By Katherine J. Wu/Smithsonianmag.com
For eight decades, Afghanistan’s Kabul Museum shone as a beacon of central Asia’s cultural history. The 100,000 artifacts that comprised its collections cataloged millennia of the region’s trade and exchange, from Indian ivories and Buddhist statues to an extraordinary cache of ancient coins.
But the civil war that broke out in the early 1990s quickly ushered in a prolonged period of destruction. Rocket attacks destroyed countless artifacts and left the building in ruins, allowing looters to plunder much of what remained. Within years, tens of thousands of artifacts had been damaged or had disappeared. Some were believed to have been covertly sold into illegal markets, sparking several ongoing investigations aimed at bringing the treasures home.
Last week, officials announced the most recent recovery: a limestone sculpture of two bulls that once adorned the inner sanctuary of a second-century temple in Surkh Kotal, an archaeological site in northern Afghanistan. First discovered in the 1950s, the bovine pair was stolen by art smugglers in the early 1990s, only to resurface nearly three decades later on a British auctioneer’s website, reports Dalya Alberge for the Guardian.
Spotted by the Art Loss Register, an illicit trade watchdog, and stolen art database, the sculpture’s whereabouts were investigated…