Washington, March 7 (ANI): Antiquities that were pillaged from more than 1,500 ancient sites around Afghanistan by scavengers, looters, and thieves, have been returned to Kabul.
Across the war-shattered nation, thieves have been pillaging antiquities from more than 1,500 ancient sites around the country and smuggling them abroad.
"It's like a sickness that kills us slowly," said Omara Khan Masoudi, director of the National Museum of Afghanistan. "Every day, we lose a bit more of our cultural heritage," he told National Geographic magazine.
But now, Afghanistan is finally getting something back.
The British government, with the help of the National Geographic Society and the British Red Cross, has returned 3.4 tons of stolen antiquities that were confiscated over the past six years at London's Heathrow Airport.
On February 17, a Red Cross freighter plane touched down at the Kabul Airport, carrying the looted treasure back to its homeland.
The artifacts are now at the National Museum.
Returning the enormous shipment took more than a year to organize, and involved the cooperation of participants from around the globe.
The Heathrow collection includes more than 1,500 objects spanning thousands of years of Afghan culture: a 3,000-year-old carved stone head from the Iron Age and hand-cast axe heads, cut rock crystal goblets, and delicate animal carvings from the Bactrian era, another thousand years earlier.
The oldest artifacts in the collection include a marble figure of an animal showing similarities to artifacts dating to the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, dating as far back as 8,000 years.
The collection also contains gilded bronze pieces, coins, and ornately inscribed slabs dating from Afghanistan's early Islamic period (8th-9th centuries A.D.) and treasures from the Medieval Islamic period (10th-14th centuries A.D.) that serve to replace the decimated collection at the National Museum, which was hit by a rocket in 1993 during the civil war, then repeatedly looted.
Through a quarter-century of violence, Masoudi and his staff somehow managed to save about 90 percent of the National Museum's masterpieces, an incredible feat.
But the museum still lost about 70,000 objects, most of them from the reserve inventory kept in storage.
Helped by Carla Grissmann, an American expert on Afghan cultural heritage who has been working with the National Museum since 1973, and a British Museum curatorial team, U.S. archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert compared the objects in the Heathrow hoard to tens of thousands of missing items from the museum's collection.
"None of the Heathrow objects came from the museum," Hiebert said. "They are from recently illegally excavated sites exported without permit," he added. (ANI)