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Tillia Tepe

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Title: Tillia Tepe  
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Subject: Scythians, History of Buddhism, Acinaces, Sheberghan, Guimet Museum, Crowns of Silla
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Tillia Tepe

Tillya tepe, Tillia tepe or Tillā tapa (Persian: طلا تپه‎) or (literally "Golden Hill" or "Golden Mound") is an archaeological site in northern Afghanistan near Sheberghan, surveyed in 1979 by a Soviet-Afghan mission of archaeologists led by Victor Sarianidi, a year before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The hoard is a collection of about 20,000 gold ornaments that were found in six graves (five women and one man) with extremely rich jewelry, dated to around the 1st century BCE. Altogether several thousand pieces of fine jewelry were recovered, usually made of gold, turquoise and/or lapis-lazuli. The ornaments include coins, necklaces set with gems, belts, medallions and crowns. A new museum in Kabul is being planned where the Bactrian gold will eventually be kept.

The heavily fortified town of Yemshi-tepe, just five kilometres to the northeast of modern Sheberghan on the road to Akcha, is only half a kilometre from the now-famous necropolis of Tillia-tepe.

Dates and context

Several coins dated up to the early 1st century CE, with none dated later, suggest a 1st-century CE date for the burial. The burial could correspond to Scythian or Parthian tribes dwelling in the area, or may correspond to the extinction of the local Yuezhi royal dynasty after the conquests of all the other xihou or 'princes' in Daxia by Kujula Kadphises. (See Pre-Islamic period of Afghanistan.)

A silver coin was found in one of the tombs from the reigns of the Parthian king Mithridates II, who ruled c. 123–88 BCE. The coin was found in tomb III, and was apparently held in the hand of the defunct woman.

An imitation gold coin of Parthian King Gotarzes I (95-90 BCE) was found in the left hand of the defunct woman in tomb 6. The fact that this coin is in gold, and not silver or bronze as is usually the case for Parthian coinage, suggest that this imitation was made for prestige purposes. The coin is counterstamped with the frontal depiction of what might have been a local chieftain. The counterstamp was added so as to not damage the portrait of the Parthian king, perhaps indicating some degree of dependency on the Parthians.

A gold coin was also found in tomb III showing the bust in profile of the wreath-crowned Roman Emperor Tiberius. On the reverse is an enthroned, sumptuously draped female figure holding a spray and scepter. Coins of this type were minted in the city of Lugdunum in Gaul, between 16 and 21 CE.[1]

A Buddhist gold coin from India was also found in tomb IV (the male warrior). On the reverse, it depicts a lion with a nandipada, with the Kharoshthi legend "Sih[o] vigatabhay[o]" ("The lion who dispelled fear"). On the obverse, an almost naked man only wearing an Hellenistic chlamys and a petasus hat (an iconography similar to that of Hermes/ Mercury) rolls a wheel. The legend in Kharoshthi reads "Dharmacakrapravata[ko]" ("The one who turned the Wheel of the Law"). It has been suggested that this may be an early representation of the Zoroaster.[2]

Finally, a very worn coin has been identified as belonging to the Yuezhi chieftain Heraios.

It is thought that the site belonged to Sakas (Asian Scythians, who were later to migrate to India, where they are known as Indo-Scythians), although some suggest the Yuezhi (future Kushans) or eastern Parthians as an alternative. Several of the artifacts are highly consistent with a Scythian origin, such as the royal crown or the polylobed decorated daggers discovered in the tombs. Several of the defuncts exhibited ritual deformation of the skull, a practice which is well documented among Central Asian nomads of the period.

Cultural influences

These pieces have much in common with the famous Scythian gold artifacts recovered thousands of kilometers west on the banks of the Bosphorus and the Chersonese.

A high cultural syncretism pervades the findings, however. Hellenistic cultural and artistic influences can be found in many of the forms and human depictions (from amorini to rings with the depiction of Athena and her name inscribed in Greek), attributable to the existence of the Seleucid empire and Greco-Bactrian Kingdom in the same area until around 140 BCE, and the continued existence of the Indo-Greek Kingdom in the northwestern Indian sub-continent until the beginning of our era.

The artifacts were also intermixed with items coming from much farther, such as a few Chinese artifacts (especially Chinese bronze mirrors) as well as a few Indian ones (decorated ivory plates). This seems to be a testimony to the richness of cultural influences in the area of Bactria at that time.

Loss and re-discovery

It was thought that the treasure, which had been placed in the Kabul Museum, was destroyed during the looting of the museum by the Taliban in 2000. Apparently the treasure was hidden away by some employees of the museum, and was recently re-discovered by chance at the bottom of commodity crates. Following an agreement between the Afghan government and France, the collection was evaluated and displayed internationally in a blockbuster exhibition through the cooperation of several prominent museums and the National Geographic Society. Objects were on display from 2007-2009 variously at the Musée Guimet in Paris, the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.[3]


Some of the most spectacular finds are a part of the travelling exhibition titled "Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures From the National Museum, Kabul" or "Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World" which were first on displayed in 2006 in France’s Musee Guimet in Paris. The exhibition supported by The National Geographic has also been to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. from May 25th to Sept. 7th, 2008; from Oct. 24th, 2008 to Jan. 25th, 2009 the collection was at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco; from February 22 to May 17, 2009 it travelled to The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston then to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York from June 23 to Sept. 20th, 2009; Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau-Ottawa held the exhibition from October 23, 2009, to March 28, 2010; Bonn Museum in Germany from June 11, 2010 to January 2, 2011 and from March 3, 2011 to July 3, 2011 the British Museum in London.


See also

External links

  • Website dedicated to Afghanistan's Treasures by Musée Guimet (Paris, France): Afghanistan, les trésors retrouvés
  • Radio Free Europe, June 9, 2006 – provides an overview.
  • BBC News South Asia, December 6, 2006



  • Sarianidi, V. I. "The Treasure of Golden Hill." American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 84, No. 2 (Apr., 1980), pp. 125–131.
  • Sarianidi, Victor. 1990–1992. "Tilya Tepe: The Burial of a Noble Warrior." PERSICA XIV, 1990–1992, pp. 103–130.
  • "Afghanistan, les trésors retrouvés", Musée des arts asiatiques Guimet, ISBN 2-7118-5293-8
  • Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul (2008). Eds., Friedrik Hiebert and Pierre Cambon. National Geographic, Washington, D.C. ISBN 978-1-4262-0374-9.

Coordinates: 36°42′0″N 65°47′13.2″E / 36.70000°N 65.787000°E / 36.70000; 65.787000

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