Divided into four sections, the British Museum's Afghanistan exhibition situates a nation not only geographically " at the junction of the Silk Road's trading routes " but also historically, tracing its development from the etched golden vessels of the Bronze Age to the glittering contents of nomadic tombs from the first century AD.
The exhibition opens with the treasures of Tepe Fullol in Afghanistan's north: tantalising fragments of bowls with varied etchings combining Hellenistic patterning with vividly rendered animals.It is only when making the leap of two millennia however, to the objects of the Greek city of Ali Khanum (Lady Moon), that these patchwork openings gain their true impact, evocative reminders of just how ancient the roots of the Afghan civilisation are.Another leap takes us to the Summer Palace of Begram, where a hoard now thought to belong to wealthy merchants was unearthed in the 1930s. Two rooms were discovered, each filled with a bewildering array of Chinese lacquer, alabaster bowls, Egyptian rock-crystal vessels and Indian ivories: a tangible metaphor for Afghanistan's uniquely wide-ranging trading position.It was in 1978, on the eve of the Soviet invasion, that six tombs were discovered in northern Afghanistan. The quality and sheer abundance of the 20,000 treasures that emerged gained the site the name of Tillya Tepe " 'The Hill of Gold'. It is these objects " secretly preserved in the vault of the national bank " that form the final and climactic section of the exhibition.