11/16/2019, 09.00
AFGHANISTAN
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British Museum to return ten sculptures stolen under the Taliban regime

The stolen artefacts include nine buddha heads and a torso discovered in crates at Heathrow airport in 2002. Since 2009, the British Museum has returned 2,354 works of art to Afghanistan, Iraq and Uzbekistan.

Kabul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – After 17 years, the British Museum will return 10 ancient artefacts to Afghanistan, British police reported it. The items were stolen under the Taliban regime, which ruled the Asian country between 1996 and 2001.

The works of art, including nine buddha heads and a torso, will be returned to the country of origin at the end of December, after a temporary exhibition in a London museum.

Every year in Afghanistan hundreds of objects are taken from tombs and museums, because of the inattention of the authorities facing civil war and the poverty of Afghans, many of whom often plunder archaeological sites in order to survive.

The sculptures are expected at the National Museum of Afghanistan. The Afghan government claimed them right after they were found at London’s Heathrow airport in 2002. However, due to the county’s ongoing unrest and political instability, repatriation was always postponed.

The nine clay heads represent bodhisattvas, i.e. ascetics who are on the path to enlightenment. The torso is carved from schist.

According to experts, the artefacts probably come from Buddhist monasteries dating from 4 to 6 AD. The heads may have been broken off from torsos under the Taliban.

In 2002, the British airport authorities intercepted the artefacts in wooden crates addressed to unsuspecting employees at a London business.

Because the crates were shipped from Peshawar in Pakistan, customs officials suspected that they might contain drugs; they found instead afghan cultural artefacts.

Art experts believe they were smuggled following the ban imposed by the Taliban Islamic regime on all representation of the human form.

That ban led to the destruction of some of humanity’s most priceless artefacts, including the giant Buddhas in Bamiyan.

Since 2009, the British Museum has helped return at least 2,354 stolen works to their rightful owners: the peoples of Afghanistan, Iraq and Uzbekistan.

In 2012, the British Ministry of Defence made the single largest return: 843 objects.

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