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Treasure hunters destroy Bactrian hoard hill

Treasure hunters destroy Bactrian hoard hill

Mar 30, 2011 - 16:33

SHIBERGHAN (PANinfo-icon): Tillā Tapa, the hill where the Bactrian hoard was discovered in 1978, is constantly being excavated by treasure hunters.

Nowadays, Tillā Tapa, or Mound of Gold in Dari, looks like a circular mound of soil and it is the damaged walls which grasp the visitor’s attention first. Lots of small and big holes with soft piles of soil beside them are evidence that someone recently has been searching for ancient gold artifacts.  

Tillā Tapa is located 6 kilometres east of Shiberghan city, the capital of northern Jawzjan province.  Some of the 21,618 gold and gilt pieces which were found in six burial mounds, have recently been exhibited in major museums around the worldinfo-icon. The artifacts had been buried under Tillā Tapa for more than 2,000 years.

Although the treasure found under the hill is renowned, there is little protection for Tillā Tapa and the place has been torn up by treasure hunters, local residents say. If Tillā Tapa is not preserved, it will be utterly destroyed in few years, they add.

"Although a large amount of money has been given to Afghanistaninfo-icon by donors and foreign countries, officials do not pay attention to the protection of this national property and do not value it," Mohammad Faqir, 64, a resident of Shiberghan told Pajhwok.  

The retired teacher said  some people were still digging and that there was no one to stop them.

"It is the responsibility of the security officials to prevent the irresponsible excavations and not allow our national properties to be looted," said Mohammad Yasin, 34, a trader.

“These artifacts explain our national identity and a number of people knowingly or unknowingly want to destroy them,” he added.

"Every time I walk around the hill, I see people growing wheat on the hillside, and the hill may gradually change into farmland," Yasin said.

"Tilla Tapa, which currently looks like a mound of soil, has 2,500 years of history," said Azimullah Rahmaneyar, head of Jawzjan department of information and culture.

He explained that the hill was a Zoroastrian fire temple which was burnt down during the Achaemenian reign and remained desolate for a long time. The nearby hill, Yemoshik Tapa, which lies a kilometre south of Tilla Tapa, had been the residence of the Kaushanian rulers.  

"After two or three decades the hill turned into a cemetery, where Kaushanian rulers buried their dead," he said.

According to the ruling tradition of the time, men and womeninfo-icon were buried with their jewellery, coins and other belongings.

During excavations in 1977 and 1978 by Russian and Afghan archeologists, seven graves were discovered. However, only six graves were opened and around 22,000 gold and gilt ornaments were found. There were between 2,500 to 4,000 pieces in each grave.

The artifacts included the head of a ram, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, coins, various kinds of pots, belts, sword sheathes, figurines, funeral ornaments and some others.   

A number of these artifacts from the Bactrian and Kaushanian periods have been shown in exhibitions in different countries in Europe and America.  

Mohammad Ismail Mushfiq, editor of Nawa-e-Kuhsar newspaper and press official of Jawzjan educationinfo-icon department, who studied Tilla Tapa, said that after the Zoroastrian temple was burned down it became a Buddhist temple.    

During the emergence of Buddhism south of the Amo river, a king called Yemoshik, who was the founder of the Kaushanian civilization, came to power. It was about 100 years before Kanishka the Great, who evolved Buddhism in Afghanistan.

According to Mushfiq, after Alexander the Great's army came to Jawzjan, the temple was destroyed for the third time. It was changed into a cemetery and the gilt artifacts which were found in the graves belong to that period.

Mushfiq criticised the department of information and culture for not paying any attention to Tilla Tapa.

Rahmaneyar, head of the department said he checks on the hill from time to time and reports back to the ministry. He said he had already alerted authorities to the illegal excavations.

Rahmaneyar said the ministry plans to send a group of archaeologists to the hill to work on preservation ideas.

He said the farmers didn't know they had planted wheat on a historic hill.

"In this area, other farmers cultivated wheat and so did I," said Mohammad, 40, a farmer.  He said if the government gave him other land, he would leave Tilla Tapa.

“We know that Tilla Tapa in Shiberghan is at risk of damage," said Wali Mohammad Nader Rasooli, head of the archaeology department at the Ministry of Information and Culture.

He said it was the responsibility of security officials and the ministry to protect historic areas.

Brig. Gen. Abdul Aziz Ghairat, provincial police chief, said sometimes they check the hill, but due to a lack of staff they cannot have a permanent presence there.

Police are trying to prevent excavations on the hill and to take legal action against violators, he added.

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