deputy in Iran, says that after one year of the Japanese archaeologists working in Bamiyan, at last two houses have been discovered near the destroyed Buddha statues. According to Takhari, archaeologists believe that these two buildings were Buddhist residences and a place for holding religious meetings.

(…) The statues were historically damaged a few times before, once early in the thirteenth century when the Bamiyan was attacked by Genghis Khan, by Orangzeb Khan in 1689, and by Abdol Rahman Khan in 1892 all of whom made a lot of efforts to damage the statues.[Buddhist Structures Dug up in Bamiyan]

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Afghan Treasures

The Bactrian Gold which is speculated to be burried by Bactrian nomads in the first century CE was discovered in 1978. It survived the Soviet invasion, the warring mujahadeen factions and the Taliban rule and was found again in 2003. Recently an inventory was conducted and everything was found to be intact.

In ancient times, Bactrian civilization rivaled that of Mesopotamia. It was a fertile agricultural oasis and a thoroughfare on the Silk Road. Iranian, Indian, Central Asian, Chinese, Greek, Roman, and nomadic cultures encountered one another on the plains and in the capital of Balkh, which the Arabs called “the Mother of Towns.” Artistic and cultural styles fused. Zoroaster first preached monotheism there and King Kanishka commissioned the first human representations of the Buddha there. The poet known as Rumi wrote verses there, and Marco Polo traversed the city on his path to China.

The region was colonized repeatedly. Alexander the Great came to conquer this easternmost outpost of his empire, the last Persian province to fall, and made it his base; his inheritor later traded it to the Indian Mauryan dynasty for five hundred elephants and a princess. Genghis Khan destroyed it with his horde of ten thousand men in the early thirteenth century. “With one stroke a world which billowed with fertility was laid desolate,” the chronicler Juvaini wrote three decades later. And Babur, the founder of the Moguls and a descendent of Genghis Khan, seized the region before he moved on to conquer India.

The treasure may eventually reveal new information about the mysterious span of time between the decline of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom and the rise of the great Kushan Empire. The trove contains many unusual objects. One gold coin resembles no numismatic collection in the world: it depicts a man resting on the Wheel of Dharma, and on the reverse, a lion with a raised paw. Sarianidi hypothesizes that it was minted by the Greco-Bactrian King Agathocles during the interval between Greek and Kushan control.

Another gold coin is stamped with the profile of the Roman emperor Tiberius, minted in Lugdunum in Gaul between 16 and 21 C.E.–the first coin of its kind found in all of Central Asia. Other provocative objects prompt questions about the mingling and syncretism of artistic styles: brooches and figurines depicting Aphrodite show a Kushan interpretation of the goddess’s features–small-breasted, round-bellied, and more serious than her Greek counterpart–but she stands with one arm resting on a column, as was the Hellenistic fashion. [ An Ancient Afghan Treasure is Recovered]

The Los Angeles Times has an article on the Bactrian Gold with some pictures of the treasure. This month’s National Geographic too has an article on Afghan Culture. (links via India Archaeology)

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The other day I was watching the documentary, In the Footsteps of Alexander and the host Michael Wood walks to Kabul Museum, which is just a building under lock and key. There was one guard with an AK-47 kinda gun and all the artifacts were locked in the basement.

But now the Afghans want to restore their heritage back and they are asking the British to return their 2000 year old Dead Sea Scrolls of Buddhism from the British Library.

The Kharosti Scrolls would be a hugely prestigious centerpiece for the new museum. The 60 fragments of text written in the ancient script Kharosti on birch bark are considered by Buddhist scholars as comparable in historical importance to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Between the 2nd and 7th centuries AD, Hadda was one of the holiest sites in Buddhism drawing pilgrims from all over India and China. The scrolls are the earliest known Buddhist scripts and were produced by monks in the extraordinary civilisation of Gandhara, a synthesis of Indian and Greek culture spread to Asia by the followers of Alexander the Great.

The civilisation flourished at the time of the Roman Empire in what is now the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. [Afghanistan wants its ‘Dead Sea Scrolls of Buddhism’ back from UK]

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Archaeologists back in Afghanistan

Afghanistan, the land of confluence of Greek, Persian, Buddhist and Islamic cultures is a goldmine for Archaeologists. Years of war have destroyed many of the symbols of its cultural heritage, but now efforts are on to discover things which are underground.

Afghanistan was a crossroads for the major powers of the ancient and modern world. Cyrus the Great of Persia founded Bagram. Alexander the Great founded a town in his own honor near the edge of the Registan Desert, now called Kandahar. Alexander lived in Bagram (Cyrus’ Kapissa) for two years and married Roxanne, a young woman from the area west of modern Mazar-I Sharif. Ghengis Khan would later ravage the country, purposefully destroying the elaborate waterworks which lined the Helmand River. Those waterworks have still not been rebuilt more than a millennium later, but their remains are extant.

Afghanistan’s past is part of the world’s cultural treasure. This land was the limit of Alexander’s Hellenistic empire. These mountains and valleys are where London and Moscow played “the great game” for control of central and south Asia. Here Babur built lavish gardens, splendid shrines and magnificent Islamic schools and mosques, some of which still sparkle in the brilliant sunshine.[Afghan Archaeology on Road to Recovery]

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Bactrian Gold

Bactria, located in Northern Afghanistan between the Hindu Kush mountains and Oxus river, was the eastern province of the Persians before it was conquered by the Greeks. Something that has survived even after the Soviet and Taliban rule is their gold. Now for the first time this ancient gold will be available for the whole world to see.

bq. While other important archaeological sites are plundered or have been ruined by war, the Bactrian gold, discovered by a Soviet team near the northern town of Shiberghan just before the Red Army invasion of 1979, has had a number of narrow escapes, adding to its allure and mystery.

bq. An Afghan official who viewed the Bactrian gold recently in an underground vault in the heavily guarded presidential palace in Kabul described the pieces he saw, including an intricately designed belt and a gold broach, as “priceless”. [“Al Jazeera”:http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/D6A2AC7E-96D1-4CDF-8510-1FD7126CC672.htm%5D

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