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400 Tonnes of Ancient Coins were Smuggled from Afghanistan


02 March 2005



Four tonnes of antique coins and 500 kg of gold jewellery and a number of historical artefacts were smuggled out of Afghanistan to Pakistan between 1992-94, according to leading archaeologists.

These antique and heritage items were smuggled out of Mirzaka in Paktia province bordering Pakistan, the official Bakhter News Agency reported quoting the archaeologists.

The coins, jewellery and historical pieces were dated between the 5th and 2nd Century BC and covered the period of Alexander the Great.

According to archaeologists, from Pakistan these priceless items had been smuggled to the US, Japan, Switzerland, Britain and Germany. The treasures might have been illegally excavated from across the Amu river in the region.

"During my recent visit to Afghanistan I showed pictures of the treasure, valued at millions of dollars, to the residents of Mirzaka and they said they had all been illegally excavated and smuggled to Pakistan," the agency quoted a foreign archaeologist as saying.

According to him, one of the coins alone was valued at $20 million. The smuggled items were in the possession of individuals, he said and added that the largest collection, weighing about three tonnes, is stored in Brussels, he said.

The archeologist said the Afghan government should convince those who had purchased those items to return them to the country.

Looting of precious objects from Afghanistan and smuggling them out to Pakistan and other countries had been going on from the early nineties.

The National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul had been systematically looted after it came under attack in the factional war between mujahideen groups for control of the Afghan capital.

Sources said streams of mujahideen soldiers repeatedly breached the steel doors of the vaults of the museum and systematically looted their contents, often guided by detailed instructions from Afghan and Pakistani antiquities dealers.

In January 1994, the UN agency Habitat bricked up the museum©s windows and repaired the doors, but that hardly deterred the looters, who blasted the walls with explosives. They carted away loads of priceless artefacts, including the largest and oldest collection of coins.

They not only looted what they could but vandalised less important items and damaged what they could not take away, like the life-size statues of Kushan warriors dating back to 200 BC.

The looters and smugglers left a train of stolen artefacts that stretched from middlemen and antiques dealers in Kabul, Peshawar and Islamabad to private art collectors in Tokyo, Islamabad Jeddah, Kuwait, London and Geneva.

Reports said in Peshawar, two 2,500-year old heads of the god Shiva that were once on display in the museum were on offer for $7,000 each, exquisitely carved ivory statues of courtesans from the 2nd century AD were available for sale in Islamabad for $35,000 each while a dozen such ivories were sold in London to a Tokyo collector for $600,000.

Archaeologists say the rape of the Kabul museum amounted to destruction of Afghanistan©s cultural heritage.

While there are still large, unexplored archaeological sites in Afghanistan, which could turn up more treasures, according to archaeologists and historians, the loss of the collection from the museum would make it impossible to link them to the past.

They said the museums collection was unmatched because Afghanistan was at the crossroads of invasions and trade from Iran, India and Central Asia for thousands of years and reflected that rich legacy.



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