The Latest

A History of Afghanistan in 100 Objects: Q&A with Alejandro Gallego López

November 28, 2022

Described as the “crossroads of cultures,” Afghanistan is home to a wealth of cultural heritage hailing from the Near East, Central Asia, South Asia, and more. Like many other nations, the country has also suffered consequences to its history as a result of global conflicts. 

Decades of war from the ongoing Soviet invasion devastated the National Museum of Afghanistan, the most important repository of heritage in the country. Research estimates 70% of the objects from the museum were looted and 90% of registration records were destroyed.

The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago is committed to preserving and protecting the cultural heritage in Afghanistan. Their work is supported by major grants from the US Department of State through the American Embassy in Kabul and aims to rebuild the National Museum, develop a geospatial database of all detectable archaeological sites, support infrastructure projects, and raise awareness for the National Museum among high school students in Afghanistan.

Alejandro Gallego López, OI’s Program Field Director in Afghanistan, collaborates with other heritage experts to carry out these projects and to protect precious, culturally significant artifacts from destruction or theft. 

Additionally, López along with Dr. Gil Stein and M. Fahim Rahimi published A History of Afghanistan in 100 Objects which details some of Afghanistan’s most culturally significant artifacts from prominent historical time periods. The book is free to download or read online.

The Antiquities Coalition interviewed López about his recent publication and work with the OI.

Can you describe your work with the Oriental Institute to preserve Afghanistan’s cultural heritage, and the new book, “A History of Afghanistan in 100 Objects”?

Since 2012 the Oriental Institute has worked in partnership with the National Museum of Afghanistan to develop the Museum’s first digital inventory database of its entire holdings. I started working as a museum registrar for the Oriental Institute in Afghanistan in January 2015. Since 2016, I have been Field Director of the OI in Afghanistan, coordinating the OI-NMA Partnership and the completion of the inventory, but also other OI projects such as the Mobile Museum Project, among others.

The Mobile Museum Project was designed to take the Kabul Museum to the class of the students that were unable to visit it physically and raise awareness about the importance of the history and cultural heritage. The program included in-class presentations, and object-based learning through the use of 3D printed replicas of objects from the Museum, posters and notebooks. The project reached more than 12.000 students in Kabul and five more Afghan provinces.The new book “A History of Afghanistan in 100 objects” also tries to bring the National Museum of Afghanistan closer to everyone interested in the culture, history and archaeology of Afghanistan. 

What was the process for choosing which artifacts to include in the book? Are there any specific objects you would like to call attention to?

Making a selection of the 100 objects that would be portrayed in the book was not an easy task. Afghanistan is at the crossroads of civilizations and has an immensely rich and diverse history and archaeology. We tried to select objects from the collections that best represent the historical wealth of this country from the Paleolithic to the modern times. We wanted in the book outstanding objects that would show the achievements of the civilizations of Afghanistan throughout the different historical periods.

How can people get involved in helping to protect Afghanistan’s cultural heritage?

People can support those agencies and institutions directly involved in cultural heritage preservation projects in Afghanistan. However, I think that raising awareness and getting to know Afghan cultural heritage and history is crucial to encourage the protection of the Afghan past. In fact, we hope that the book will help in getting to know, value and protect the Afghan heritage.

For more information about “A History of Afghanistan in 100 Objects” and cultural preservation efforts in Afghanistan, visit the OI’s website.

Alejandro Gallego López is the Field Director of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.