Afghanistan: Forging Civilizations along the Silk Road. Edited by JOAN Aruz and Elisabetta Valtz Fino. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Symposia. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. Pp. viii + 134, illus. $35 (paper). [Distributed by Yale University Press]
Lost World of the Golden King: In Search of Ancient Afghanistan. By Frank L. Holt. Hellenistic Culture and Society, vol. 53. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012. Pp. xxi + 343, illus. $39.95.
Afghanistan is an elegant catalogue with symposium papers delivered in September, 2009, celebrating (and explaining) touring artifacts from ancient (ca. 1500 B.C.E. to ca. 300 C.E.) Afghanistan. As we expect of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this catalogue offers superb color plates, adequate architectural plans, and a helpful (but hardly exhaustive) bibliography. A map of Eurasia (and much of Africa) (pp. vi-vii) helps orient the reader; a high-quality satellite relief map would have been welcome.
This catalogue opens with an informative and somber introduction by Omara Khan Massoudi, who concisely, and with considerable political restraint, relates the vagaries of the National Museum of Afghanistan (in Kabul) from 1924. Massoudi's introduction and the sub-text of many of this volume's contributions suggest that "death and resurrection" might have been an appropriate sub-title for this catalogue: objects looted, then recovered at Heathrow, to be repatriated in 2009; artifacts still in Afghanistan newly catalogued and (we may hope) now safely conserved at the National Museum. On the other hand, the Taliban (from 2001) destroyed at least 2500 of the Museum's holdings, in addition to obliterating monuments (deemed "idols") in the countryside. This catalogue offers vivid evidence of the ravaging of the important archaeological site of A'f Khanum: Page 43 offers a photograph of the site at the conclusion of excavations in 1978; the same page offers an appalling photograph of the site after extensive looting and destruction in the 1990s. We can only wish Director Massoudi well as he attempts (remarkably successfully, it seems) to preserve and publicize (through travelling exhibits) the surviving treasures in the National Museum.
Frederik T. Hiebert surveys the evidence for Bronze Age settlements in Afghanistan suggesting large scale irrigation (ca. 2000-1200 B.C.E.), then collapse of small urban centers and the emergence of pastoral nomadism. In historical...