redlist Afghanistan Antiquities at Risk icom museum

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The great archaeological heritage of Afghanistan is of universal importance. It is now at serious risk from organized destruction and plundering at the hands of criminals. The National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul has been looted and is missing a great part of its collection, much of which has found its way into the art market. Ancient sites and monuments, ranging from the Old Stone Age to the 20th century are being attacked and systematically looted.

Objects of all types and materials, from prehistoric times to the Indo-Greek, Buddhist and Islamic periods are being lost. Sculpture, architectural elements, ancient manuscripts, bronzes, wooden objects and ceramics are being illegally exported at an unrelenting rate. It is the duty of the international community to unite in protecting this unique cultural heritage.

The Red List includes the following catagories of objects :
(The images do not reproduce stolen objects. They serve only to illustrate the categories of objects which are the target of illicit traffic.)


  1. Manuscripts
  2. Metalwork
  3. Tiles
  4. Pottery / Ceramics
  5. Architectural elements


  1. Ancient pottery / ceramics
  2. Early metal artefacts
  3. Cosmetic jars of metal
  4. Bactrian statuettes
  5. Reliquaries
  6. Stone batons (scepters)
  7. Stone weights
  8. Seals
  9. Ivories
  10. Coins
  11. Manuscripts
  12. Fragments of wall paintings
  13. Buddhist sculpture


The people of Afghanistan suffered great loss in human lives, personal property, and the deliberate destruction of monuments, museums, and artifact collections during the wars of the 1980s and 1990s. They are now witnessing the slow dispossession of their cultural heritage by looters who are pillaging archæological sites and traffickers who are smuggling artifacts out of the country, frequently, it is believed, in connection with other criminal activities. This situation will continue as long as these traffickers have access to foreign markets of buyers of illicit antiquities.

To assist in stopping the looting and destruction of Afghan archæological sites, the International Council of Museums has published this Red List of Afghanistan Antiquities at Risk, as a tool for law enforcement authorities, and to raise public awareness and encourage international cooperation in the protection of the cultural heritage of Afghanistan.

This Red List is the fourth in the series* of ICOM Red Lists of Antiquities at Risk. The Red Lists are representative lists of general types or categories of objects, generally protected by national legislation and international agreements, which are subjected to illicit international trafficking. They are drawn up by teams of international experts in the archæology and ethnology of the countries or regions of origin. The objects illustrated are not, to the best of the experts' knowledge, stolen or illicitly acquired. The Red Lists are intended to protect cultural heritage at risk by helping customs officials, police officers, art dealers, museums, and collectors recognize objects of possible illicit provenance. Potential buyers are advised not to purchase them unless they are accompanied by verifiable ownership and provenance documentation, and authorities are urged to take appropriate action when there is presumption of illicit provenance, pending further enquiries.

* Red List of African Archæological Objects, 2000.
Red List of Latin-American Cultural Objects at Risk, 2003.
Emergency Red List of Iraqi Antiquities at Risk, 2003.

© 2006, ICOM, all rights reserved


This document has been designed as a tool for museums, art dealers and collectors, customs officials and police officers to help them to recognize objects that could originate illegally from Afghanistan. This Red List describes under various categories, the general types of artefacts most likely to appear illicitly on the antiquities market so that these may be identified. Such objects are protected by Afghan legislation, which bans their export and sale. An appeal is being made to museums, auction houses, art dealers and collectors not to acquire such objects without clear title and established provenance.

The Red List of Afghanistan Antiquities at Risk is in no way exhaustive, and any antiquity for sale said to be from Afghanistan should be treated with great caution and suspicion.

With the support of :
U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs