When it comes to lost archaeological treasures, the news is seldom good. This time it is. The Bactrian Treasure—a cache of more than 20,000 gold ornaments from the Tillia tepe site near Sheberghan*—has turned up again.
That was unexpected, to put it mildly. The trove had been unearthed in the winter of 1978-79 by a joint Soviet-Afghan archaeological team, not long before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It vanished off the map shortly thereafter. Then there was civil war. Then the Taliban came in and started destroying any pre-Islamic art they could get their hands on.
The odds of recovering the trove looked very bad indeed. Gold ornaments can pretty much last forever, unless people get their hands on them. Gold in lumps or ingots is worth far less than treasures of ancient art, but it’s much harder to identify and thus much easier to sell. With so much other stuff getting stolen or destroyed in Afghanistan, there seemed little chance that a batch of fragile antiquities had survived. The only real cause for hope was that the items weren’t being offered for sale in any of the usual venues.
Last month, mirabile dictu, the Bactrian Treasure reappeared. Turns out it had been carefully stashed three levels down in the Central Bank vaults inside the royal palace compound, along with various other valuable and significant antiquities like the Bagram ivories. Here’s the AP version of the story. Here’s the New York Times. If you want additional pictures, try MSNBC, Spiegel Online, and BBC News. And: Tim May found a stash of photos here.