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Afghan Exhibit Brings to Texas Recently Rediscovered Gold, Artifacts

A traveling exhibit of precious art works from Afghanistan is currently at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, where it will remain until May 17. The exhibit, called "Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul," was organized by the National Geographic Society in cooperation with officials from Afghanistan. It contains many objects that have yet to be fully available in Afghanistan itself, partly because of the past 30 years of conflict.

Museum visitors are getting a view of Afghanistan that goes well beyond the daily headlines about war.

In this exhibit they can see the many historic and cultural influences brought to this land by Alexander the Great, the Persians, the Chinese and others.

Visitors like Dave Camp come away impressed, "I thought it was amazing; I thought it was fantastic. I loved it," he said. "I have never seen a mix of the Indian and Persian and Greek stuff combined in that way and it was fabulous."

A popular centerpiece of the exhibit is the display of gold artifacts, including this crown, that were part of the so-called "Bactrian Hoard." Archealogists had unearthed the hoard's more than 20,000 pieces in nomadic tombs in 1978. As war engulfed Afghanistan, museum officials hid the stash.

It was re-discovered in 2003.

Erlene Darilick came to see the gold, but found much more. "What surprised me was all the other things in the exhibit: the glass and the bronzes and ivories," Darilick said.

One of the recent visitors to the museum in Houston was guest lecturer Ajmal Maiwandi, of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, which is supporting restoration projects in Afghanistan. "I think in a multicultural, multireligious society like Afghanistan," he says, "culture is what binds people together."

In his lecture, Maiwandi described the progress that has been made in restoring sites like Baghe Babur in Kabul.

He says preservation of historic sites must be accompanied by social projects to help the people who live nearby. "Living conditions have to be improved in order that the sense of ownership is transferred on to that community," he asked, "Who will then look after those projects? Down the line, one hopes that this exhibit can make it to Afghanistan and tour some of the cities of Afghanistan, where I think it is very important for people to realize their shared history and understand the depth and scope of the civilization."

The exhibit is on a tour of the U.S., moving on to New York after leaving Houston. Organizers say they look forward to a time when the riches of their nation's past can be safely put on display in Afghanistan.