Afghanistan rebuilds its cultural history

The first step has been taken towards restoring Afghanistan's cultural heritage - and its dignity - with the opening of its National Museum to dignitaries and Western diplomats.

The new exhibition presently occupies just two rooms. Most of the building, decimated by bombs during the Western occupation, remains empty.

The artefacts include bronze digging tools, carved marble pieces and intricate metal goods spanning the whole of Afghanistan's history, reports the Guardian newspaper.

None of the items are thought to be from the 70,000-strong collection which was proudly displayed in the museum during its heyday.

For instance, the new exhibition includes little of the world famous, high-quality Buddhist material that highlighted the old collection.

The old collection was looted during the anarchy of the 1990s. Hundreds of items were smuggled overseas, with many treasures impounded by British customs officials at Heathrow airport in 2004.

The seized items were identified as "highly important ancient material" by the British Museum and couldn't be returned. By then, Afghanistan's bomb-struck museum was in no fit state to house the collection.

In 2003, the international community invested $350,000 to refurbish the building.

In February, the items will finally be returned to Kabul after years of languishing in the storerooms of the British Museum and HM Customs.

Their return will be marked by a ceremony attended by Afghanistan's minister of culture and Mark Sedwill, the British ambassador, reports the Guardian.

The exhibition is neatly divided between historic Islamic periods.

Currently, its pride of place is occupied by a magnificent two feet high bronze bird, which is actually an incense burner dating from the 11-13th centuries AD.

Rare stones from the Bactrian civilisation, who once thrived in Northern Afghanistan, are also on display.

Other artefacts include stone plates engraved with hunting scenes, brown age gold blades, arrowheads and other implements - all in remarkably good condition.

Afghan authorities hope that the new museum's collection will continue to grow, as law enforcement agencies crack down on looters and hunt the stolen artefacts.

For now, the new exhibition could promise new dawn for Afghanistan's cultural legacy.


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