Getty Museum and Turkmenistan’s State Museum begin Cooperation to Preserve a 5th century Buddha head through the U.S. Embassy’s AFCP program

January 30, 2023

On January 27, the J. Paul Getty Museum and the State Museum of the State Cultural Center of Turkmenistan concluded the first mission aimed at preserving the 5th century Buddha Head found in the ancient city of Merv. The mission was made possible through the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP), and the Buddha Head itself is the 30th AFCP project in Turkmenistan. The delegation that travelled to work on the artifact consisted of Ms. Susanne Gänsicke, Head of the Antiquities Conservation at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Mr. Fabio Colombo, Conservator in private practice, and Mr. Giuseppe Salemi, Professor at the University of Padova and 3D computer imaging specialist.

The week-long mission included a preliminary examination, photo documentation, and photogrammetry of the Buddha head. For instance, 12 clay fragments of the head were recorded. In addition, 10 small samples of the face were taken for further study.  These steps will allow the delegation to understand the “state of conservation” and use 3D elements and images to reconstruct the artifact. The J. Paul Getty Museum experts, together with the specialists from the State Museum, believe these efforts can provide unique insights into the less explored Buddhist heritage of Turkmenistan.

The Getty delegation also used their time in-country to conduct presentations and share expertise with their Turkmen counterparts. The first engagement was a discussion with specialists from various museums in Turkmenistan about the Getty, its history, and its facilities. The second engagement involving students of the restoration department of the Institute of Culture of Turkmenistan focused on 3D scanning and printing equipment. The visit garnered extensive media coverage throughout the week from multiple outlets.

The J. Paul Getty Museum and the State Museum plan to conduct another mission to work on the Buddha head later in the calendar year. This mission will attempt to train local students that can support with the ongoing conservation efforts, while contributing to the professionalization of Turkmenistan’s next generation of conservationists.

The mission was made possible by the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) – an annual grant competition established and administered by the U.S. Department of State. Since its inception in 2001, AFCP has supported over 1,000 cultural preservation projects in more than 130 countries worldwide. To date, the AFCP has funded 30 projects in Turkmenistan worth close to two million U.S. dollars, which makes Turkmenistan the leading recipient in AFCP awards worldwide.

For all media inquiries, please contact the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Turkmenistan at