so I went to the British Museum for the “Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World” exhibition. It had made the national news a few months ago and had piqued my curiosity. So, during a few days’ break from work, I made a flying visit to go and see.

The exhibition was smaller than I expected. Not having been to one in the rebuilt part of the museum I only had recollections of the Tutankhamun exhibition I was taken to when I was a boy. That had seemed huge: due, no doubt, in part to the long queues and snails’ pace past the exhibits. This exhibition might have fitted in my house (but without the necessary insurance, without temperature and humidity control and without the guards/curators) and I was a bit disappointed – I might not have paid £11 if I had known.

To make matters worse, the numbering of the exhibits was confusing. We read things from left to right but with some of the glass cases we approached from the right. That meant that some people were working with the flow of the traffic, so to speak, while others came from the opposite direction in an attempt to view things in the correct order – this was particularly so for those who had the electronic guide with them. Many of the items had a queue with two tails but no head (or two beginnings and no end).

I did get a greater sense of Afghanistan’s place in history and geography and I have some images of an ancient civilisation to accompany those of war-torn mountains and hills. If nothing else the exhibition represented remarkable achievements by many of the Afghan people from those who produced and traded these treasures to those who more recently saved them from destruction. One example of its cosmopolitan place in history was a monument inscribed in Ancient Greek. It had some advice, a rule of life you might say, which would not have looked terribly out-of-place in the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament.

“As a child, learn good manners; as a young man, learn to control your passions; in middle age, be just; in old age, give good advice; then die, without regret”. I might want to add something about trusting God and loving your neighbour but I was sufficiently impressed with that centuries’ old wisdom that I jotted it down for future reference.

One useful feature of the displays was that some of them, at least, allowed us to see round the back of the objects in question. For example, one set of carvings were said to be designed to be on legs of furniture so their backs were plain and you could go round the back of the case and see for yourself. Meanwhile, my favourite piece, the golden crown was also in one of those glass cases. You could see the back of it and notice how the pieces slotted together. Just one more gripe, though. The description told us how the crown tinkled when it moved. You could see the shimmering of the little discs from the vibrations of people moving round the room but we could not hear them from the sealed case. Perhaps a microphone and speaker could have done the trick rather than leaving it all to our imagination.

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