Oxus River Treasure (Persian Empire, 4th-5th Century BC)

Figure 1.--Here is a golden figure head from the Oxus River Treasure. The figure is a Pertsian boy aged about 12 yers old. While no clothes are shown, we do get am indication of hair styles in the Persian Empire. The ear holes indicate that Persian boys wore ear rings. The British Museum identifies the head as coming from Achaemenid Persian (5th-4th century BC). Source: British Museum

In the 19th century a treasure hoard was discovered in Tajikistan. It became known as the Oxus Treasure. There were about 170 pieces in the hoard. This treasure eventually became part of the Persian collection held by the British Museum. The museum believe that the treasure was collected in ancient times by Zoroastrianism Monks. It is believed to have been lost for centuries until it was rediscovered in the 19th century. How it became known to the West reads like an Indian Jones story. I also believe that this true story is one which writers of children's fiction have used time and time again when they write adventure stories of children finding treasure. The treasure lay buried in the mists of time in the ruined temple by the Oxus ferry crossing called Takht-i Kuwad which is on the north bank of the river. It is thought that local folk discovered the treasure and kept this knowledge a family secret. The items were sold to merchants. hese merchants then sold the objects in the Bazaar in Indian cities like Rawalpindi and Peshawar. These places are in the present day country of Pakistan. The treasure came to light when a group of merchants had been captured by local bandits. Things looked bad and the merchants did not think they would see another Ramadan. Suddenly, a cloud of dust could be seem. The bandits did not like this and thought that they would sort out these unwelcomed guests. As it happened these unwelcome guests were British. The leader was Captain F.C Burton, A British Political Officer in Afghistan. He made short work of the bandits and rescued the merchants. In the nick of time came the bugle charge , swords raised and to the tune of Gary Owen charged into battle. Once the bandits fled the British released the merchants. The merchants showed Burton the golden things. He bought an armlet. This is now in the Victorian and Albert Museum. British officials subsiquently went to the bazaar in these places and bought the rest of the treasure. At first the Oxus treasure belong to two men but one bought the other 's share. The 170 piece collection was given to the British Museum. There is an item in this collection which would be of interest to HBC. It is a golden figure head of a boy aged about 12 years. It shows the hair style in this period of history (figure 1). The British Museum identifies the head as coming from Achaemenid Persian (5th-4th century BC). The Museum describes it, "From the region of Takht-i Kuwad, Tadjikistan. This head is part of the Oxus treasure, the most important collection of gold and silver to have survived from the Achaemenid period. The treasure was found on the banks of the River Oxus and probably comes from a temple there. Most of the treasure dates from the 5th or 4th centuries BC, and many of the items are representative of what is described as Achaemenid court style, found throughout the empire and considered typical of the period. This head, though, is rather different, and may be of local manufacture. The head is made of beaten gold and shows a beardless youth with pierced ears. It may have been part of a statue, perhaps in another material such as wood." A reader in Takikistan writes, "The facial features of the of the head are interesting. The physical features of the figure are similar to present day children who live in Central Asia. If this boy walked down Rudki Street in Tajikistan dressed in modern clothes he would not be out of place."

William Ferguson


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Created: 10:34 PM 5/17/2006
Last updated: 10:28 PM 5/17/2006