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	Image:  One of a pair of boot buckles with an image of a carriage drawn by dragons (detail); gold, turquoise, carnelian; 5.5cm d x 1.1cm h. Tillya Tepe, 1st century AD, National Museum of Afghanistan. Credit: Thierry Ollivier

Hidden treasures: archaeology and Afghanistan

Lecture series

The tumultuous history of the National Museum, Kabul and the heroism of its staff in protecting their treasures during years of civil war bring to light the fragility and importance of archaeological artefacts as documents of human history.

In this lecture series, archaeologists and museum experts discuss important issues raised by the exhibition Afghanistan: hidden treasures from the National Museum, Kabul. What are the challenges facing archaeologists attempting to excavate a region that since the 1970s has been engulfed by civil war and conflict? How do artefacts become traded pawns in a cultural blackmarket and what can be done to stop this? What is the history of archaeological collections in Australia and how can museums support archaeological projects to preserve the cultural heritage of the region?

Image: One of a pair of boot buckles with an image of a carriage drawn by dragons (detail); gold, turquoise, carnelian; 5.5cm d x 1.1cm h. Tillya Tepe, 1st century AD, National Museum of Afghanistan. Credit: Thierry Ollivier

Saturdays, 1pm
22 March - 5 April 2014

Single session:
$40 non-member
$30 member

Full series: Booked out, single sessions still available
$100 non-member
$75 member

Bookings and enquiries: 02 9225 1878


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Link above is for subscription booking

Three full working days (Mon–Fri) notice is required to qualify for a refund. All refunds attract an administration charge of 25% of the ticket price(s) with a minimum charge of $5. With subscription tickets there are no refunds for single sessions, unless a session is cancelled. Not negotiable.

Duration 2 hours
Location: Centenary Auditorium

Related exhibition: Afghanistan

22 March lectures BOOKED OUT

1pm Craig Judd: Ruins in Afghanistan: archaeology and the trope of progress

Traditionally, archaeologists have excavated, collected and collated artefacts of material culture – evidence of civilisations kept and displayed in the museum. Today archaeologists use balloons, helicopters and drones in their search for knowledge of the past. Satellites scan sites for 'anthrosols’ – soils that have been altered by the some of the earliest human settlements, searching for evidence of the existence of ‘ordinary’ peoples. Afghanistan contains a vast wealth of ruins and artefacts and its extraordinary history places the nation at the forefront of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ modes of archaeology.

Craig Judd is curatorial consultant for Afghanistan: hidden treasures from the National Museum, Kabul.

2pm Iain Shearer: Afghanistan, looting and the black market

In this lecture, Iain Shearer describes the international trade in Afghan antiquities, highlighting Australia and the UK as key destinations for the transit, trade and sale of looted cultural patrimony. He examines the role of institutions, including the UK Border Agency, London Metropolitan Police and The British Museum, and their efforts to monitor and prevent the sale of looted artefacts and repatriate Afghan cultural heritage. The talk will be illustrated with examples of looted artefacts openly for sale, seized material and cultural heritage successfully repatriated to Afghanistan.

Over the last 20 years Iain Shearer has worked as an archaeologist in the UK, the Caucasus, North Africa, the Balkans, Central Asia, China, Afghanistan and the Arab Middle East. He appointed a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland in 2008. Iain has led lecture tours across the Maghreb, the Arab Middle East, Iran and Central Asia, and was the author for Lonely Planet guides to Saudi Arabia and Hajj (2009) and to Western and North Eastern Iran (2012). He recently left the Middle East department of The British Museum where he was the Sackler Scholar for Afghanistan and Iran, and is currently dividing his time between Sydney, the UK, the Maghreb, the Middle East and Central Asia.


Saturday 22 March 2014 1pm – 3pm

29 March lectures BOOKED OUT

1pm Alison Betts: Afghanistan: axis of world history

Afghanistan lies at the heart of the great Silk Roads. It is a region rich in natural resources, and as early as the 3rd millennium BC Afghanistan became part of the first web of international contacts in the ancient world. From this point on, as invaders came and went and the trade routes crossing from all points of the compass flourished and faded, its history became a rich tapestry of influences that stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Pacific Ocean and from Siberia to the Indian sub-continent. From the lapis trade to the Great Game, this talk will illustrate some of the key events through the ages that defined Afghanistan and made it a central player in the history of Asia.

Alison Betts is Professor of Silk Road Studies at the University of Sydney. She specialises in the archaeology of the lands along the Silk Roads from the Near East to China, with a particular interest in the study of nomadic peoples. She has worked extensively in eastern Jordan and Central Asia, and currently runs major Australian Research Council funded field projects in Uzbekistan and Xinjiang, western China. She also works with the Kabul Museum in Afghanistan and has research affiliations in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Kashmir.

2pm David Thomas: Satellite images and sand: archaeological exploration in Afghanistan in the 21st century

Since the 1979 Soviet invasion, few archaeologists have had the opportunity to dig in Afghanistan. While some fieldwork has been possible (including David Thomas’s work at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Jam and the ongoing French/Afghan rescue excavations at the Buddhist monasteries of Mes Aynak), researchers have had to find new methods to expand our knowledge of Afghanistan’s spectacular archaeological remains. Satellite images provide one innovative way. The astonishing detail visible in many of the images allows archaeologists to investigate known sites, and search for previously undiscovered ones, without leaving their offices. This has obvious advantages in places where the security situation is volatile, but it also presents archaeologists with new challenges. This richly illustrated talk explores some of these issues, drawing on fieldwork in the region and research using Google Earth and other satellite imagery.

David Thomas read his undergraduate degree in archaeology and anthropology at Cambridge University in 1989-92 then completed a masters of science in computing and archaeology at the University of Southampton in 1995. He undertook research for his PhD, The ebb and flow of an empire: the Ghurid polity of central Afghanistan in the 12th and 13th centuries, at La Trobe University in 2006-11. He is an honorary research associate at La Trobe University and is currently metro manager of heritage services at the Office of Aboriginal Affairs Victoria. He has a tendency to stare at satellite images in his spare time.


Saturday 29 March 2014 1pm – 3pm

5 April lectures

1pm Charlotte Davy: Realising Afghanistan: museum logistics, law and social responsibility

Working with the Afghan government and the staff from the National Museum, Kabul has presented many and varied challenges in the development of the Afghanistan exhibition. This lecture goes behind the scenes to reveal the journey of the artwork to Australia and the extraordinary connections and networks that have developed to bring this project to fruition. In light of the political and social situation in Afghanistan, it will also address the collective responsibility of the museum community to protect these objects.

Charlotte Davy is senior manager of exhibitions at the Art Gallery of NSW.

2pm Michael Turner: Never-ending stories: the Nicholson Museum and the history of its collection

The Nicholson Museum acquired its first 1000 objects in 1860. Today, home to the largest collection of antiquities in the Southern Hemisphere, it has over 30,000. How, why and by whom these were acquired takes us into a fascinating world of connoisseurs, collectors and curators with many a tale to be told. This talk will consider the value of having such a collection in Australia, how and why collections are built, and the role of the contemporary archaeological museum in supporting excavation.

Michael Turner is a shameless promoter of the Nicholson Museum, of which he has been senior curator since 2005. His most recent exhibitions include The Lego Colosseum, which won a 2013 MGNSW Best Exhibition Award; 50 objects 50 stories, which won the same award in 2012; and 2011’s Photography and the classical nude. He is an elected fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in London.



Saturday 5 April 2014 1pm – 3pm