In 2008 I was privileged to see some of the recently “re-discovered” objects on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The gold and jeweled artifacts were more beautiful than I imagined. There were bowls of ancient gold, turquoise studded jewelry, 100 gold ornaments from the Bactrian Hoard, painted glass, statues, and even a collapsible crown. I admit that I became misty eyed seeing the beauty I thought had been lost for all time.
Over twenty years later, Afghan president Hamid Karzai opened the Central Bank vault in the presidential palace and found sealed boxes from the museum. Archaeologists, tahilwidars, officials and an inventory team were assembled to open the cases, catalogue the contents and plan a tour if the artifacts were still in good condition. Luckily, they were.
In addition to closure and a sense of relief that the objects were safe, I was awed by the people who risked their lives to protect these treasures for the world. The motto of the National Museum, Kabul is, “A Nation Stays Alive When Its Culture Stays Alive.” Clearly the employees believed that message and had the foresight to preserve their cultural artifacts during the ensuing civil war, foreign invasion, religious zealotry and the 1994 shelling of the museum where 100,000 objects were destroyed or looted.