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'Miracle' of 2nd century bowl saved from Taliban

Lost treasure from Kabul Museum turns up

Published on 3 May 2002

Author(s): The Guardian/Maev Kennedy

Type:  News

You can hardly conceive of an object more likely to arouse the Taliban wrath. Its survival is really a miracle

The art historian Dan Cruickshank has become the first outsider in years to see one of the lost treasures of the Kabul museum, a 2nd century AD stone wine bowl carved with Bacchanalian scenes of naked women and satyrs dancing and feasting. The museum curators risked their lives to protect it from the Taliban. "You can hardly conceive of an object more likely to arouse the Taliban wrath. Its survival is really a miracle," Mr Cruickshank said. "It was made to hold wine, it came from a Buddhist region of the country yet it shows very clearly the influence of many other cultures including Indian and classical Greek art."

The bowl, which is two feet across and could have held three gallons of wine, was hidden in the museumís most secure store in the basement under the ministry of information. The curators first feigned illness when the Taliban demanded to inspect the stores. By the time they were forced to open the crates, they had plastered over the carved decoration to disguise it. The ruse worked: the bowl was almost the only survivor, nearly everything else was smashed to fragments.
In the art gallery a curator used water colour to paint out animals and human beings, and those canvases were also spared. Mr Cruickshank was present when some of the camouflage was sponged away.

Many museum treasures, particularly anything with religious connections, went in the same orgy of destruction last year when the Taliban destroyed the giant ancient images of the Buddha at Bamiyan. The museum director, Orma Khan Massoudi, said: "They were in a frenzy. They broke all the artefacts they found offensive by smashing them on the floor and using hammers. What we had conserved for years was destroyed before our eyes. It was difficult to watch." The bowl may have escaped because it was excavated in 1974 - too late for the museum catalogue, which the Taliban used as a guide.

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