Last week National Geographic reported that 1,500 antiquities were returned by Great Britain to Afghanistan. The objects had been confiscated over the last six years at 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.
That would seem to be very good news, but Larry Rothfield asks an important question, what is being done now? This would seem particularly pressing with the reports that President Obama may escalate the conflict in Afghanistan, to protect Afghan sites. Particularly compelling is his argument that:
Afghanistan offers an opportunity for all those who did far too little to protect Iraq’s sites — the military, the State Department, UNESCO, cultural heritage NGOs, collectors, dealers, and the museum community — to develop a coherent, focused, and cost-effective set of initiatives. . . . But surely a task force given modest resources could come up with some measures that could make a real difference. Is anyone working on this problem?