Authorities are rebuilding the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul, which was once the best-stocked museum in the region.
Since then, the museum has been through many hardships and without the dogged determination of its staff it would have been completely lost to the Islamic hardliners who once ruled the nation. During years of civil war, the building was shelled and looted. It caught fire during the 1992 civil war and a significant number of its famed exhibits were looted. Taliban extremists smashed many of the centuries-old statues that were once the museum’s proudest exhibits.
The museum is slowly being rebuilt under the new government with the help of international aid and support. Thousands of looted treasures have been restored to the museum with help from British authorities. Many of the pieces that are on display at the museum had been kept hidden by staff, who saved them from certain destruction and kept their existence secret for a decade.
The museum received about 850 Afghan artefacts in early August, including a 3,000-year-old Bronze-Age axe, a first-century ivory elephant carving and a life-sized Buddha statue, objects that would have been destroyed by the Taliban. Speaking to the Associated Press, officials at the museum said that the British Museum had catalogued and helped return many of the pieces, in cooperation with British authorities. In 2009, about 1,500 historical pieces were returned to the museum.
The authorities are endeavouring to return the museum to its pre-war reputation as one of the finest in the region. In its golden years, the museum had displays that belonged to the Bronze Age as well as the contemporary Islamic period. A prized possession of the museum is the ‘miracle’ Buddha, which depicts Buddha performing miracles to silence sceptics. There are also many returned pieces that have not yet been catalogued.
Some of the pieces returned to the museum were those that were illegally excavated from archaeological sites. Authorities indicated that the museum once had 100,000 artifacts including millennia-old tools from some of the earliest human settlements.
Afghan king, Amrullah Khan, established the museum in the 1920s. Now, previously hidden artefacts, some made of gold and up to 2,000 years old, are on a tour of museums around the world and have been displayed in New York, Paris and London.