Looting of Five Storage Rooms in Bamiyan


1. Can you please write a summary of this article: https://www.justice.gov/usao-edny/pr/rare-cuneifor…

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  1. Looting of five storage rooms in Bamiyan


UNESCO has received information that five storage rooms constructed under UNESCO/Japan FIT project around the Bamiyan site were all looted on 15 August. Two rooms belong to the Japanese team[1] (whose interlocutor is Prof. Yoko Taniguchi associate professor at the University of Tsukuba), other two to the German team[2], and the last one to the Afghan team. The looters stole cameras, computers, measuring machines, etc., and historically important materials such as sherds, fragments of murals and Islamic porcelain were left in place. In addition to theirs, the Japanese team also has inventories of the artefacts and objects excavated by the German team, and copies of these inventories are available at the UNESCO Office in Kabul (the first inventories of the Japanese collection date to 2006-2007).  The status of the objects and equipment which were secured in the storage of the Afghan team seems unknown. It seems also that the fragments from the eastern Buddha body remain intact.


According to Dr Philippe Marquis, from the French Archaeological Mission in Afghanistan (DAFA), mainly equipment and small materials would have been stolen from these storages. Currently, the five storage rooms are secured by Taliban.


Experts who have been consulted concur that the looters were not Taliban, and suspect that were some individuals who are informed about the excavation activities and of the possibility that archaeological remains were in these storages. Experts also advise that it would be preferable to keep quiet about the remainders to avoid attracting unnecessary attention from media.


  1. Looting of storage containing Professor Tarzi’s excavated objects


Information has been received that the storage room in front of the Buddha and some private houses used to store part of the objects, which contained Professor Tarzi’s excavated objects, were looted after 15 August. Among the items looted were some objects with monetary and scientific value (such as coins, books, statues). In order to better understand the scale of the looting, Dr Philippe Marquis who is currently liaising with Professor Tarzi and a German expert is trying to obtain copies of the inventory and share them with UNESCO. The Tarzi collection that could have been looted mainly included ceramic objects and statues.


According also to Philippe Marquis, not all Tarzi collections were in the storage at the time of the looting. Some important objects could have already been relocated to the Bamiyan governor’s palace prior to the Taliban’s arrival.

At this stage there is no reliable information or evidence on what/when has been stolen from this collection, but it is worth mentioning that objects which started appearing on the online market cannot be from recent thieveries. But there are already unknown people who have contacted the Bamiyan local office demanding a price for returning objects and in case of no payment, they said they would transfer them to Pakistan. This means that these objects risk appear in the Peshawar markets which functioned as pivots in the past.


  1. Situation of in-situ cultural objects in Bamiyan, Foladi and Kakrak


International teams who have been working in the thee sites have installed locked doors in some of the small niches in different parts of the Bamiyan Valley to protect objects in-situ (mainly murals). As of today, situation remain unknown as whether they have been stolen or not



  1. Situation of items which were stored in the Presidential Palace in Kabul


According to DAFA, the former government decided to move the most valuable cultural objects to the Central Bank vault in the Presidential Palace. The items preserved in this building could include the 22,000 pieces of Bactrian gold, a collection of ancient manuscripts dating from the 14th Century, and probably a selection of archaeological objects originating from Bamiyan Valley.


  1. Current risks facing Afghan cultural objects:
  • Important objects looted during the last weeks after the Taliban takeover, or who were detained by warlords and/or former officials may be illegally be transferred to the neighboring countries;

Although the National Museum of Kabul seems preserved and protected by the Taliban, the situation doesn’t seem to be the same for the remaining museums spread out in the country. Thus, the lack of supervision and control in other museums, and their storage, as well as the lack of surveillance of the more than 5,000 archaeological sites of the country, will inevitably lead to a significant increase of illicit trafficking of Afghan cultural objects;


III. Recommendations to ADG/CLT:

  • Based on the fact that there is no reliable information, it is recommended not to issue a UNESCO statement, until there are confirmed evidences on the current situation of the looted objects;
  • However, given that some Afghan cultural objects started entering the black market in neighboring countries, UNESCO could publish a tweet  calling art dealers and art markets to be vigilant on sales of Afghan cultural objects and exercise due diligence;
  • Based on the recent weeks of looting in Bamiyan, and the uncertainty regarding Prof Tarzi’s collection, as well as of the cultural objects stored in the Presidential Palace, UNESCO should address a correspondence to all Afghanistan’s neighboring countries to advocate for their commitment in reinforcing cultural objects control at their boarders. The same was done in 2012 to Mali’s neighboring countries regarding the risk facing the looting of ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu;


  • UNESCO could organize a consultation meeting with its key actors such as ICOM, Blue Shield, INTERPOL, WCO and UNODC, OCBC, The Carabinieri, to discuss strategies and joint actions to counter the arrival of Afghan cultural objects in transit countries and market countries in Asia, Arab world and Europe;
  • UNESCO could also directly collaborate with ICOM to update the Red List of Afghanistan antiquities at risk (2006) https://icom.museum/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/RedList_Afghanistan_english.pdf
  • Finally, some experts are calling for UNESCO to resume a special ICC meeting on Afghanistan in order to share and exchange information, and establish some aligned policies to cope with the situation;




[1] Source: UNESCO Kabul and Prof Yoko Taniguchi

[2] Source: ICOMOS

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