Andrew Lawler, journalist and author, reports on the Taliban’s threat to Afghanistan’s ancient treasures

Andrew Lawler, journalist and author, reports on the Taliban's threat to Afghanistan's ancient treasures

Will history repeat itself with the fall of Kabul?

Andrew Lawler, author of The Secret Token: Myth, Possession, and the Quest for the Lost Roanoke Colony, reported two decades ago on the toll the Taliban were exacting on the ancient treasures of this Central Asian country. Two of the world’s largest statues were destroyed and countless sculptures and images were smashed. With the Taliban back in power following the withdrawal of American and European troops, Lawler spoke to archaeologists and museum curators who were concerned that history might be repeating itself.

Andrew interviewed Noor Agha Noori from the Afghan Institute of Archaeology in Kabul about how the institute is dealing with the fast-moving situation. “We didn’t expect this to happen so quickly,” Noori said, when his plans to transport artifacts from cities like Kandahar and Herat to the capital for safekeeping stalled due to the collapse of the Afghan government. “We are very concerned about the safety of our staff and collections,” added the director of the National Museum of Afghanistan, Mohammad Fahim Rahimi. The nation has a rich religious past that includes Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Judaism. Kabul’s museum alone is packed with more than 80,000 artifacts from a variety of cultures that have thrived here over the past three thousand years. Taliban guards are now responsible for museum security.

Taliban forces looted the National Museum of Afghanistan in early 2001, smashing images such as this Buddha head held by a curator

In 2001, the Taliban destroyed countless objects that belonged to the pre-Islamic past. The current situation has caused some heritage officials to fear renewed destruction. Others are more hopeful. In February, Taliban leaders instructed their followers to protect, guard and preserve the relics; stop all illegal excavations; and to protect all historical sites. The sale of artifacts was also forbidden.

But after the Taliban takeover, the fate of collections and ancient sites remains uncertain. For example, the insurgents control Mes Aynak, a town just outside the capital that boasts one of the largest ancient Buddhist monasteries in the world. What will happen to the 10,000 unearthed artifacts and more than 2,500 gold coins is unknown.

Lawler has written extensively on history, archaeology, and threats to cultural heritage. He’s the author of what The Wall Street Journal names the most authoritative book on the lost colony of Roanoke and the forthcoming volume, Beneath Jerusalem: The buried history of the world’s most contested city

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About Andrew Lawler

Andrew Lawler is the author of Beneath Jerusalem: The buried history of the world’s most contested city, The Secret Token: Myth, Possession, and the Quest for the Lost Roanoke Colony, and Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?: The Epic Saga of the Bird That Fueled Civilization. He has also contributed to a variety of newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Smithsonian, National Geographic. He is a contributing author to both Science and Archeology.


Andrew Lawler

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