Aussie soldiers told not to buy Afghan loot

Lieutenant Commander Andrea Argirides examines old items in a jewellery and antique shop in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is awash with historical artefacts but soldiers are being told it's not acceptable to buy and export looted antiquities.

These are beautiful pieces. The shopkeeper prices a gold amulet displayed on his counter at $US1500 ($A1610) and a pair of gold ear-rings at $US950. A clay pot is a modest $US160.

He says they are 3000 years old.

Lieutenant Commander Andrea Argirides, staff officer with Australian headquarters at Kabul airport, reckons he could well be right.

And as such, these antiquities, on sale in a jewellery store in the base shopping precinct, are part of Afghanistan's heritage and should never leave the country.

Lieutenant Commander Argirides gives presentations to Australian troops on awareness of Afghan culture and history. That includes the message that it's not OK to buy looted antiquities.

"That is really important," she said.

"If something is regarded as antique that's different."

This is a topic on which she's deeply passionate.

"I specialise in historical archaeology in the ancient near east, mainly focusing on Iraq. My PhD is looking at the protection of cultural heritage and archaeological sites in conflict zones. I am using Iraq as a case study," she said.

She deployed to Iraq in 2007-08, assessing some historical sites at the invitation of the US government.

Unsurprisingly, the Americans on the team referred to her as Dr Jones (of Indiana Jones fame) and on departure presented her with a fedora and whip.

Iraq, described as the cradle of civilisation, has more than 100,000 locations of archaeological interest and the concern was that US forces were in some cases building bases atop such sites.

The US did preside over one archaeological blunder. Early in the invasion, US forces failed to secure the Baghdad museum, which was speedily looted.

However, the standout archaeological atrocity occurred in Afghanistan in March 2001 when the former Taliban regime dynamited the 6th century Bamiyan Buddha statues on grounds that they offended Islam.

For anyone with even a passing interest in old stuff, Afghanistan has plenty to offer. Antique shops feature relics of the Russian occupation, from the British period plus older Islamic items.

And there are some antiquities of genuine historical interest.

"We just don't know how they got their hands on these items. There are looters out there digging in all sorts of historical sites and when they do find old pots and statues, they will give them to vendors who will sell them," she said.

Source AAP

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