Preserving Afghanistan's Rich Heritage

Lecture transcript

Robyn Sloggett, 20 June 2013

Adrienne Leith:  Good evening, everybody. Welcome to this evening's lecture. It's co‑hosted by the University of Melbourne and the Museum Victoria as part of the "Afghanistan Hidden Treasures of the National Museum of Kabul" exhibition, which I'm assuming that most of you have seen. If not, please go and see it. It features over 220 precious artifacts of gold, bronze, and stone, as well as ivories, painted glassware, and other ancient works of art.

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we come together this evening, the people of the Kulin nation. We pay tribute to their elders, past and present.

Tonight's lecture, "Preserving Afghanistan's Rich Heritage," will be presented by Robyn Sloggett. Robyn Sloggett is the Director of the Center for Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne. Her research interests include attribution and authentication of Australian paintings, the development of materials conservation in the Asia Pacific region, collection, development, and history, scientific investigation of the materials and techniques of artists, and preservation of new information technologies held in regional and remote communities in Australia.

Without further ado, please join me in welcoming Robyn Sloggett to the stage.

Robyn Sloggett:  I assume you've all seen the exhibition. It's just breathtaking, isn't it? It gives me great pleasure to come here tonight and talk about the preservation of cultural material, keeping in mind that richness that exists in that collection, that is now travelling and which we have the privilege to see. As humans, we lose our cultural record for a number of reasons. We do it often without knowing. We outgrow it. We forget it. We lose it. We damage it. We destroy it. Sometimes we don't make it very well. It doesn't last. The story of the material culture of Afghanistan is a story of loss, restitution, expertise, vandalism, deterioration, and conservation.

There's no doubt that material culture is central to the human condition. Destroying cultural material is just one aspect of conflict. We see it again and again. Afghanistan has had a long, long history of conflict. Tonight, we're going to celebrate the conservation and continuity of Afghan’s remarkable culture.

Arnold Toynbee called Afghanistan the crossroads of culture. Located in Central Asia and bordered by Iran to the west, Pakistan to the southeast, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan to the north, and China to the northeast, Afghanistan was a meeting point of the great trade routes and has always been of military importance.

More significantly, as a cultural centre, it's attracted artisans, traders, political and religious leaders. Afghanistan's influenced and has been strongly influenced by the great cultures, Persia, Greek culture, Buddhism, Hindu, Muslim cultures. Afghanistan's history is also the history of Western civilization, of the trade across from Asia into Europe and back. The materials and the cultural influences of this trade are embedded in our own cultural identity.

All of this history can be read in the cultural material of Afghanistan. We can read the stories because we have access to enough cultural material to be able to piece together critical pieces of information. As I'll show tonight, there's so much that's missing. It's one of the great tragedies of the century which we are in, that we can recognize the loss, as well as celebrate what's there.

Tonight, I'm going to look a little bit at the history of Afghanistan to provide some context for the conservation of Afghanistan's material culture, at the threats to this material, and at the various ways in which conservation practice and preservation strategies work at local and international levels to save this extraordinary resource for future generations.

For the West, Afghanistan has long been a mythic, entrancing, exotic, and mysterious country. There are numerous accounts in journals, toward the end of the last century and the beginning of this century, that comment on its rich culture, as well as its strategic significance. Afghanistan began to emerge as a nation in the late 18th century. Ruled by a succession of monarchs, its stability was constantly jeopardized by civil wars and foreign invasions.

Afghanistan, as we think of it today, was mapped out in the 19th century as the result of what was called "The Great Game," the rivalry between Russia and Britain, with Britain being influential in Afghan foreign policy from the late 19th century. You'll see, when I talk later about the British Museum, the way in which the trade moves through these powers that had influence in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan joined the United Nations in 1946. While Afghanistan's position was a critical link in the great Silk Road uniting the East and West in trade, it was fertilized in expanding human thought and theology, philosophy, technology, and science. Strategic significance has been the major threat toward the preservation of its rich culture.

The earliest cultural material found in Afghanistan is stone technology. Hundreds of stone tools scattered across Afghanistan are identified as lower Paleolithic, and they attest to the presence of organized human activity at a very early date. They include quartz tools, hand axes, choppers, scrapers, more than 100,000 years old.

A rock shelter at Kara Kamar, 14 miles south of Samangan, yielded stone tools dated circa 30,000 BC. Archeological sites at Aq Kupruk where more than 20,000 stone tools were found and at Hazara indicate that somewhere between 50,000 and 20,000 Before Current Era, there were people in North Afghanistan who were domesticating plants and animals.

Aq Kupruk also produced what appears to be a carved face of a man, or is it a woman, in a small limestone pebble. This is one of the earliest representations of the human face made by a human hand. This cultural phase lasted some 5,000 years.

By 3,000 Before Current Era, there is evidence of the use of bronze in Afghanistan, as well as two main centers in Mundigak and Deh Morasi Ghundai. Mundigak, which is near Kandahar, had a large agricultural base and may have been the capital of the Indus valley civilization. By 2,000 BC, there's evidence of the early use of iron in Aq Kupruk IV.

In 1965, Afghan farmers at Tepe Fullol in Northern Afghanistan came across a cache of 20 gold and silver vessels, dated between 2,600 and 1,700 BC. This comparatively small find indicates the wealth of the region, probably due to the precious metals that were mined from the surrounding mountainsides.

Made by local craftsmen and probably from local alluvial gold from the river Oxus, the farmers who found they shared their finds, unfortunately, cutting up many of them in the process. It's likely and it's recorded that vast amounts of metals were melted down from artifacts that were pulled up by local farmers.

In 533, Before Current Era, Darius the Great expanded the Persian Empire to include most of Afghanistan. But the local Afghani tribes people fought back and finally defeated the Persian Empire about 485 Before Current Era.

In 328 BC, Alexander the Great and his troops spent winter in the province of Takar, northeastern Afghanistan, before crossing the Hindu Kush to defeat the Persian and Scythian armies at Volga and the River Oxus.

Now known as Ai Khanoum, the area containing the ruins of a great Hellenistic city, which we know as a Greco‑Bactrian civilization, was founded during this era, and identified the state of the Alexander fortress, Alexandria on the Oxus, which was later called Eucraditia. It was very, very famous city.

It's still possible to visit Ai Khanoum and examine the Corinthian columns that reflected the culture of the ancient Greece, although only a few of those that originally lined the city's main thoroughfare are left. There are at least two, according to sources in a local restaurant, where they've formed part of the foundation.

Once a great archaeological site, the surrounding plain, which was once the easternmost centre of the ancient Greek culture, is pockmarked with thousands of looter pits, some still containing fragments of clay or shattered lumps of marble remnants of statues that didn't survive the excavation and looting process.

That's a significant part of the story that, where there are looters, there's a lot of material that gets damaged as a result. The looting is a major part of the preservation saga that we're dealing with.

Chinese chronicles indicate that this Greco‑Bactrian kingdom was overtaken by the nomadic Yuezhi tribe from Central Asia in the middle of the second century BC. Some of the earliest and richest culture records of Afghanistan are from this time. We discovered in 1978 when Russian archaeologist, Viktor Sarianidi, excavated six graves at Tillya Tepe, a second century necropolis.

The Russian archaeological team subsequently excavated approximately 20,000 gold items, including jewelry, mirrors, decorated gemstones, gold plates, garments and hair adornments, coins and other items, including a collapsible crown and thousands of jeweled buttons.

The site throws light on the early history of the Greco‑Roman‑Bactrian kingdom, which is mentioned by Greco‑Roman authors, but has no written accounts. It's extraordinary, extraordinary find, and I particularly love these Greek, these gold souls. I don't know what you would do with gold souls but I want some.

The Indus settled in the heartland of Bactria where they formed the Kushan kingdom and by 500 A.D. the Kushan Empire, under King Kanishka, was flourishing. The Greco‑Buddhist Kandaharan culture reached its height. Kabul was the center of the great Kushan Empire, which was overthrown by nomadic White Huns in fifth century AD.

We know a great deal about this time because between 1833 and 1838, British army deserter, adventurer, and amateur archaeologist, Charles Masson, along with local tribesman Bellop Cairn collected over 80,000 coins from the villages along the route from Kabul to Begram, donating these to the British Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

These bronze, silver, and gold coins provide a unique insight into the social, economic, political, and cultural history of Afghanistan over 1,500 years ago. They include images of Byzantium Indian Parthian kings and gods as well as those belonging to the Kushan Empire and the White Huns.

There are also coins in Greek depicting rulers with Greek names, Dyotidus, Demetrius, Menanda, and taking as patrons both Greek and Indian gods, so Hercules, Zeus, and Krushna.

They were the first recorded coins of the Greek kingdoms in Afghanistan and these coins have provided source material to understand the history of the region and the importance of Begram.

In 1937 to 1939, French archaeologists excavating the Kushan city palace near Begram came across two sealed strong rooms that contained a wealth of luxury goods including bronze ornaments, glassware from Roman Egypt, lacquered balls from China, hundreds of intricately carved ivory and bone inlays that had been originally attached to Indian furniture.

They surmised that this find, which contained some of the most significant antiquities found in Afghanistan, was a treasure trove of the Krushan rulers.

The strong room contained ivories covered in different stalls, and we'll talk about these and the constellation of some of those a bit later, with a range of motifs including women with beautiful hairstyles wearing elaborate jewelry and other pieces with lions, elephants, crocodiles, and mythical beasts.

Buddhism arrived in Afghanistan around the first or second century A.D. The Chinese Buddhist monk, Xuanzang, describes a lively city of monasteries and monks in 1629. Images from the 1970s showed tourists flocking to the Bamiyan Valley. The Buddhas of Bamiyan and the cave paintings are on the significant Silk Road site where pilgrims and monks rested and undertook devotional acts.

They were dressed in Greek costumes. Sorry, the Bamiyan Buddhas, not the tourists, were dressed in Greek, they might have been, Greek costumes, leading academics to wonder if Buddhist philosophy influenced Greek thought as much as Greek styles had an impact on local art.

In 1832, when Charles Masson traveled across Afghanistan, the Bamiyan Buddhas and extraordinary paintings in the mazes of caves behind them were weather worn but intact. Today, the alcoves where the Bamiyan Buddhas reside look majestically out of the Silk Road but they're scaffolded and blank, the result of the Taliban decree that the systematic destruction should occur for all pre‑Islamic art.

The bright paintings and the evidence of the mix of artistic practice from the east and the west were covered in smoke from fires to try and burn the ones that were high up. Graffiti or they've been completely pecked away. This occurred as recently as 2002.

In 1833, Charles Masson began to explore the Buddhist history of Afghanistan, excavating 40 or so stoopers around Kabul and the Islamabad. The stoopers held the relics of Buddha and marked his journey. Masson's first excavation was a nobleman's estate a little south of Kabul. Within a week after he'd told the nobleman what he was doing, he'd found birch bark manuscripts in Ngari, which is an ancient Indian script.

He uncovered earthen figures entirely covered in gold leaf, which crumbled on exposure to the air, one of the challenges of archaeological work for amateurs. Clay figurines of animals and two heads of Buddha. His most significant find included the Biraman relicry found at super number two at Jalalabad and now housed at the Buddhist Museum. It's a masterpiece of Buddhist art. It has an outside container with a gold casket inset with garnets, embellished with figures of Buddha and other deities.

Inside were coins of unknown Afghan kings in the Kushan silk industry area on the Silk Road. It also had Byzantium coin, seals, statues, funerary rings, and fragments of birch bark manuscripts. The style and manufacture of this casket is also highly consistent with the art of the Scythians, as nine examples exist at the Tillya Tepe archaeological site in northern Afghanistan which date from the first century B.C.

That's just an example of a birch bark manuscript, a remnant. You can see how fragile that is and the probability that many, many objects like this were completely destroyed during amateur excavations.

Masson was also the first person to identify the importance of Hadar, later understood as one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in the region. Mason didn't acknowledge these sites as Buddhist. He thought that all this richness couldn't be relayed with religion. It had to be a powerful royal family.

By the 11th century, Ghazni in southern Afghanistan was the seat of the sultan Makmoud the Great whose empire stretched as far south as Delhi and as far north as the Caspian Sea, an immense empire. In 1827, when Masson arrived in Ghazni, he wrote, "We're looking in vain over the city for any trace of the splendour which once marked the capital of the great sultan Makmoud and almost question the possibility where we are wondering about its representative."

In 1827 when he visited Ghazni, he went to the suburb of Rosa to look at the tomb of Makmoud and he found broken figures of marble lions and other fragments and that was all that was left.

In 1221 A.D., Genghis Khan's army rode across Afghanistan destroying the city of Shahr-e Zohak , the citadel of Shahr‑e‑Golgola, and the fort of Shahr-e-Zohak. The near total wipe‑out of religious buildings and infrastructure in Afghanistan by Genghis Khan's Mongul army in that period left only a handful of good period structures built during the late 12th and early 13th century.

One has been recently discovered, a new one, but we know, tragically, that most of the culture of the good period has been destroyed.

The first Mogul emperor, Zahir‑ud‑din Muhammad Babur, conquered Kabul in 1504. In 1832, Masson mentions the dilapidated state of his famous tomb in the Pleasure Gardens. In the middle of the 18th century, Afghanistan was still a great empire which included Sind, the Punjab, and Kashmir. However, during the 19th century this changed and by the end of the first quarter of the 19th century, we were talking about when Charles Masson was traveling through Afghanistan, the central authority of the royal family had dissipated and the remnants of the royals where confined to Herat.

At this time, both the British and the Russians were taking an interest in Afghanistan and the first Afghan war was intended to unseat the paramount ruler Dost Mohammad Khan.

By 1835, Afghanistan has lost the Eastern Territories at Peshawar, and the northern Hindu Kush and other territories were caught up in the battle between the Brazaki clan and Dost Mohammad Khan. The British were supporting the reinstatement of the old, deposed king, Shah Shuja. Beyond the major cities, local tribes managed local territories.

This was also the period of the development of national museums across Europe, and material dug up by local tribes or interested amateurs, such as Masson, began to make its way out of Afghanistan and into the West. This signaled the beginning of Western complicity in the destruction of Afghani cultural material.

I just want to make a note, though, that culture is, as Marshall Langston once said to me, labile and slippery. It's always re‑emerging in different ways.

There's a new museum in Afghanistan now, in the city of Herat, which celebrates the mujahedeen struggle. That includes images of 50 dead commandos, rows of Russian rifles, clusters of grenades, and an impressive collection of land mines.

That's a challenge for conservation. I'm not going to talk about it, but it's worth keeping in mind that, although there's complete fragmentation, people take their history and their culture, no matter how recent it is, and they want to memorialize it and keep it.

I think that's something that we'll see more and more with Afghanistan, the emergence of a museum network celebrating recent history and culture, as well.

In 1997, the Taliban gained control of the central government of Afghanistan. In 2001, they decreed the destruction that all pre‑Islamic art in the country would be destroyed. They put a special task force in place to assure this, very much the way the Nazis did in Germany.

On your left is image before the Taliban destruction. On the right are the feet of the Great Buddha. This is all that's left. Here's some of the cave paintings, which have been completely defaced. Then, on the right, the scaffolding. There's a Japanese team undertaking conservation, at the moment.

There's a lot of debate about whether this becomes a memory site or an active conservation site. Whether it's possible to restitute the form of the Buddha with the material that's left, or whether it should be a movie film on the surface, or a laser show. I think that's still being sorted.

In the meantime, there's a conservation team there trying to strengthen the walls. The whole area is a mess of caves, and, of course, the shelling has completely weakened all of the structure that the artwork, which still exists, even if deface, rests. I think, overall, the summation is that it will be impossible, really, to conserve this site to any level.

This rather condensed journey through the history of Afghanistan was possible because of the evidence of its cultural history in the stories of some of the world's most significant events, interactions, and exchanges that can be read through the material culture. This culture is preserved around the world.

The collection of cultural material, however, is a two‑edged sword.

Masson was able to save over 80,000 coins by excavation. This collection occurred against a backdrop of a much larger collection activity being undertaken by local tribes, who would collect coins, almost as a harvest, according to Masson, and sell them to local Hindu money‑traders, where they were melted down and re‑minted.

We find a number of places where there's evidence of this re‑use of archaeological material for contemporary purposes in Afghanistan. I'm talking a long tradition of re‑use.

During the 19th century, large amounts of material were removed from the country. The British Museum catalog alone lists 12,000 items under the term "Afghanistan." Over 8,000 of these were from the India Museum in London, which began as a museum of the British East India Company in East India House, in Leadenhall Street in the city of London. This is just images of that.

So far I've been talking about threats to cultural material, in particular the war and social disruption. Conservation, however, is about preservation, but, most importantly, it's about establishing, or attempting to re‑establish, meaning. We only preserve something so that we can understand it.

We'll look at the ways in which threats that we've just reviewed can be mitigated by conservation.

The ivories from Begram are a good news story, unlike the fate of most of the looted material from the national museum. These ivories were stolen in 1992, from Kabul, in the heart of the Afghan Civil War.

They were only, finally, recovered following the intervention of officials from the British Museum with their then owner, who knew what they had, but was reluctant, initially, to return them. These were the ivories found by the French archaeologists Joseph and Ria Hackin in 1938 and 1939 that I mentioned before.

Ivory's not a strong material. It's composed of an inorganic lattice, with calcium and magnesium ions. It's about 60 percent inorganic. Then an organic, largely proteinaceous matrix of collagen, about 40 percent. Deteriorated ivory also has a carbonate and fluoride, and that's used to help date it. It's possible to do analysis of ivory, to establish a date.

The collagen in ivory's severely degraded in high humidity. Buried ivory, of course, becomes very brittle. It makes it chalky and crumbly, and it can also lead to delamination of the growth layers. Ivory's a natural product, grows. It has various layers in it, like a tree layer, really. The other thing that happens to ivory is it becomes irreparably stained if it's buried.

These works were treated at the British Museum. The first task for conservators was to check the condition of the ivories, and look for evidence of previous restoration that might disguise the true condition of the objects, or even the actual way the objects should have been put together.

What the conservators found was what appeared to be complete pieces were, in fact, reconstructions using separate pieces. Some of the reconstructions made sense, and some were badly wrong. The grain on the ivory enabled the conservators to understand what had been stuck the wrong way around.

Because ivory is so susceptible, it's one of those materials that often has triage intervention in an archaeological site. The Hackin team used warm gelatin to consolidate the flaking ivory. While triage treatment is good for an immediate problem, it's not a substitute for proper conservation.

With time this gelatin contracted, and as it contracts, it begins to pull those layers of ivory off, so you get delamination of the ivory. This is what happened with these ivories. Small pieces of ivory were coming off the surface. Of course, gelatin's reversible with moisture, but then you've got a problem, because water on delaminating ivory's only going to swell them and exacerbate the problem.

Because the ivories involved were damaged, they'd been glued together. Old glues needed to be removed. They'd also been filled, to give them a sense of wholeness, entireness. That needed to be removed.

Then they needed to be re‑attached appropriately, and the old fills re‑filled where it was necessary to give some stability. Then the conservators in‑painted over those fills to give a sense of visual continuity.

While the objects were in conservation, they were also examined using Raman spectroscopy and multispectral imaging, including ultraviolet induced visible luminescence imaging, which I'll talk about a bit in a minute. These enabled pigment identification.

The Raman analysis indicated vermillion and hematite, which were the red colors, and indigo, a blue color, and carbon black. Multispectral imaging indicated the possible use of a now‑degraded organic pigment.

Some of the ivories were covered in a manganese‑containing black deposit on the surface. This appeared to be part of the depositional process rather than a deliberately applied pigment.

The fact that the blue was indigo, rather than the local ultramarine, may indicate that the ivories came from India, or were produced by local Indian trades people or imported craftsmen working in Indian stalls in Afghanistan.

I'm just going to talk a little bit more about the science of this, because I think it's intrinsic to how we build our knowledge base.

Analytical tools such as Raman and multispectral imaging, which I just mentioned, are standard methods in our analysis, attribution, and authentication. These methods include optical spectroscopic methods, such as infrared, X‑ray diffraction, and others.

The Raman effect arises when a photon which is incident on a molecule interacts with the molecule. In classic terms, it perturbs the molecular electric field. It throws it a bit off‑balance. The vibrational energy that's given off can then be read.

What we're reading is the algorithm that's measuring the way that energy is affected by the material. Each material has the ability to affect that energy in a particular way, and we can read that out.

This is multispectral imaging, which was used. Multispectral imaging uses the different regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. This is, like, the light spectrum, to reveal different information. Depending what tool we use, and which point of the electromagnetic spectrum that tool utilizes, we can get a different ability to analyze materials. It's a very useful tool.

It's how we use infrared and X‑rays as well as visible light. Visible light is only one part of the multispectral imaging, but then we have sound waves, as well. At one end, X‑ray, infrared.

What we're doing when we look at this material is understanding how molecules behave. These are the various kind of molecular probings, the oscillations, and this is part of what we're reading when we're using these kinds of instruments.

You can see that different molecules have different ways that they oscillate, and it's possible to analyze these oscillations, and then, from that, determine the type of material that we're looking at.

Sometimes we can use infrared spectroscopy. That is utilizing that light in the invisible spectrum, the heat component of light, putting it on the object, measuring the energy, seeing what comes through the object, and then emitting the energy again.

What we get from these sorts of tools is this kind of readout. We get a graph, and, of course, then we have to go to an atlas to read what that is. It's basically a matching game, where you use a particular instrument. It gives us a particular type of story, in this case a spectra, and then we can go to an atlas and read against the spectra we've got with the spectra that have been mapped.

Infrared's really good for inorganic material. X‑ray diffraction, here, is good for ceramics. That also give us a particular X‑ray diffraction pattern, and that's using another form of invisible energy, the X‑ray. Scanning electron microscopy gives us elemental analysis.

The Begram ivories came from a private owner, so although we knew the provenance of them, there was a period there where we didn't know what had happened to them.

It can be argued that preserving objects in a museum in the UK is better than having them melted down by Afghanistani farmers, but the trade in cultural material also involves the trade in fakes and forgeries. These corrupt our understanding of the cultural record.

Cases of fake objects made from old coins are not uncommon. It's made from the same material as the original artifacts, from the same site, so authenticating gold is problematic.

This work, by Eugster, Kramers, Krähenbühl, was very interesting. What they did was use a uranium, thallium, helium dating technique to identify the date that gold objects were last melted. This is very interesting, because normally, if you're analyzing objects, you're looking for trace elements to try and determine source.

This determines the last time that the objects were melted at various temperatures. It reads out the isotopes, which is a single element, the number for protons and neutrons within the material.

Isotopes are in different forms. They indicate not, in this case, the point of manufacture, but later production. They used a specially designed, ultra‑sensitive mass spectrometer.

The problem with this is that it does require standards and samples. They took about 20 mg of gold from a range of modern artifacts, but then, of course, to test it against real objects you also need to take samples.

The samples were etched, to remove any contamination from the surface, and atmospheric pollution. They were heated, and the out‑gassing produced a particular pattern. It was that pattern that was read. The measurements of the uranium and the thallium concentrations were required to ascertain the time that the gold was melted. About five milligrams was taken from each object as part of this process.

They concluded from the patterns of the individual sample that it is evident that ancient gold released its radiogenic helium‑4 within this range of a peak between 700 and 800 degrees Celsius. That's a level that needs to be heated. Modern gold yielded no, or very little, helium‑4 at this. It's a very useful method for determining attribution. However, you do have to melt samples.

In 2009, Hoffman and Miller published a paper on production and consumption of copper‑based metals in the Indus Valley. They reviewed data and took some new analysis. They looked at what people had understood to date, and then they also did some lead isotope analysis.

Lead's useful because it has four stable isotopes with a half life of about 53,000 years for 202. Lead isotopes are a useful measure because they don't fractionate during smelting or other subsequent manufacturing processes. It's possible to read them even during the manufacturing process.

Hoffman and Miller's work on lead isotopes demonstrated that the technique was useful in determining a number of potential source areas, even when there are no geologic comparisons. That is, when you don't know where the object might have come from.

They did this, then their findings indicated, in the Indus tradition, metal smiths relied on sourcing metal either as ingots or as scraps, which they melted down rather, than smelting, to produce artifacts. This throws light on the importance of trade of metals across the region.

The large number of copper ingots found in the Indus Valley appears to indicate that the people traded ingots in surrounding areas ‑‑ Rajasthan, Baltistan, Afghanistan, and Oman. Their study also indicated that, while some complex alloying might have taken place, there was no evidence of elite control of metal production. That access to metals was relatively widespread.

Again, we're talking about ingots, which are melted down material. This is re‑use of cultural material.

Lapis lazuli, from Baltistan, was an important mineral, and continued to be to modern times. Apart from helping to understand the stories of individual objects of sites, conservation also tells us about the origin of trading materials. Lapis Lazuli, ultramarine, is a wonderful story.

The conclusion that the Begram Ivories are of Indian origin was the result of understand that there was indigo rather than Afghanistani‑sourced lapis lazuli used on them. We know something about the trade routes and the value of lapis lazuli by analysis being undertaken on the objects in which they're used. Again, these studies are very useful.

In 1995, at the University of Melbourne, the rare books librarian opened a metal cabinet and found nearly 200 Middle Eastern manuscripts. Since then, we've had an ongoing research project to understand more about these. Raman analysis has been used to identify the pigments, and lapis lazuli is a predominant pigment in most of these Middle Eastern manuscripts.

Raman is useful because it provides through‑air analysis. You don't need to take samples. It makes it particularly relevant for a manuscript, where, clearly, taking a five milligram sample would leave a messy hole in the work. It can analyze the structure of organic and inorganic pigments, and it can focus on a very small particle, two microns.

If you think about a full stop, that's about 400 microns. Raman is a very, very sophisticated tool to use for this kind of analysis.

First, we established a database of material for references, and then we started to analyze the manuscripts. The blues were three types ‑‑ azurite, indigo, and lapis lazuli. Here's some lapis lazuli in the raw.

Badakhshan mines, in Afghanistan, is where it's sourced, but, as well, from Persia, Tibet, and China. Marco Polo wrote of the area, when he traveled through, "There's a mountain in that region where the finest azure in the world is found. It appears in veins, like silver streaks."

At one time, lapis lazuli was more expensive than gold. Although traded in the medieval period in Europe, it's been found in early works in England and France in the 12th Century and 1000, respectively.

The Italian artist Cennini Cennino wrote instructions to purify ultramarine in his "Craftsman's Handbook" in 1437. He describes pounding the stone, melting it in a gum mastic and wax, kneading it, and then reducing it with some caustic soda. The first particles to come out of that are the finest and the purist.

Lapiz lazuli's comprised of sodium aluminosilicate, and it contains sulfur. It's got a hardness between five and six on the Mohs scale, so it's not particularly hard, but it's a beautiful mineral.

This was a manuscript. The sales inscription on the front leaf, it's the volume cover that you saw when I started talking about the Melbourne Uni collection. The sales inscription on the front leaf says, "'Diwan‑i Aṣṣafi,' written by Ali al‑Meshedi. Splendid calligraphy and decoration. 15th Century. £75."

The pages here comprise a heavy northern mills Italian paper that was specially designed for the Oriental market. You can see the hat at the bottom. That's a watermark that indicates that this is Venetian paper.

This is part of the Silk Road story, because minerals and other materials would go across the Mediterranean, and then paper would come back, as a ballast in the ships. There was a big trade in Venetian paper because it was heavy, as well.

These are just a bit of fun to look at some of the ways in which lapis lazuli is such a significant pigment, and to give you some idea of how finely this has to be ground to be used in those images.

This is a 17th Century Arabic text, comprising two separate manuscripts. "The 100 Sayings of Ali," written by Sheikh Mahmoud Nihpoori, and translated into the Persian, and a description of the pilgrimage to Mecca, with plans and illuminations by Nitsani.

The volume appears to be housed in textbooks from two different times. We can see lapis lazuli in the dome and in the beautiful, beautiful work in the bright blue on the bottom right.

Lapis lazuli was also the predominant pigment mixed to produce greens, for example, and browns of the trees. Here are just a range of manuscripts from that collection.

Conservation science is critical in maintaining the meaning of Afghanistan's cultural record. As this lecture has shown, Afghan culture presents an extraordinary opportunity to understand the beginning and uptake of technologies, philosophies, and religions. We know this from the cultural record that remains, even though we know that so much doesn't remain any longer.

It's also clear there are significant amounts of Afghani cultural material in private hands. Now, I want to look at the trade in Afghani cultural material, and how this jeopardizes our own understanding of Afghan culture, and our own.

In a recent article, "Modern Antiquities, The Looted and The Fake," David Scott spells out the links between theft and fraud in the illicit trade in cultural material. This is no minor problem.

At a conference held in London, in May, 2005, Paul Craddock, a scientist at the British Museum involved in the authentication of artifacts, said, "The amount of legitimate material on the market is very, very small. Most antiquities on the market nowadays are either stolen or forgeries."

Neil Brodie, he's an expert in the area and provides some advice to the UN, identifies a harmful consequence of the removal of cultural objects from their original context, causing irreparable damage to the tangible and intangible cultural wholes of which they're originally a part.

He identifies, in jeopardy, archaeological knowledge, jeopardized by illegal excavation because scientific excavation and documentation's not adhered to. Cultural identities because the loss of cultural material jeopardized collective memory and history. Cultural mistranslation, particularly within astheticization of the project, which hinders a proper understanding and appreciation of the original functions and significance. Sovereignty, and economic loss, and criminality.

According to Bordie, there are suspected articulations between the illicit trade in cultural objects and other organized criminal activities, such as fraud and money laundering, and links with drug smuggling, which has been clearly demonstrated in Latin America. It's shown in Afghanistan that money derived from trade goes to support armed groups.

The trade in artifacts has some strong supporters, however. James Cuno, at The Getty, and other institutions that signed The Declaration of the Universal Museum in 2002. Those institutions and individuals form a strong lobby group to argue that trade supports universal acquisition of knowledge, and, in many cases, has proven the savior of significant parts of a nation's record.

As I've shown tonight, that argument can cut both ways. The damage is significant, however because gold statues achieve high prices and are easily transportable, less easily traded material, such as pots, are destroyed during the digging, or broken to see if anything's still stored inside.

According to Neil Brodie, illicit trade is more pronounced than it's ever been in the past. He notes the appearance on the market of large quantities of material from Africa and Asia, targeting of previously immune religious monuments. We've seen that with the Taliban.

Use of improved means of detection and destruction. Metal detectors, bulldozers, dynamite, power tools. New ways of marketing and selling this material. Particularly the Internet, where it's very hard to trace ownership, source, or even who you're purchasing it from.

The American government has a cultural property training resource page for its military personnel. They identify the issue of looting in wartime as major, and discuss the sites in the regions of Iraq, Nangarhar, Balkh, Samangan, Kunduz, Badakhshan, the mountainous regions in the center of Afghanistan, Bamyan, Yakawlong.

Further south, Panjshir, Kohistan, Kapisa, Begram, Kabul, Kandahar, Helmand, Sistan. Let us not forget the Eastern regions, such as Jalalabad, Hada, for its beautiful Buddhist monasteries, Kunar, Laghman, Pachir Aw Agam, et cetera.

I'm quoting, "These sites, of which I mention only a few, have been subjected to illegal excavations by local commanders for the past 20‑some years. Before the Taliban, during the Taliban, after the Taliban, and are still being looted today."

"If we add up the values of numerous objects looted and illegally sold these past two decades, it amounts to several billion dollars worth of art objects, belonging and constituting Afghanistan's wealth and national heritage, now in the pockets and homes of private individuals and collectors."

"Afghanistan's banking system is not yet established, and, therefore, any money collected is placed in foreign countries. Afghanistan's loss is doubled. They're robbed financially, and they're deprived of their right to a proud cultural heritage."

The UN has a number of conventions aimed at protecting cultural property in war and illicit trade. The 1954 Convention on the Protection of Cultural Material in Armed Conflict, the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Trade, the 1995 Unidroit Convention, which aimed to reduce illicit trade, gradually, but profoundly, changing the conduct of the actors in the market and the buyer that enabled works to be repurchased back.

The purpose of these conventions was to preserve cultural material by curtailing the ease with which cultural material could be traded between countries, and prescribing the ways in which cultural material is dealt with by institutions.

In 2000, Icon UK commissioned Neil Brodie, Jenny Doole, Peter Watson to produce a paper on the illicit trade in cultural material. They recommended the UK government should ratify both the 1970 UNESCO and 1995 Unidroit Conventions forthwith, because the UK hadn't done that in 2000.

"Because the UK," I quote, "was being used as a marketplace for material which was, in the first instance, obtained illegally." The UK government finally ratified the convention in 2002. The US had ratified it in 1983, 13 years after the convention was put in place. Australia in 1989.

Although Australia said, "The government of Australia is not in a position to oblige antique dealers, subject to penal administrative sanctions, to maintain a register recording the origin of each item of cultural property, names and addresses of the supplier, descriptions and the price of each item sold, and to inform purchaser of the cultural property of the export prohibition to which such property may be subject."

That still remains the case, that second hand dealers are not required to keep itemized lists of the trade.

In 2004, the Afghani government developed its law on the protection of historical and cultural properties. Part of that was to understand and to deal with the concern of material being looted. The most effective strategy, however, is local economic empowerment. That's to shift the economic value.

Now, there are a lot of excavations where money's being provided by the UN, and by governments through the EU, to pay for local farmers to be archaeologists rather than looters. The archaeological teams are realizing the benefit of doing that.

We'll just finish on the most positive note, and the celebration of the exhibition which is here with us in Melbourne today. It's the story of the five museum staff, including the director, who hid and protected the treasures of the national museum.

In 1989, they packed up the Bactrian gold and moved it to the central bank vault in the presidential palace. They all kept a key, and all keys were needed to open it. It's the ultimate act, in my opinion, of conservation.

The other conservatives who should be acknowledged, also, are the bank staff, who, according to the finance minister, Asharaf Ghani, were beaten almost senseless in order to try and extract access to the safe.

They all acted on the knowledge that, of the hundred thousand or so objects which were on display in 1979, 70 percent were missing by the 1990s. By 2006, most of the national collection was looted or damaged. Most of this material was sold on the international market, or burnt as firewood, we're told.

The museum opened in 2004, and by 2011, the galleries were receiving 200,000 visitors a year. I think that's a fitting place to finish when we talk about the conservation and preservation of Afghani's heritage. Thank you.

Transcription by CastingWords

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