Digging Deep

Digging Deep

National Geographic Society archaeological fellow Fred Hiebert explains the connections he has discovered between past peoples.


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Arts and Music, Geography, Human Geography, Physical Geography, Social Studies, World History

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Fred Hiebert is an archaeologist. Archaeologists study ancient objects called artifacts. They use artifacts to learn about the past. In 2004, Hiebert was in Afghanistan. He suspected a treasure trove was locked in the president's palace.

The treasure was hidden in several safes. Unfortunately, there was no key. Eventually, someone opened them with a saw.

When the first safe opened, it was amazing, Hiebert said. Out popped bags of gold. "They were so beautiful I was leaping for joy."

As he suspected, it was the Bactrian Hoard. The treasure was made up of 20,000 gold, silver, and ivory objects. They were from many different parts of the world. The artifacts are more than 2,000 years old. They are part of Afghanistan's history. Bactria is the name of an ancient region. Part of it was located in the area that is now Afghanistan.

For Hiebert, the gold wasn't the most exciting part. He was more excited to be able to prove different ancient cultures were linked together.

Archaeologists sometimes find great treasures, but Hiebert said that's not what they are really searching for. They are searching for knowledge. "That's our real gold," he said.

Even 5,000 years ago, people were connected like they are today, he said. Cities and countries traded with each other. They shared ideas and art. Even in ancient times, people traveled around.

Connected Cultures

Archaeology links the past and the present, Hiebert said. Once he was digging at a merchant's house in Egypt. It was built about 800 years ago. There were many traded goods from India and China. On the last day, he pulled up the mat to the front door. Under it was the key of the merchant. The key had the man's name written on it.

Hiebert said it was an amazing feeling to find the key.

Fast Fact

Golden Discovery
Viktor Sarianidi, a Russian archaeologist, discovered the Bactrian Hoard while excavating for Bronze Age artifacts in 1978. What he found was the burial site of a wealthy nomadic family, dating much later, from the 1st century B.C.E.

Fast Fact

Trying to Make Textbooks Out-of-Date
"We are in one of those rare fields where our main job is to try to make the textbooks go out-of-date. That's my goal. My goal is to find something new, to make a new discovery, a new radiocarbon date, because history is a living thing."
Fredrik Hiebert, archaeologist

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Stuart Thornton
Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
Kara West
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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