From the Soviet invasion in 1979 to the American invasion in 2001, Afghanistan’s antiquities were threatened. They still are. The Soviet-Afghan war (1979-89), ensuing civil war and finally the rule of the Taliban (1996-2001) destroyed active archaeological sites and ancient monuments and works of art. In March 2001 the Taliban blew up the two giant Buddhas carved in rock that had faced each other across the Bamiyan Valley for 1,500 years. They are now being rebuilt. The progressive destruction of the National Museum of Afghanistan’s collection of 100,000 artifacts in Kabul was less blatant but equally tragic. The museum was looted, bombed and burned. The Taliban ordered the destruction of all depictions of the human figure. By the time they were driven from power in November 2001, two-thirds of its collection had been lost. Since then it has been safe, although looting continues outside Kabul.
In 1988 some of the museum’s staff hid crates packed with about six hundred objects in the vault of the presidential palace. No one was sure how they had fared until 2004, when they were retrieved with their contents intact. About two hundred of these works, dating from 2200 BC to the second century AD, from the Bronze Age to the height of the Kushan Empire, are in this exhibition.