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Kabul Exhibition Displays Newly Excavated Ancient Artifacts

Ancient stone carvings on display at the Kabul Museum in Afghanistan

An exhibit of newly excavated Afghan artifacts is on display in Kabul’s museum. The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan recently announced a $5 million donation to build a new museum to house Afghan treasures that are currently touring the world but have never been publicly displayed in their home country.

Archaeologists and Afghan officials hail the exhibit - and a partnership with a yet-to-to-be-named American museum - as a new age for Afghan culture and a way to unite Afghanistan's ethnic groups.

A sculpture more than 1,500 years old, still covered in gold leaf, on display at the Kabul Museum
A sculpture more than 1,500 years old, still covered in gold leaf, on display at the Kabul Museum

A wooden Buddha, delicate stone carvings, and a sculpture more than 1,500-years-old still covered in gold leaf. Experts hope this exhibition in two small rooms in the Kabul Museum represents the start of something big.

Robert Knox, the former Asia curator at the British Museum, says he has never seen examples like this.

"Gandhara is the name of this whole province and it was Buddhist in those days," he said. "But on the back of it you see this wonderful painted set of images."

The colors are still vivid. The pieces date from between the 1st and 8th centuries. There are ancient coins and pieces made of stone, clay, wood, bronze and ceramic.

"They are the patrimony and the heritage of the Afghan people and these will be used to tell the Afghans about themselves," he said.

The pieces were dug up in Mes Aynak, about 20 miles south of Kabul. The ancient Silk Road site is rich with many more treasures. But it is threatened by a lack of funding and the impending opening of a copper mine - a $3.5 billion Chinese venture that is Afghanistan’s largest ever foreign commercial investment.

Still, there is much optimism about the new discoveries.

This exhibition is important not just for the unique ancient artifacts on display, but for the fact that they are on display here in Afghanistan.

These Afghan treasures have never been in this museum. They are part of an exhibit that has been touring the world. They were briefly displayed at the presidential palace in Kabul, but never accessible to the Afghan public.

The Afghan government has pledged $2 million for a new museum building to house the treasures at home.

"When we build the new museum, with big halls, I promise you will see opening that very brilliant exhibition," said Afghan Minister of Information and Culture Makdoon Raheen.

The U.S. government will contribute $5 million towards that goal, and there will be a three-year partnership between this museum and one in the United States, still to be named.

"There’s still an insurgency to be defeated, there’s still terrorism to be defeated, but gains are being made every day and this museum represents the future of Afghanistan," said U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry.

Afghan experts say this exhibit marks the start of a new chapter - that these pieces will bring the country’s history into focus.