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The BBC's Kate Clark:
"The Rabotak Stone is almost 2000 years old"
 real 56k

Thursday, 17 August, 2000, 14:59 GMT 15:59 UK
Afghans display ancient stone
The Rabotak Stone
The Rabotak Stone inscription revealed
By Kate Clark in Kabul

The national museum of Afghanistan has reopened for the first time in a decade and features a major new exhibit feared lost in the civil war.

The artefact, known as the Rabotak Stone, is 2,000 years old and contains unique information about the mighty Kushan empire.

Historians say the stone has already changed their thinking about the empire - which ruled Afghanistan at the time of the Roman and Han Chinese empires.

For Afghans, the stone is a particularly special find as much of their cultural heritage has been destroyed during the last 20 years of war.

Looted artefacts

The museum was on the frontline in the battle for Kabul in the early 1990s. The rockets rained down from the mountains above the city,

Museum
Devastation still surrounds the museum
The surrounding area was devastated. Joyanda, an archaeologist, says that the museum did not escape the onslaught.

"You can see from the look of the museum building, what happened to it," he says.

"Beside the bombing, there was fighting.

"Different groups came. They settled for a time in the museum, they looted. You can see objects of the museum all over the world."

All of the museum records were burned. Workers were left to catalogue those items which were left, mostly fragments and artefacts which were too heavy to steal.

New acquisition

Now the museum has gained an exhibit, its first major acquisition for years.

A Buddha
A Buddha: One of the few artefacts to surivive years of war and looting
The Rabotak Stone - a one and a half metre wide block of white limestone - is inscribed with a king's order to his master builders to create a shrine for the gods.

The inscription speaks of Buddhist, Hindu and Zoroastrian gods.

It is evidence of religious tolerance at a time when Afghanistan was at the crossroads of the known world.

Taleban tolerance

Today's Kabul is ruled by the Taleban, a strict Islamic movement - not famous for its tolerance.

The Taleban believe that the depiction of any human being is blasphemous, but they seem to be making an exception for the museum.

Taleban museum president: It's nothing to do with ideology
Taleban museum president: It's nothing to do with ideology
"It's nothing to do with ideology," says Naqibullah Ahmad Yarn, the Taleban president of the museum.

"It's about the culture and history of the country and how the country has been defined by them.

"We're not opposed to this exhibition in principle because the exhibits are part of our history."

"And everything which happens in the country becomes part of the country and the government is obliged to preserve it."

That is a message likely to be welcomed by the many people in Kabul who still cherish the museum.

The war continues to ruin lives in Afghanistan. Kabul has not been under attack for years, but the frontline is only about 40 kilometres away.

Still, the museum workers believe that when peace does eventually come to this country, there should be something left besides death and destruction.

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See also:

16 Aug 00 | South Asia
Taleban shuts women's bakeries
12 Jul 00 | South Asia
Taleban expel US aid worker
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Afghanistan: 20 years of bloodshed
28 Jun 00 | South Asia
Annan: Kabul's grim future
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