Afghan artifacts returned to Kabul museum

From the Associated Press

More than 1,400 artifacts that had been protected from looters and civil war since 1999 at a museum-in-exile in Switzerland were handed over Saturday to the National Museum of Afghanistan.

The collection, which includes a piece from a foundation stone said to have been touched by Alexander the Great and several items thousands of years old, was assembled in Switzerland by Afghans who wanted to save their cultural heritage during decades of war.

The oldest artifact dates back 3,500 years, and the collection spans a number of empires to which Afghanistan once belonged, said Paul Bucherer, director of the Afghanistan Institute and Museum in the northwestern Swiss town of Bubendorf. The museum-in-exile, which had received about 50,000 visitors since opening in 2000, is now closed.


A shipping container holding the collection arrived Friday in Kabul and was opened the next day at the National Museum.

Bucherer and Afghan officials ceremoniously unlocked the container outside the museum entrance, and one of the crates was carried up to a second-floor display case. There, Bucherer delicately pulled out the contents.

Among the first of the returned items to be placed in the museum was a small Buddha statue from Bamiyan, where two ancient, enormous Buddha statues were destroyed by the Taliban six years ago.

Another piece was a phallus-shaped stone that was once part of a foundation stone of a city in northern Afghanistan, Ai-Khanum, founded by Alexander the Great 2,300 years ago. A carved owl on one end of the stone represented the Greek city of Athens, Bucherer said.

“This piece is the link between Europe and Afghanistan. This piece was found in Ai-Khanum and it is, as I was told, part of the foundation stone of Ai-Khanum,” he said. “We know for sure it was touched by Alexander the Great.”

The National Museum of Afghanistan, founded in 1930, suffered damage and was looted and vandalized during years of civil war in the 1990s. After restoration and reconstruction, the museum reopened to the public in October 2004.


Afghan officials sent a request to UNESCO last summer asking that the objects be returned. International and Afghan authorities deemed Kabul safe enough for them to come back.