Moesgaard in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has held a special place in the Ethnographic Collections at Moesgaard Museum since the 1950s.

The museum received its first collection of Afghan objects from members of the grand Third Central Asian Expedition, carried out between 1947 and 1949 by a group of Danish scholars and scientists under the leadership of Henning Haslund-Christensen. Subsequently, another splendid collection was provided by the Henning Haslund-Christensen Memorial Expedition (1953-’55).

The Memorial Expedition was headed by Prince Peter of Denmark and to Greece, and it also counted botanist Lennart Edelberg and ethnographer Klaus Ferdinand among others. This expedition should be the beginning of a tradition which has since led numerous other scholars and students from Moesgaard Museum and Aarhus University to collect artifacts for the museum in Afghanistan, with the result that Moesgaard today has one of the most comprehensive Afghanistan collections in the world at its disposal.

Various explorers and scholars have furthermore donated their private objects and photo collections from Afghanistan to the museum. Among them are Jean and Daniella Bourgeois, who went travelling with a nomadic tribe in Afghanistan in the late 1960s. You can read an interview with Jean and see his extraordinary photos here.

The museum’s ethnographic collections cover various areas of Afghanistan and subject matters as varied as nomadic culture and city culture, handicraft traditions, agriculture, music etc. Moreover, the museum has a very large collection of photos from Afghanistan, which has recently been digitalised and is unequalled in Europe.

On this portal, we have made available a small selection of the photos as well as some photos of the artifacts in our collections.

What is ethnography?
What is ethnography?
Ethnography is the study of humans in a social context, i.e. the ways in which we are affected by culture, society and social interaction. Among other things, it is an exploration of how people act and make choices that affect themselves and their surroundings.

Ethnography is, in other words, an effort to develop cultural understanding; the ethnographer investigates social and cultural conditions to find out how people live and how they understand their world. Ethnography focuses on both historical, political, economic, national, religious and social conditions.

Photo by Klaus Ferdinand, 1953-55, showing Prince Peter and an Afghan nomad.
What is fieldwork?
What is fieldwork?
Fieldwork is a cornerstone of ethnography, the objective being that the ethnographer goes to live with the people that is the focus of his or her study. The ethnographer does not merely observe, but directly partakes in daily life. Chatting, interviewing, asking questions form a great part of fieldwork.

Klaus Ferdinand was among the first trained ethnographers in Denmark and one of the first to conduct prolonged fieldwork. He did so in Afghanistan and enjoyed it: ”The Afghan people have a great sense of humour. You have fun and joke with them. Fieldwork could be very enjoyable and enriching”.

Photo: Peter Rasmussen, 1953-55; Klaus Ferdinand and Prince Peter conversing with Hazara peasants.