Bactrian hoard safe in Kabul

KABUL (AFP) – Afghanistan is taking stock of its legendary 2,000-year-old Tillya Tepe Bactrian gold hoard that lay safely hidden in a bank vault for the past 14 years, Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani said yesterday. The 20,000-strong collection of gold ornaments dating to the first century BC-first century AD stayed in an inner palace vault throughout the civil war and the Taliban regime. The hoard was unearthed in northern Afghanistan in 1978 during the excavation of ancient burial mounds in northern Afghanistan by Greek-Russian archaeologist Victor Sarianidi, just prior to the Soviet invasion. [After the fall of the Taliban, the fate of the Tillya Tepe finds was uncertain, with widespread speculation that the collection may have fallen into the hands of the Islamic militants, who looted and destroyed most of the Kabul Museum’s exhibits. [In January 2002, the Greek Culture Ministry had announced plans to send archaeologists to Kabul «to look into the condition of the Bactrian treasure.»] «We need to take stock because there are some very valuable manuscripts and particularly our major collection of gold coins from Tillya Tepe, or the ‘Golden Hill,’» Ghani told reporters. He said the vault had not been opened in more than 14 years, despite efforts by the Taliban to force staff to reveal the code. «Last time we had difficulties opening the inner vault because during the Taliban they tried to open this and the staff of the bank very courageously had blocked the code. They were beaten almost senseless… but resisted and did not reveal the code,» he said. [The kingdom of Bactria, in northern Afghanistan, was conquered by Alexander the Great in 327 BC. His Graeco-Bactrian successors ruled the area for 200 years, after which it became part of the Kushan empire.]