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Golden Hill

Updated on December 25, 2016

Alternate names: Tilla Tepe, Tillia Tepe, "Golden Hill" or "Golden Mound"

Jauzjan Province. Five kilometers north of Sheberghan, among the dunes between one and two kilometers east of the road to Andkhui.

Dates: Early Iron Age, circa 1300-800 BC (carbon 14 dating);
Indo-Scythian, 20 BC–80 AD (stylistic evidence)

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A gold necklace part from the first century, discovered in 1978 on the archeological site of Tillia Tepe (northern Afghanistan) and exhibited for the 'Afghanistan, Rediscovered Treasures' exhibition at Musee Guimet in Paris, France. Tillia Tep - the kitten ring decorated with a representation of Athena, grave II Gold
A gold necklace part from the first century, discovered in 1978 on the archeological site of Tillia Tepe (northern Afghanistan) and exhibited for the 'Afghanistan, Rediscovered Treasures' exhibition at Musee Guimet in Paris, France.
A gold necklace part from the first century, discovered in 1978 on the archeological site of Tillia Tepe (northern Afghanistan) and exhibited for the 'Afghanistan, Rediscovered Treasures' exhibition at Musee Guimet in Paris, France.
Tillia Tep - the kitten ring decorated with a representation of Athena, grave II Gold
Tillia Tep - the kitten ring decorated with a representation of Athena, grave II Gold

A mound circa 80 meters in diameter and four meters high, enclosed by mud-brick walls circa 1.5 meters high. Inside is a temple consisting of two halls with 15 columns and a cruciform altar. The site is possibly a very early Indo-Iranian settlement. During the early Kushan period, Tillya Tepe was re-used as a necropolis for a wealthy family. In 1978 six burials were excavated, consisting of raised wooden coffins containing burial adornments of silk, gold and silver.

Some 20,000 gold objects were recovered, consisting of bracelets, bowls, clasps, buttons, weapons, statuary jewelery, etc., representing a mixture of Indian, Central Asian, Iranian and Hellenistic styles. Other artifacts from the Mediterranean and China (products from Silk Road trade, not of local manufacture) and gold coins (one with Buddhist inscriptions, another of Parthian origin and another of Roman origin, struck during the reign of were also found.

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Excavations at Tillya Tepe 1978 by Russian archaeologist Viktor Sarianidis - Six golden burials from the second quarter of the 1st century AD were found amongst the ruins of an older Bronze Age fortress - © Viktor Sarianidi, National Museum of AfghanExcavations from Tillya Tepe, Tomb IV, Second quarter of the 1st century AD. An Afghan archaeologist carefully uncovers the golden dagger from Tomb IV, 1978 - © Viktor Sarianidi, National Museum of Afghanistan / Musée GuimetArchaeologist Viktor Sarianidi (left) and Terkesh Khodzhanyanov inspecting gold objects excavated from Tillya Tepe, Tomb IV, 1978 - © Viktor Saranidi, National Museum of Afghanistan / Musée GuimetA mound circa 80 meters in diameter and four meters high, enclosed by mud-brick walls circa 1.5 meters high. Inside is a temple consisting of two halls with 15 columns and a cruciform altar. The site is possibly a very early Indo-Iranian settlement.
Excavations at Tillya Tepe 1978 by Russian archaeologist Viktor Sarianidis - Six golden burials from the second quarter of the 1st century AD were found amongst the ruins of an older Bronze Age fortress - © Viktor Sarianidi, National Museum of Afghan
Excavations at Tillya Tepe 1978 by Russian archaeologist Viktor Sarianidis - Six golden burials from the second quarter of the 1st century AD were found amongst the ruins of an older Bronze Age fortress - © Viktor Sarianidi, National Museum of Afghan
Excavations from Tillya Tepe, Tomb IV, Second quarter of the 1st century AD. An Afghan archaeologist carefully uncovers the golden dagger from Tomb IV, 1978 - © Viktor Sarianidi, National Museum of Afghanistan / Musée Guimet
Excavations from Tillya Tepe, Tomb IV, Second quarter of the 1st century AD. An Afghan archaeologist carefully uncovers the golden dagger from Tomb IV, 1978 - © Viktor Sarianidi, National Museum of Afghanistan / Musée Guimet
Archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi (left) and Terkesh Khodzhanyanov inspecting gold objects excavated from Tillya Tepe, Tomb IV, 1978 - © Viktor Saranidi, National Museum of Afghanistan / Musée Guimet
Archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi (left) and Terkesh Khodzhanyanov inspecting gold objects excavated from Tillya Tepe, Tomb IV, 1978 - © Viktor Saranidi, National Museum of Afghanistan / Musée Guimet
A mound circa 80 meters in diameter and four meters high, enclosed by mud-brick walls circa 1.5 meters high. Inside is a temple consisting of two halls with 15 columns and a cruciform altar. The site is possibly a very early Indo-Iranian settlement.
A mound circa 80 meters in diameter and four meters high, enclosed by mud-brick walls circa 1.5 meters high. Inside is a temple consisting of two halls with 15 columns and a cruciform altar. The site is possibly a very early Indo-Iranian settlement.

Tillya Tepe is, by all accounts, the most important archeological discovery made in Afghanistan since the excavatation of Begram during the 1930s. Few sites from this period have been discovered intact, allowing modern archaeologists to reconstruct the ensembles worn by the deceased as they were laid into their graves.

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Golden belt, with depictions of Dyonisos (or the syncretic Iranian goddess Nana / Nanaia) riding a lion. Tomb IVA ram figurine found in the hoard.Gold stater of the Greco-Bactrian king Eucratides, the largest gold coin of the Ancient World.Appliqués in the shape of lotuses, 1st century CE. Image credit: Metropolitan MuseumHeaddress ornament. Tillya Tepe Tomb II, first century A.D. Gold with turquoise, garnet, lapis lazuli, carnelian and pearls 12.5 x 6.5 cm (5 x 2–5/8 in.) Image credit: Metropolitan MuseumVariety of gold items with stone inlay. Image credit: Discover MagazineAmorini riding on fish, Tillia tepe. Tomb II.
Golden belt, with depictions of Dyonisos (or the syncretic Iranian goddess Nana / Nanaia) riding a lion. Tomb IV
Golden belt, with depictions of Dyonisos (or the syncretic Iranian goddess Nana / Nanaia) riding a lion. Tomb IV
A ram figurine found in the hoard.
A ram figurine found in the hoard.
Gold stater of the Greco-Bactrian king Eucratides, the largest gold coin of the Ancient World.
Gold stater of the Greco-Bactrian king Eucratides, the largest gold coin of the Ancient World.
Appliqués in the shape of lotuses, 1st century CE. Image credit: Metropolitan Museum
Appliqués in the shape of lotuses, 1st century CE. Image credit: Metropolitan Museum
Headdress ornament. Tillya Tepe Tomb II, first century A.D. Gold with turquoise, garnet, lapis lazuli, carnelian and pearls 12.5 x 6.5 cm (5 x 2–5/8 in.) Image credit: Metropolitan Museum
Headdress ornament. Tillya Tepe Tomb II, first century A.D. Gold with turquoise, garnet, lapis lazuli, carnelian and pearls 12.5 x 6.5 cm (5 x 2–5/8 in.) Image credit: Metropolitan Museum
Variety of gold items with stone inlay. Image credit: Discover Magazine
Variety of gold items with stone inlay. Image credit: Discover Magazine
Amorini riding on fish, Tillia tepe. Tomb II.
Amorini riding on fish, Tillia tepe. Tomb II.

Altogether several thousand pieces of fine jewelry were recovered, usually made of gold, turquoise and/or lapis-lazuli. The ornaments include coins, necklacesset with gems, belts, medallions and crowns. After its discovery the hoard went missing during the wars in Afghanistan, until it was "rediscovered" and first brought to public attention again in 2003. A new museum in Kabul is being planned where the Bactrian gold will eventually be kept.

Typical of nomadic burials, the graves were dug into an earthen mound with the most important person - the chieftai - placed in the center and the secondary burials arranged roughly in a circle around him. In the northern steppes, funeral mounds were man-made constructions requiring massive movement of earth. At Tillya Tepe, however, the nomads reused an existing “hill" - actually the earthcovered remains of a fortified mud-brick temple dating from the Iron Age (1500-1300 BC).

This style is readily evident in the turquoise-inlaid dagger (fig. 15) from Tomb IV, that of the chieftain. The weapon's design - animals devouring each other - suggests dynamism, aggression, and invincibility.

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A first century handle of a weapon, measuring 7.2cm, from a tomb in Tillia Tepe, Afghanistan, provided by The Afghanistan National Museum, is pictured at the 'Afghanistan, Rediscovered Treasures' exhibition at Mus?e Guimet on October 1, 2006 in ParisA first century sleeve decorated with a scene of animals in combat, measuring 23.5 x 9cm, from a tomb in Tillia Tepe, Afghanistan, provided by The Afghanistan National Museum, is pictured at the 'Afghanistan, Rediscovered Treasures' exhibition at MusFrench restorers examine a small gold vessel with Greek inscriptions from the first century, discovered in 1978 on the archeological site of Tillia Tepe (north Afghanistan) and exposed for the 'Afghanistan, Rediscovered Treasures' exhibition at Musee
A first century handle of a weapon, measuring 7.2cm, from a tomb in Tillia Tepe, Afghanistan, provided by The Afghanistan National Museum, is pictured at the 'Afghanistan, Rediscovered Treasures' exhibition at Mus?e Guimet on October 1, 2006 in Paris
A first century handle of a weapon, measuring 7.2cm, from a tomb in Tillia Tepe, Afghanistan, provided by The Afghanistan National Museum, is pictured at the 'Afghanistan, Rediscovered Treasures' exhibition at Mus?e Guimet on October 1, 2006 in Paris
A first century sleeve decorated with a scene of animals in combat, measuring 23.5 x 9cm, from a tomb in Tillia Tepe, Afghanistan, provided by The Afghanistan National Museum, is pictured at the 'Afghanistan, Rediscovered Treasures' exhibition at Mus
A first century sleeve decorated with a scene of animals in combat, measuring 23.5 x 9cm, from a tomb in Tillia Tepe, Afghanistan, provided by The Afghanistan National Museum, is pictured at the 'Afghanistan, Rediscovered Treasures' exhibition at Mus
French restorers examine a small gold vessel with Greek inscriptions from the first century, discovered in 1978 on the archeological site of Tillia Tepe (north Afghanistan) and exposed for the 'Afghanistan, Rediscovered Treasures' exhibition at Musee
French restorers examine a small gold vessel with Greek inscriptions from the first century, discovered in 1978 on the archeological site of Tillia Tepe (north Afghanistan) and exposed for the 'Afghanistan, Rediscovered Treasures' exhibition at Musee

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 ofZoroaster.

The monstrous steed with the muzzle ofa lion, beard ofa goat, and crest ofa dragon is alien to Greek art, however, and reflects the aesthetic of the steppes. Chinese influence is evident in the chieftain`s boot buckles, each of which shows an exotic scene of chariots being drawn by dragons (fig.18). The pattern on the chariot's side suggests a woven material, and the uprights supporting the canopy resemble bamboo. Such lightweight, two - wheeled chariots are known from excavations in Mongolia and from Han Chinese burials of the first century BC.

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 Pair of clasps depicting Dionysos and Ariadne (Tillya Tepe, Tomb VI), 1st century BC - 1st century AD- National Museum of Afghanistan © Thierry Ollivier / Musée GuimetMen in armor, in Greek fighting gear. Tomb III."Kings with dragons". Tomb II.Tabatha Yeatts: The Opposite of Indifference: , Tillya Tepe, Tomb II Second quarter of the 1st century AD Made of gold, turquoise, garnet, lapis lazuli, carnelian and pearlsDagger with hilt depicting animals and a dancing bear (Tillya Tepe, Tomb IV), 1st century BC - 1st century AD (iron, gold and turquoise, w x l x d: 4.6 x 29.9 x 1.9 cm (1 13/ 16 x 11 3/ 4 x 3/ 4)) - © Thierry Ollivier / Musée Guimet Boot buckles depicting a chariot drawn by dragons (Tillya Tepe, Tomb IV), 1st century BC - 1st cenury AD (gold, turquoise and carnelian, dia of first buckle: 5.6 cm National Museum of Afghanistan © Thierry Ollivier / Musée GuimetNeck­lace Tillya Tepe Tomb VI, first cen­tury A.D. Gold with gran­u­la­tion and turquoise Diam. of the beads- National Museum of Afghanistan © Thierry Ollivier / Musée GuimetPair of bracelets in the shape of antelopes Tillya Tepe Tomb II, first cen­tury A.D. Gold with turquoise and car­nelian-National Museum of Afghanistan © Thierry Ollivier / Musée Guimeta headdress topped by a golden 'tree' with pearls.
 Pair of clasps depicting Dionysos and Ariadne (Tillya Tepe, Tomb VI), 1st century BC - 1st century AD- National Museum of Afghanistan © Thierry Ollivier / Musée Guimet
Pair of clasps depicting Dionysos and Ariadne (Tillya Tepe, Tomb VI), 1st century BC - 1st century AD- National Museum of Afghanistan © Thierry Ollivier / Musée Guimet
Men in armor, in Greek fighting gear. Tomb III.
Men in armor, in Greek fighting gear. Tomb III.
"Kings with dragons". Tomb II.
"Kings with dragons". Tomb II.
Tabatha Yeatts: The Opposite of Indifference: , Tillya Tepe, Tomb II Second quarter of the 1st century AD Made of gold, turquoise, garnet, lapis lazuli, carnelian and pearls
Tabatha Yeatts: The Opposite of Indifference: , Tillya Tepe, Tomb II Second quarter of the 1st century AD Made of gold, turquoise, garnet, lapis lazuli, carnelian and pearls
Dagger with hilt depicting animals and a dancing bear (Tillya Tepe, Tomb IV), 1st century BC - 1st century AD (iron, gold and turquoise, w x l x d: 4.6 x 29.9 x 1.9 cm (1 13/ 16 x 11 3/ 4 x 3/ 4)) - © Thierry Ollivier / Musée Guimet
Dagger with hilt depicting animals and a dancing bear (Tillya Tepe, Tomb IV), 1st century BC - 1st century AD (iron, gold and turquoise, w x l x d: 4.6 x 29.9 x 1.9 cm (1 13/ 16 x 11 3/ 4 x 3/ 4)) - © Thierry Ollivier / Musée Guimet
 Boot buckles depicting a chariot drawn by dragons (Tillya Tepe, Tomb IV), 1st century BC - 1st cenury AD (gold, turquoise and carnelian, dia of first buckle: 5.6 cm National Museum of Afghanistan © Thierry Ollivier / Musée Guimet
Boot buckles depicting a chariot drawn by dragons (Tillya Tepe, Tomb IV), 1st century BC - 1st cenury AD (gold, turquoise and carnelian, dia of first buckle: 5.6 cm National Museum of Afghanistan © Thierry Ollivier / Musée Guimet
Neck­lace Tillya Tepe Tomb VI, first cen­tury A.D. Gold with gran­u­la­tion and turquoise Diam. of the beads- National Museum of Afghanistan © Thierry Ollivier / Musée Guimet
Neck­lace Tillya Tepe Tomb VI, first cen­tury A.D. Gold with gran­u­la­tion and turquoise Diam. of the beads- National Museum of Afghanistan © Thierry Ollivier / Musée Guimet
Pair of bracelets in the shape of antelopes Tillya Tepe Tomb II, first cen­tury A.D. Gold with turquoise and car­nelian-National Museum of Afghanistan © Thierry Ollivier / Musée Guimet
Pair of bracelets in the shape of antelopes Tillya Tepe Tomb II, first cen­tury A.D. Gold with turquoise and car­nelian-National Museum of Afghanistan © Thierry Ollivier / Musée Guimet
a headdress topped by a golden 'tree' with pearls.
a headdress topped by a golden 'tree' with pearls.

Like many of the gold objects found at Tillya Tepe, this buckle shows signs of wear. Because nomads carried all their wealth with them, often on the body, the buckle was probably used by the chieftain during his life. Most scholars believe that the adornments, jewelry, and weapons at Tillya Tepe were made locally. The turquoise and most of the other semiprecious stones used for inlays were abundant in the region, as was gold from the Amu Darya. What is most telling is that the workmanship of the gold items is similar among all the tombs, suggesting the possibility of a single workshop located nearby in northern Afghanistan.

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 (futureKushans) 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.

Some of the most spectacular finds were a part of the traveling exhibition titled "Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures From the National Museum, Kabul" or "Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World" which were first on displayed in December 2006 in France’s Musee Guimet in Paris. The exhibition supported by The National Geographic has also been to theNational 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 traveled 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. From July 26th to November 26th 2014 the exhibition shows at the Western Australian Museum in Perth. TheMuseum of Oriental Art in Turin, Italy, and Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam also saw displays.

Additional description can be found at the bottom of the Indo-Scythian History and Culture page of this resource and at the "Hidden Treasures of Afghanistan" website produced by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Source: Warwick Ball, Archaeological Gazetteer of Afghanistan, 1982, n. 1192

"Il semble qu'on ait là la plus ancienne représentation du Zoroaster, selon une modalité qui n'est pas encore celle de l'iconograhie boudhique traditionnelle" (French): "It seems this might be the earliest representation of the Buddha, in a style which is not yet that of traditional Zoroastrian iconography", inAfghanistan, les trésors retouvés, p. 280.

Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul (2008), pp. 18-19.

http://www.museo-on.com/go/museoon/home/db/events/_page_id_558/_page_id_588/_page_id_235/_page_id_921.xhtml

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