Gold hair pendant, 1st century BC – 1st century AD.
Photo:  Thierry Ollivier 

Afghanistan’s been on my wishlist for years, but it seems every time there was the hint of open borders, the country would become a flashpoint for disaster on a global scale.

So I could only imagine the wondrous beauty hidden in the mountainous country until yesterday, when the Melbourne Museum launched its latest exhibition, Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures.

The exhibition has more than 230 priceless artifacts from archaeological sites along the Silk Route. Afghanistan was the crossroads for the trading network, and the riches are decorated in motifs from the ancient world, blurring Indian, Greek, Persian and local mythological creatures and legends into one beautiful culture.

The story goes that a hill of Bactrian gold lay undisturbed for 2000 years, before being discovered in the late ’70s and held by the National Museum in Kabul. The museum was destroyed between 1992 and 1995, and what remained was looted.

Sutara Arian from Channel 31’s
Afghan program, in national dress
at the opening yesterday. 

So it was thought the gold was destroyed or melted down by warlords during the Soviet War or under subsequent Taliban rule, but the exhibition’s curator, archaeologist and National Geographic Fellow Fredrik Hibert – described by ABC’s Jon Faine yesterday as a real, live Indiana Jones – found it preserved by a courageous band of ‘keyholders’.

Hibert led a team into Afghanistan in 2003 and opened the vaults to reveal Afghanistan’s treasures, some of which have found their way to Melbourne.

Gold, turquoise, pyrite and bronze were wrought into diadems, pendants, statuettes and, the showpiece of the exhibition is a collapsible nomadic crown garnished with golden birds and the Tree of Life.

There are also beautiful photographs from Afghanistan today, including scenes from the Hindu Kush, terraced wheat fields of the Kunar River vValley and the ruins of a royal Greek city founded by Alexander the Great’s followers, Aï Khanum.

The exhibition was supposed to have been opened by the Governor-General, but leadership spills (the non-story of the day) stole her away. However, we did spot a tv-crew from Channel 31’s Afghan program, including host Sutara Arian (pictured) in gorgeous traditional dress. You can catch her program at 1.30pm Thursdays.

Collapsible nomadic crown, 1st century BC – 1st century AD.
Photo:  Thierry Ollivier 

Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul

22 March – 28 July 2013
Adults $24, concession $16, children $14, 131 102, Melbourne Museum