Afghanistan Shortchanged?

A planned exhibit of ancient gold objects from Afghanistan is stirring controversy, because the National Geographic Society negotiated a deal that experts say shortchanged the government of Afghanistan. “It’s a travesty,” says Lynne Munson, the former chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, who is quoted in an article in today’s New York Times.

The arrangement calls for Afghanistan to receive $1 million plus 40 per cent of expected revenue, once expenses have been deducted. Munson argues that 40 percent would be “40 percent of absolutely nothing” because transport, insurance, and installation costs would be so high. When the National Geographic Society four years ago negotiated a similar deal with Egypt for the Treasures of Tutankhamen, the Egyptian government was assured $10 million for every city the show toured, as well as 50 percent of the gross revenue. Thomas Hoving, the former director of the Met and no stranger to blockbuster shows, said Afghanistan should have held out for more cash. Ana Rosa Rodriguez, executive director of the Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage, feels that the National Geographic Society is taking advantage of a country that has endured decades of devastation, suffering, and upheaval.

These ancient artifacts, many of Bactrian gold, were salvaged from a bank vault beneath a former royal palace in Kabul in 2004. Curators of the Kabul Museum shielded the artifacts, at great personal risk, from the Taliban and from earlier insurgents, later insurrections, and the American occupation. On display now at the Musee Guimet in Paris, the exhibit will open at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and then travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Asian Museum in San Francisco, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.

The artifacts are part of the treasure of Tilya Tepe, the Hill of Gold, near the Oxus River in northern Afghanistan. To read more about the excavation of these ancient objects, go to
To see images from the show in Paris, go to
–Maureen Bloomfield

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2 thoughts on “Afghanistan Shortchanged?

  1. Titilola Aladesaiye

    I think this is the travesty what happens when people don’t know to research a company before accepting anything from them. But who knows hopefully this money no matter how little goes to help the victims of continued suffering in this land.