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Sunday, June 12, 2011

DISCOVERING ALEXANDER IN AFGHANISTAN




Yesterday I visited the British Museum to see the special Afghanistan exhibit, a treasure trove of artifacts dating back to around 3000 BC.  The finds were from various excavations and the museum of Kabul (what was rescued after the Taliban destroyed many important items). Four sites have been excavated and some of what was discovered is shown in this amazing exhibition.  During the war, brave Afghan officials hid many of the artifacts and these are some that are now being shown in the exhibit.
Some of the earliest finds are from Tepe Fullol, and these date back to 2200 BC. They included some exhibits of lapis lazuli.  Lapis is only found in Afghanistan and Chile.  The Afghan lapis is a slightly differently color, more purple. There were also bowls made with gold from the Oxus River. The Bronze Age culture was rich there as it was in the Mediterranean countries such as Greece.

What really interested me more than anything else were the Hellenic inspired artifacts, dating to the time of Alexander the Great.  Most fabulous were the finds from the ruins of Ai Khanum, a city founded by Alexander's companion and general, Seleukos, just 3 years after Alexander's death.  The site was not located until 1964 when the Afghan King Zahir Shah spotted a Greek capital sticking out of the ground.  The city had been largely inhabited by locals but there was a definite Greek influence in the architecture and artifacts found at the site.  The real name of the city has been lost but it is called Ai Khanum (Moon Lady)  There was a reconstrucion of the city and palace that shows it in 3-d and it is amazing.  Unfortunately in the early 100 AD it was looted and destroyed by marauding nomads and most of the treasures were stolen.

On the Silk Route there was another fabulous city, Begram, discovered by French archaeologists, where some valuable glass articles were found, dating to Egypt during Roman occupations.  Most of them were made in Alexandria and sent or traded to Begram for the royal treasury. There were also ivory carvings that represented the Indian river goddess Ganga.

In 1978 on the eve of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a Russian archaeologist discovered several graves that exposed exquisite gold crowns and other treasures.  There were over 20,000 pieces of jewellery showing amazing designs and craftsmanship of the people of that region.

In the rotunda of the Museum there was entertainment by a troupe of Egyptian musicians. 


The exhibit is held over to July 17 so if you happen to be visiting London, be sure and take a look!



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