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Restoring Nation's Cultural Heritage

Published on 21 February 2005

Author(s): IWPRAA/Kaihan Zamani

Type:  News

While the authorities call for the return of looted artefacts, archaeologists plan new digs to replenish their depleted stock of treasures

After years of wanton destruction during the civil war and under the Taleban, attempts are being made to restore Afghanistan’s ruined cultural heritage. The fate of the Darulama museum, six miles south of Kabul, was typical. Reduced to rubble under the Taleban, at least 70 per cent of its exhibits are thought to have disappeared. Foreign countries, especially Pakistan, are now being urged to return thousands of artefacts that made their way across the border over the last decade. Although it was illegal, digging up and selling fragments of the country’s past was often the only way many Afghans could survive the war years. Many of the artefacts ended up in Pakistan. And now international culture groups say Islamabad must honour former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s pledge to set aside funds for their return once Afghanistan was at peace.

In Afghanistan itself, there are plans to replace the famous Bamiyan Buddha statues, which the Taleban demolished last year in spite of a chorus of international outrage. The new government also hopes to replenish the country’s depleted stock of cultural artefacts by sponsoring new digs. The Taleban regime carried out explorations of its own, but these were all too often no more than looting expeditions. One potential source of newly discovered treasures is Fort Hill, in the province of Khost, in the south-east, where the authorities hope a properly organised dig will throw new light on the 6th-century Akaemenad dynasty. According to legend, this hill site, near the town of Metoon Mangsoo, was the headquarters of a pre-Islamic king named Zamborak. The surface of the hill often yields precious objects. Many local people claim to have found necklaces, coins and jewels there and when it rains they come out in force to hunt in the upturned soil.

About 40 years ago, Fateh Mohammed found a copper pot in a nearby field full of golden ornaments and jewels. The authorities confiscated them. More recently, a group of children found a collection of gold, jewels and ornaments while they were playing football. One resident, called Mahoob, 90, said local people had tried - in vain - to burrow into the hill through tunnels to locate the source of the treasure. As a young man he had attempted to crawl down one such tunnel, but had never got further than 20 or 30 metres, which he attributed to supernatural forces. Akbar Rasoul, an official in the Khost regional administration, said the authorities planned an orderly archaeological excavation in the area under police supervision.
Under the Taleban, an excavation 600 m north-west of Fort Hill on the site of another small hill revealed 25 objects. But they were almost certainly illegally sold and smuggled out of the country.

The people of the Khost region hope the cultural wing of the United Nations, UNESCO, will help the interim government’s moves to protect what remains of Khost’s historic heritage. This time, they say, Afghanistan’s precious artefacts must remain within the country.

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