Oxus River Discovery: Ancient Persian Artifacts Unearthed, Unveiling Priceless Heritage

An incredible treasure discovered near the Oxus River is one of the most precious collections of ancient Persian artifacts. Only 180 pieces of jewelry, plaques, and statuettes, and about 200 coins have survived the years, but the original cache was much bigger. Comprised of stunning gold and silver artifacts, the treasure is an impressive example of ancient wealth. The elaborately decorated metalwork also shows how skillful artists were in Persia during the 2nd or 3rd centuries BC.

Dividing the Achaemenid Treasure

The impressive Oxus Treasure was discovered at the end of the 19th century. However, the time delay between excavations and the moment when the metal artifacts were cataloged and exhibited created problems for maintaining the precious pieces as one complete collection. Many of the priceless artifacts have been lost forever. Some Oxus artifacts seem to be located in different museum collections, but due to the lack of documentation it is impossible to conclude their origins.

Gold statuettes of bearded men (British Museum/CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) and cast and chased silver statuette of another bearded man. (British Museum/CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) All from the Oxus Treasure.

The Oxus Treasure by John Curtis (published by the British Museum) details one occasion on which the treasure was divided. Curtis writes:

“A large part of the treasure was nearly lost in 1880 and only recovered by chance in extraordinary, even bizarre circumstances. According to O.M. Dalton, whose 1905 catalog of the Oxus Treasure remains the basic publication, in May of that year three merchants from Bokhara, who presumably bought the treasure from local villagers, were travelling with it from Kabul to Peshawar. East of Kabul they were attacked by local tribesmen, who seized them and the Treasure. However, their servant was able to escape and raised the alarm in the camp of Captain E C. Burton, a political officer in Afghanistan. Burton set off with two orderlies and came across the robbers in a cave shortly before midnight. They were in the process of dividing up their spoil and were already quarrelling over it. Four were lying wounded. We are told that “a parley ensued”, as a result of which much of the Treasure was given up to Burton. The next day he threatened to lead a force against the robbers, which persuaded them to bring in another large part of the Treasure. In this way about three quarters was restored to the merchants and, as a token of their gratitude, they allowed Burton to purchase the large gold armlet subsequently acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum.”

Several pieces of jewelry from the Oxus Treasure. (British Museum/CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Beautifully Decorated Metalwork

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