The United States funded a UNESCO project for the National Museum of Afghanistan

Begram river goddess, collections of the National Museum of Afghanistan ©Thierry Olliver/Musée Guimet

As part of the UNESCO Programme for the Preservation of Endangered Movable Cultural Properties and Museum Development, funded by a contribution made to UNESCO from the United States of America when it rejoined the Organization in October 2003, a US $250,000 pilot project was launched at the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul.

The two-year project aims to preserve endangered collections by providing on-the-job training for museum staff in inventory and conservation techniques. Conservation assessments have been undertaken, and the museum’s collections are being registered and documented in order to establish a complete inventory. A database on the museum holdings is also being developed, and training in collections management and museum maintenance has begun.

Since 1989, the collections have been separated and stored in different locations in Kabul for safekeeping. They have suffered from several causes: looting and damage from war in the early 1990s, lack of care for over a decade, and deliberate iconoclasm and destruction in 2001, at the end of the Taliban regime. This project has relied upon the expertise of foreign scholars who have been able to identify and gather accurate documentation about the objects, compare it with inventories in their countries of origin, assess conservation needs, and transfer their knowledge to their Afghan colleagues, who have protected the collections but who unfortunately have had no access to scientific research for at least fifteen years.

Officially launched in spring 2005, the project is being managed by the UNESCO Office in Kabul in close cooperation with the Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage (SPACH), a long-standing and trusted partner of UNESCO and the Afghan Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism. All activities are being carried out according to the priorities set by the museum's Director, Mr Omara Khan Massoudi, and all inventory and conservation activities are being implemented within the framework of with on-the-job training for museum staff. Six inventories have been completed for the Ceramics, Fondukistan, Bamiyan, Nuristan, Ethnographic and Aï Khanum collections. While carrying out the inventory of the Fondukistan collection, many of the objects that were believed to be lost or stolen during the years of civil unrest and Taliban rule were finally recovered in safe condition. Four missions were organized to undertake conservation assessments and emergency conservation measures for archaeological and ethnographic collections. Three additional missions are currently underway. These interventions revealed an urgent need for restoration work and adequate storage facilities, which are currently being put in place. Information management system activities have begun, including training in database programming and management. A manual on the conservation of archaeological objects and a brochure on the Nuristan exhibition are also being published as part of this project.

“The project is currently in its final phase,” said Mr Malama Meleisea, Director of the UNESCO Kabul Office, “but it has already made a significant contribution to the documentation of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage, to the improvement of the conditions under which it is housed and to capacity-building of the national staff. UNESCO sees this as a necessary and extremely important first step towards rehabilitating and modernizing the museum.”

For further reading: "Afghanistan: a nation at the crossroads"

  • Start Date: 15-10-2004   End Date: 15-09-2007
  • Lead Organization / Sector / Office: UNESCO Office Kabul
  • Contact: Mr. Masanori Nagaoka, Programme Specialist
  • Contact: Mr. Brendan Cassar, UNESCO Office in Kabul
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