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Lecture: Art in the Shadow of the Taliban—Preserving the Cultural Heritage of Afghanistan

December 1, 2016
Nichols Board of Trustees Suite
Free with museum admission

Gil Stein, director of the Oriental Institute and professor of Near Eastern Archaeology, University of Chicago

Afghanistan is the quintessential “crossroads of cultures” where the civilizations of the Near East, Central Asia, South Asia, and China interacted over the millennia in a constantly shifting mixture of trade, emulation, migration, imperial formations, and periodic conflict. This complex history of contacts gave rise to some of the most important archaeological, artistic, architectural, and textual treasures in world cultural heritage—encompassing cultures as diverse as the Bronze Age cities of Bactria, the Persian Empire, the easternmost colonies founded by Alexander the Great and his Hellenistic successors, the Kushan empire astride the Silk Road, and the monumental Buddhas of Bamiyan. Sadly, the last 35 years of continuous war in Afghanistan—from the 1979 Soviet invasion of 1979 to the present—have devastated the cultural heritage of Afghanistan at every level.

This talk gives an overview of Afghan cultural treasures and describes three initiatives where the Oriental Institute has been working in partnership with Afghan heritage specialists to assess and repair the damage. One of these is the development of a bilingual Dari-English computer database to conduct the first-ever full inventory of the National Museum of Afghanistan’s holdings. The second is the use of advanced satellite imagery to map all the archaeological sites in Afghanistan and measure the degree to which they have been looted. And the third is training programs for Afghan museum conservators, curators, and archaeologists most involved in protecting sites, museums, monuments, and ancient art objects. 

Presented by the Asian Art Council

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