Recently conserved, stunning ivory inlays
to be displayed alongside treasures from the National Museum of Afghanistan at the
British Museum

Supported by Bank of America Merrill Lynch Art Conservation Programme

Twenty fragments of intricately carved and coloured ivory inlays will be going on public display for the first time since the outbreak of war in Afghanistan in 1979 and as part of the exhibition “Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World” at the British Museum. They were stolen during the looting of the National Museum of Afghanistan between 1992 and 1994 but were recently identified and salvaged abroad and are now being returned to Afghanistan. These beautiful pieces are among Afghanistan’s most famous collections. They date from the 1st century AD and are the centrepiece of a section highlighting current projects to safeguard and promote cultural heritage in Afghanistan.

These pieces have been carefully conserved at the British Museum on behalf of the National Museum of Afghanistan and as part of the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Art Conservation Programme: the aim was to stabilize their condition for public display and future return to Kabul. This opportunity has also allowed a thorough scientific examination of these objects and which has identified original blue, red and black pigments as well as revealing the pattern of colour decoration. These are important advances in appreciating the original polychrome appearance of these furniture inlays.

These objects were discovered in 1937 and 1939 by French archaeologists excavating an ancient city at Begram, north of Kabul. In two strongrooms hidden at the heart of a palace in the Kushan summer capital of Kapisa lay a wealth of luxury goods: bronzes and glassware from Roman Egypt, lacquered bowls from China and over a thousand ivory and bone inlays originally attached to wooden furniture. This spectacular collection of objects probably represents the hoarded treasure of the Kushan rulers and are some of the most important antiquities ever discovered in Afghanistan. The ivories are carved in different styles and show an array of motifs including beautiful women with elaborate hairstyles and wearing elaborate jewellery who are seen dancing, chatting or simply lounging sensuously in their private quarters; other pieces show ducks, lions, elephants and mythical beasts.

They are displayed as a new addition to the exhibition of objects loaned by the National Museum of Afghanistan. This displays over 200 stunning objects ranging from Hellenistic Greek sculptures, enamelled Roman glass and polished stone tableware brought from Egypt, and 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.

carved ivory furniture support

Indian ivory furniture support from Begram, 1st century AD

Notes to Editors:

  • An accompanying book will be published by British Museum Press: The Begram Hoard Indian Ivories from Afghanistan, written by Dr St John Simpson, March 2011, paperback £7.99. For review copies please contact Sarah Morgan at British Museum Press,

  • The exhibition Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World supported by Bank of America Merrill Lynch is in Room 35 at the British Museum, 3rd March – 3rd July 2011. Admission charge £10 plus a range of concessions. 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 Art Conservation Programme:
    Launched in 2010, the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Art Conservation Programme works in partnership with museums across the globe to fund the restoration of works of art that have significant cultural and historical value. By helping to restore the art of many nations, the programme aims to elevate awareness and respect of cultural traditions around the world. The company’s Art Conservation Programme is currently helping to restore a broad range of culturally significant artefacts, from international institutions, including: The Winged Victory of Samothrace at the Musée du Louvre, Paris to Picasso’s Woman in Blue at The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.

    Rena De Sisto, global Arts and Culture executive at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, comments:
    “Millions of works of art around the world are prone to deterioration, and this delicate and costly process is critical to ensuring that artworks are preserved, displayed and enjoyed by future generations. In the case of the precious group of Begram Ivories, the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Art Conservation Programme hopes to provide the public with a valuable insight into Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage before they are returned for permanent display to the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul.”

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.