<p><strong>The city of Balkh, like many ancient cities across Afghanistan, is a treasure hunter's dream and an archaeologist's nightmare. Dubbed the "Mother of Cities" by early Arab explorers, the vast urban complex was home to Zoroaster and was rich enough to be sacked by both Genghis Khan and Tamerlane.</strong></p> <p dir="ltr">And the looting has never stopped. Poor villagers dig through the ruins of the ancient cultures that once thrived here, selling what they find. Mostly the villagers say they found these artifacts accidentally while working in a field.</p> <p dir="ltr">With international demand for Afghan antiquities remaining strong, some in the region produce excellent fakes. Here, a stone engraving sits on a jeweler's bench in Balkh's central market. Though the young jeweler furtively showing off this piece claimed it was real, it is uncertain whether the tools he uses to make modern jewelry during the day are not used to produce replicas of artifacts at night.</p> <p dir="ltr"><em>—John Wendle</em></p> <p>(See "<a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/whos-stealing-afghanistan-cultural-treasures/">Who's Stealing Afghanistan's Cultural Treasures?</a>")</p>

Real or Fake?

The city of Balkh, like many ancient cities across Afghanistan, is a treasure hunter's dream and an archaeologist's nightmare. Dubbed the "Mother of Cities" by early Arab explorers, the vast urban complex was home to Zoroaster and was rich enough to be sacked by both Genghis Khan and Tamerlane.

And the looting has never stopped. Poor villagers dig through the ruins of the ancient cultures that once thrived here, selling what they find. Mostly the villagers say they found these artifacts accidentally while working in a field.

With international demand for Afghan antiquities remaining strong, some in the region produce excellent fakes. Here, a stone engraving sits on a jeweler's bench in Balkh's central market. Though the young jeweler furtively showing off this piece claimed it was real, it is uncertain whether the tools he uses to make modern jewelry during the day are not used to produce replicas of artifacts at night.

—John Wendle

(See "Who's Stealing Afghanistan's Cultural Treasures?")

Photograph by John Wendle

Pictures: Afghanistan’s Looted and Lost Heritage

Some of Afghanistan's greatest cultural treasures are out of the hands of archaeologists—and on the black market.

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