A glimpse of Afghanistan

This afternoon i took an hour out to go to the Afghanistan exhibition that’s on in Amsterdam. Fascinating stuff. Though I was disappointed that the man on the till couldn’t tell me how much of the ten-Euro entrance charge goes to Afghanistan.

What struck me most strongly was just how much of it is very familiar from European culture. They were once the eastern end of the ancient greek empire, and there was a strong greek flavour to much of the relics from the first couple of centuries BC (that’s late in European terms, but the influence lived on, perhaps as it did in the Roman empire to the west). Likewise there was roman stuff: they had strong trade with the romans.

Other relics had an indian appearance to me, but I’m less confident of identifying that. And some things looked like nothing I’ve seen: central asian relics that are “none of the above” familiar great cultures. Ingenious relics, like the basin decorated with fish, whose fins would move, giving them the appearance of swimming when water was poured in.

The most stunning exhibits were the contents of six graves of incredibly rich people (one man and five women) from the first century AD. The richest of those apparently contained 5000 gold items. On show was a lot of fascinating stuff, of which some individual items still look seriously rich, and some were totally unlike anything I’ve seen before. Also what looks suspiciously like a case of “we don’t talk about that” semi-censorship, where nothing pointed out that a knife sheaf in the man’s grave was richly decorated in swastikas (which were of course a wholesome symbol 2000 years ago).

There’s a coffee-table-book of the exhibition and associated excavations, on sale at the gift shop. It’s tempting to go back for it.

Posted on April 8, 2008, in amsterdam. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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