History : Nov-Dec 2016
DISCOVERIES D iscovered against the turbulent backdrop of the Cold War, the Tillya Te- pe treasure is a glittering assemblage consisting of thousands of golden pieces from all over the ancient world. In 1978, a year be- fore the Soviet Union in- vaded Afghanistan, Rus- sian archaeologist Viktor Ivanovich Sarianidi began digging at the Tillya Tepe site in northern Afghani- stan, which archaeologists had recently identified as of potential historical interest. Meaning “golden hill,” Tillya Tepe is located in Bactria, an ancient region located in what is now part of Afghanistan, Uzbeki- stan, and Tajikistan. It is thought the hoard was bur- ied by Scythian or Chinese nomads at the beginning of the Christian era. Sariani- di was an expert in the rich Bronze Age civilizations of Bactria, later occupied by Alexander the Great in the fourth century b.c. Later, as Rome rose in the west, Bac- tria was fought over by peo- ples from India, China, and Iran, each adding new cul- tural elements to the Hel- lenistic culture established in the region by Alexander. Sarianidi knew that an ar- ea that had been conquered and reconquered by so many peoples was likely to be rich in artifacts from their many cultures. Yet even this ex- perienced scholar was un- prepared for the dazzling ar- ray of riches he unearthed, which came to be known as the Bactrian gold. The Golden Hoard The workers at the site un- covered six tombs, dating from the first century b.c. to the first century a.d. They contained more than 20,000 objects, including golden rings, coins, weap- ons, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, weapons, and crowns. In addition to gold, many of these were crafted from precious stones such as turquoise, carnelian, and lapis lazuli. Scholars believe the graves were of six wealthy Asian nomads, five wom- en and one man. The 2,000-year-old artifacts found with them exhib- it a rare blend of aesthetic influences (from Persian to classical Greek) and the GOLDEN FOLDING CROWN, TILLYA TEPE, FIRST CENTURY A.D. NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFGHANISTAN BRIDGEMAN/ACI 1979 The Soviet Union invades Afghanistan. An insurgency against the invasion leads to years of war and instability. 1978 Excavations begin at Tillya Tepe, led by Viktor Sarianidi. The artifacts found are later placed in Kabul’s National Museum. 1988-89 After the Soviet withdrawal, Afghan society collapses. Authorities protect the hoard by hiding it away. Observed by National Geographic fellow Fredrik Hiebert, the hoard is recovered and returned to the National Museum. 2003-04 SARIANIDI/RIANOVOSTI Treasure Hunt: Search for the Bactrian Gold A trove of glittering artifacts unearthed in Afghanistan in 1978 revealed the stunning cultural diversity of the Silk Road in the first century a.d. A decade later, as conflict engulfed Afghanistan, a top secret plan was launched to keep the treasure safely hidden from looters. Tillya Tepe PAKISTAN BAY OF BENGAL INDIA AFGHANISTAN CHINA IRAN DISCOVERIES ARABIAN SEA TURKM. UZB. TAJ.