Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World

Supported by Bank of America Merrill Lynch

3 March – 3 July 2011
Room 35
Admission charge

Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World will highlight some of the most important archaeological discoveries from ancient Afghanistan and will display precious and unique pieces on loan from the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul currently undergoing reconstruction.

The geographical position, overland connections and history ensured that it was a region which enjoyed close relations with its neighbours in Central Asia, Iran, India and China, as well as more distant cultures stretching as far as the Mediterranean. Bank of America Merrill Lynch is supporting this unique opportunity to see rare treasures of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage in the UK.

The exhibition will showcase over 200 stunning objects belonging to the National Museum of Afghanistan, accompanied by selected items from the British Museum. The artefacts range from Classical sculptures, polychrome ivory inlays originally attached to imported Indian furniture, enamelled Roman glass and polished stone tableware brought from Egypt, to delicate inlaid gold personal ornaments worn by the nomadic elite. Together they showcase the trading and cultural connections of Afghanistan and how it benefited from being on an important crossroads of the ancient world.

All of these objects were found between 1937 and 1978 and were feared to have been lost following the Soviet invasion in 1979 and the civil war which followed, when the National Museum was rocketed and figural displays were later destroyed by the Taliban. Their survival is due to a handful of Afghan officials who deliberately concealed them and they are now exhibited here in a travelling exhibition designed to highlight to the international community the importance of the cultural heritage of Afghanistan and the remarkable achievements and trading connections of these past civilisations.

The earliest objects in the exhibition are part of a treasure found at the site of Tepe Fullol which dates to 2000 BC, representing the earliest gold objects found in Afghanistan and how already it was connected by trade with urban civilisations in ancient Iran and Iraq. The later finds come from three additional sites, all in northern Afghanistan, and dating between the 3rd century BC and 1st century AD. These are Ai Khanum, a Hellenistic Greek city on the Oxus river and on the modern border with Tajikistan; Begram, a capical of the local Kushan dynasty whose rule extended from Afghanistan into India; and Tillya Tepe, (“Hill of Gold”), the find spot of an elite nomadic cemetery.

gold crown

Gold crown.
Tillya Tepe, 1st century AD. National Museum of Afghanistan © Thierry Ollivier / Musée Guimet

Notes to Editors:

  • Admission charge £10 plus a range of concessions. From 29th November 2010, tickets can be booked online at or 020 7323 8181. Opening hours 10.00–17.30 Saturday to Thursday and 10.00–20.30 Fridays

  • A full public programme will accompany the exhibition. More information is available from the press office.

  • An accompanying catalogue will be published by British Museum Press: Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World, Edited by Fredrik Hiebert and Pierre Cambon, March 2011, paperback £25

Bank of America Merrill Lynch

As a company doing business in more than 150 countries, and with nearly 300,000 employees, Bank of America Merrill Lynch helps a broad spectrum of arts programmes thrive. Support comes in many forms such as grants, sponsorships and loans to museums from its own art collection, and most recently, the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Art Conservation Programme.

Other current or near term programmes include: sponsorship of The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860 – 1900 at the V&A, London; global sponsorship of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; sponsorship of Manet: The Man who Invented Modern Art at Musée D’Orsay, Paris, and exhibitions from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Art Collection at the Mona Bismarck Foundation, Paris and Chester Beatty Library, Dublin.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch supports nearly 6,000 arts organisations worldwide, in the belief that greater cultural understanding can foster increased opportunities for all.


For further information please contact Olivia Rickman on 020 7323 8583 or

To book tickets please print or 020 7323 8181.

For public information please print or 020 7323 8299.