April 23, 2009

Looted treasures returned by Britain go on show

Posted at 12:46 pm in Similar cases

If stuff has been looted in recent times, it appears that it is imperative that it is returned to its rightful owners. Unfortunately, older cases are regularly brushed aside with the notion that we should accept their legitimacy (despite no clear reasons to do so). Where the situation warrants such measures, then any return of artefacts is to be welcomed. Consistency across all cases would be even better though.

Daily Telegraph

Looted Afghan treasure to go on show
Afghan archaeological treasures thousands of years old are to go on display in Kabul after being rescued from smugglers passing through British airports.
By Ben Farmer in Kabul
Last Updated: 5:44PM BST 22 Apr 2009

More than 3,000 antiquities have been returned to Afghanistan after being confiscated by British customs officers and identified by the British Museum.

Situated at the crossroads of Asia and washed by centuries of trade, migration and invasion, Afghanistan has one of the richest archaeological heritages in the world.

The country has played host to invaders from Alexander the Great, to the Arab armies of the seventh century and Ghengis Khan in 1220.

Alexander spent approximately three years in what is now modern-day Afghanistan after invading in 330BC and several Afghan cities claim to have been founded by his armies.

However treasure hunters and looters have taken advantage of three decades of war and civil chaos to dig up and steal large numbers of antiquities.

As main hubs for flights from the Gulf and Pakistan, many have then passed through Heathrow and Gatwick and been spotted by customs officials.

Omara Khan Masoudi, general director of museums at the Kabul National Museum, said half the repatriated artefacts dated from before the Islamic period which began more than 1,300 years go.

He said: “Unfortunately in the past two or three decades of war, the central government was not able to control Afghanistan’s illegal excavations. It is still a big problem for us.” The national museum itself was repeatedly looted by the Mujaheddin during the civil war of the 1990s and exhibits were damaged by rocket attacks.

In 2001, Taliban fighters smashed many of the museum’s pre- Islamic Buddhist figures that they considered idolatrous.

While none of the three and a half tonnes of artefacts found by customs are thought to have been taken from the museum, curators hope they could begin to restock the ransacked Islamic and Bronze Age collections.

Staff are currently unpacking the crates and the best specimens for will go on display at the museum on the outskirts of the Afghan capital later this year.

Among the most important finds are several 4,000-year-old Bactrian stone artefacts believed to have been looted from northern Afghanistan.

Metal basins and candlesticks and a peacock-shaped brazier from the Ghaznavid empire of the 10th to 12th century are said to be in excellent condition. More recent treasures include a carved, wooden pen box filled with handwritten Persian poems and curses dating back more than a century.

Mr Masoudi said a further 4,000 artefacts had been sent back to the museum after being found in Denmark in 2007.

The British-found artefacts were flown back to Afghanistan with the help of the British Red Cross.

A spokeswoman for the British embassy in Kabul said: “We are delighted that so many people came together to make the significant joint effort necessary to return these pieces of Afghanistan’s history to the Afghan people.

“Afghanistan’s cultural heritage reflects a particularly vivid history and is especially rich.

“It is unacceptable for anyone to deprive Afghans of their heritage and, for its part, the UK will do all that it can to support the Afghan Government and people in preventing this sort of criminal profiteering.”

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