National Geographic : 1990 Mar
dared not act alone. United, the horde gathered courage and raged across the Central Asian steppes 130 years before the birth of Christ, leaving charred fields and human suffering. When they crossed the Amu Darya-the Oxus River to Alexan der the Great- they laid waste the Greco-Bactrian lands. At first contemptuous of city life and Greek culture the nomads gradually became enamored of the seductive Hellenic tradition. They rebuilt the cities they had sacked and created the great Kushan Empire on their own debris. In the time between the Greco-Bactrian period and the well-documented flowering of the Kushan, ancient records fail us. As these nomads struggled with the ways of urban life and empire, the chroniclers of Rome did not visit them. The period was dark until our own time, when the Tillya Tepe trea sures speak of those days with resonance and clarity. The gold of Bactria shook the world of archaeology. It was compared by critics to the treasures of King Tut ankhamun's tomb in Egypt. The artifacts were found in context, not in some antique shop, not isolated from their . owners or their time. They gave us a chance to glimpse the extensive trade between the East and West. Nowhere in antiquity have so many different objects from so many different cultures-Chinese mirrors, Roman coins, daggers from Siberia-been found togeth er in situ. And the local art of Bactria discovered at Tillya Tepe is a tantalizing amal gam of influences. Never has there been an artifact like the chubby little gold Aphrodite (page 57), who is Grecian in con cept but has the distinctly non-Grecian wings of a Bactrian deity and an Indian forehead mark that indicates marital status! EE LABORED into the winter with fingers numb and shriveled from the bitter winds that leaked through the plywood huts we had erected. Each T thin gold platelet had to be cleaned and inven toried. We could barely hold the pincers. We slept in She berghan but ate noodles and tinned meat from Moscow while sitting in the truck, embarrassed at how little the workers had. The plan was to return the following fall, in 1979. We posted an Afghan guard over the necropolis and headed for the Kabul Museum with the crates of excavated treasures. But conflict Gold spangles sewn on the back of the warrior's robe still cling together in a layer of soil and ribs coated with preservative and lifted intactfrom the grave. The tunic was folded over to the left in typical nomadic Kushan fashion. Carvedstone effi gies of Kushan rulers, found earlier in Afghani stan, confirm the style.