UCL research at Merv and the collaborations that the project was able to establish became a model for region and many other research initiatives benefited from the project's research and capacity building work. Selective list of the project activities below indicate the diversity of the activities and specialists involved as part of the Ancient Merv Project.
Books & Monographs Articles
Books & Monographs
Herrmann, G (1999) Monuments of Merv: Traditional Buildings of the Karakum, Society of Antiquaries of London
Herrmann, G et al (2002) The Monuments of Merv: a scanned archive of photographs and plans, Institute of Archaeology UCL & British Institute of Persian Studies
Puschnigg, G (2006) Ceramics of the Merv Oasis: Recycling the City. Left Coast Press
Corbishley, M. (2011) Pinning down the Past: Archaeology, Heritage, and Education Today. Woodbridge: Boydell Press. (The Merv case study is pages 257-264)
Gilbert, D & Puschnigg, G, with contributions by Feuerbach, Vince & Williams (2 volumes) (forthcoming) The ceramics from Merv. Volume 1: The Achaemenid to late Sasanian ceramics from Merv c 6th century BC to 7th century AD; Volume 2: The Islamic ceramics from Merv c 7th-14th century AD, Saffron Press
St John Simpson et al (forthcoming) Merv: a Late Sasanian House in Erk Kala, Brill
St John Simpson et al Merv: A Sasanian residential quarter, urban development, and industry in Gyaur Kala, Brill
Williams, T (ed) Merv: the medieval city of Sultan Kala. Development and infrastructure from the 7th to the 13th century, Saffron press
The aerial photographic and excavation work on the medieval cities of Merv, including Brun’s work on The fortifications of Sultan Kala. Islamic defences from the 11th-13th century andKruger’s Islamic stucco from Merv
Zavylov, V & Simpson, S Merv: The fortifications of Gyaur Kala from the 3rd century BC to the 8th century AD
Williams, T (2007) The city of Sultan Kala, Merv, Turkmenistan: communities, neighbourhoods and urban planning from the eighth to the thirteenth century, in Bennison, A K & Gascoigne, A (eds) Cities in the pre-modern Islamic world: the urban impact of religion, state and society, 42-62. London: Routledge
Zavyalov, V A (2007) The Fortifications of the City of Gyaur Kala, Merv, in Cribb, J & Herrmann, G (eds) After Alexander: Central Asia before Islam, 313-329. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Barton, J (2009) 3D laser scanning and the conservation of earthen architecture: a case study at the UNESCO World Heritage Site Merv, Turkmenistan, World Archaeology 41 (3), 489-504
In the autumn of 2007, a new phase of conservation effort and research was implemented by University College London's Ancient Merv Project (AMP) at the Silk Road cities of Merv, Turkmenistan. The 1200ha archaeological park consists of multiple cities built of earthen architecture and fired brick, of which much of the archaeology is buried, including extensive stretches of defensive circuits of some of the cities. Many of the exposed structures are suffering extensive erosion. The new phase of the AMP's research brought some of the latest digital technologies, including 3D laser scanning, digital photography and GPS survey equipment, to the desert cities of Merv to conduct a high definition documentation (HDD) and digital preservation project. The project served to create a point-in-time record for some of the most at-risk structures, to create a foundation data set for future erosion monitoring within the site and to research the benefits of using HDD technologies at earthen sites around the world to change the way site managers and conservers make decisions.
Brun, P (2005) From arrows to bullets: the fortifications of Abdullah Khan Kala (Merv, Turkmenistan), Antiquity 79 (305), 616-624
Cooke, L (2007) The archaeologist's challenge or despair: reburial at Merv, Turkmenistan, Conservation and management of archaeological sites 9 (2), 97-112
Damage to archaeological deposits and structures exposed in the sides and base of abandoned excavation trenches is a phenomenon found at many archaeological sites. Archaeological resources at the Ancient Merv Archaeological Park, Turkmenistan, have been placed at risk by earlier archaeological work which made limited provision for conservation. The legacy of one hundred years of archaeological investigation within the park is c. 260 open, and now abandoned, trenches. These trenches pose particular problems for the effective management of the Archaeological Park. As one component of the Ancient Merv Project, research was carried out to establish an appropriate solution for the documentation and conservation of these trenches, and the associated problems of abandoned excavation spoil heaps. This paper details experimental backfilling/reburial work carried out in 2002/2003, on a trench originally excavated in the late 1990s. The design considered aspects of compatibility, compaction, separation, reversibility and drainage. The work consisted of partial reburial, using the originally excavated earthen material for the fill, and a geotextile for separation. The paper discusses the implementation of the reburial project and the longer-term issues of implementing a wider reburial programme within the park.
Dare, P, Herrmann, G, Williams, T & Ziebart, M (2002) Acquisition, registration and application of IKONOS space imagery for the World Heritage Site at Merv, Turkmenistan, in Proceedings of the Space Applications for Heritage Conservation at the International Space University, Strasbourg
Puschnigg, G (2008) Hellenistic echoes in Parthian Merv: transformation and adaptation in the ceramic repertoire, Parthica 10, 109-127
Williams, T with Kurbansakhatov, K et al (2002) The Ancient Merv project, Turkmenistan: preliminary report on the first season (2001), Iran 40, 9-57
Williams, T (2002) Ancient Merv: Queen of Cities, World Heritage 24, 4-15, UNESCO
Williams, T with Kurbansakhatov, K et al (2003) The Ancient Merv project, Turkmenistan: preliminary report on the second season (2002), Iran 41, 139-170
Williams, T (2003) Ancient Merv, Turkmenistan: research, conservation and management at a World Heritage Site, Archaeology International (2002/03), 40-3
Williams, T (2004) Conservation issues of Ancient Merv monuments, MIRAS 14, 140-144
Williams, T (2007) Training courses at the old Silk Road city of Merv, Turkmenistan, Archaeology International 9 (2005/06), 53-57
Williams, T (2008) The landscapes of Islamic Merv, Turkmenistan: Where to draw the line?, Internet Archaeology 25 http://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue25/merv_index.html
This article outlines approaches for interpreting the Islamic city of Sultan Kala (Merv), c. 8th-13th centuries AD, based upon aerial photographic and satellite imagery. Hierarchies of assumptions (identification of individual wall lines; which frame spaces, rooms and courtyards; which are grouped as parts of specific buildings; which are part of urban blocks) and ontologies (information about these assumptions and the variable confidence of interpretation, from the position of lines to spatial function) provide a dynamic structure for the presentation of data, interpretation and theory. The article establishes procedures and protocols within two sample areas (selected to represent the diverse features of the urban and suburban landscapes) to:
- Explore the theory and methodology of documenting interpretation (and uncertainty) in the transcription of aerial photographic and satellite imagery
- Develop ontological approaches to structuring interpretations and assumptions, within a hermeneutic model.
- Provide a textual and graphic narrative of the development of the areas.
- Establish an online forum (weblog) to contribute to the long-term project.
- Explore the use of other forms of electronic archive material, in particular, how imagery and audio files can be used to develop the discussion of landscapes and buildings.
The LEAP project was the winner of the British Archaeological Awards - Best Archaeological Innovation 2008.
Highly Commended in The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers Awards - Publishing Innovation 2009 for integrating journal content with underlying data. The ALPSP said "this project enhances the value of both current and future scholarship and is reconfiguring the publishing landscape for archaeology". Press release – link to http://intarch.ac.uk/leap/alpsp-press-release.pdf
Williams, T. 2012. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Photography: Exploring the Medieval City of Merv, on the Silk Roads of Central Asia. Archaeology International; Vol 15: 2011-2012. 74-88 (Available at: http://www.ai-journal.com/article/view/ai.1522/297)
This series will be distributed via web (PDF). Titles to be released shortly.
Herrmann, G. and A. Petersen 1997. The Ancient Cities of Merv Turkmenistan. A Visitor’s Guide. London: The International Merv Project.
BA, BSc and MA Dissertations
Denton, L (2009) UNESCO aspirations for values-based management at World Heritage Sites: attainable reality of ambitious idealism? A case study from Merv, Turkmenistan. Unpublished MA dissertation. London: University College London.
Barton J (2008) An Analysis of High Definition Documentation in Conservation and Management of Earthen Architecture: a case study in Merv, Turkmenistan. Unpublished MA dissertation. London: University College London
Jorayev G (2008) Post-Soviet Turkmenistan: Tradition, Religion and Heritage. Unpublished MA dissertation. London: University College London.
Linde, van der S (2004) Dealing with conflicts in the management of archaeological sites. Balancing immediate activities, sustainable development and ideal management planning: a case study from Ancient Merv. Unpublished MA dissertation. London: University of London.
Peek, N (2004) Experimentation with different forms of earthen material conservation, with the aim of designing a conservation strategy for a section through the defensive wall at Merv, Turkmenistan. Unpublished BSc dissertation. London: University of London.
Venables, C (2003) Theoretical Issues of Site Interpretation; their contribution to the design and development of an interpretation centre using the Ancient Merv Archaeological Park as a case study. Unpublished MA dissertation. London: University of London.
Bridgewater, C (2003) Development of an Educational Strategy for the site of Merv, Turkmenistan, and an analysis of the benefits for the site and the community. Unpublished MA dissertation. London: University of London.
Cooke, L (2009) Approaches to the conservation and management of earthen architecture in archaeological contexts. Unpublished PhD dissertation. London: University College London.
- Research and Excavation
On-going research is a vital component of successfully managing and sustaining the archaeological resource, and enhancing its display and educational value. Research helps us to move from simplistic to complex interpretations of past societies, with greater depth adding relevance to contemporary people and developing the case for future conservation and management. We are thus keen to advance research at the site, but we are also conscious that this should not compromise the unique aspects of the archaeological resource. Careful decisions have to be made to ensure sustainable choices in the selection of sites for excavation, and that the needs for conservation, management planning and interpretation are recognised at the outset.
In the city of Sultan Kala, for example, research is currently focused upon developing our understanding of the daily life of the city, from the 8th to 13th centuries CE. Our research at Merv is aimed at developing our understanding of the infrastructure and administration of the great Seljuk city: when were the streets were laid out, how were the districts within the town organised, how was the city maintained and supplied, etc? Archaeology is very well placed to enable us to study the daily life of the ordinary citizens of ancient Merv, and we are currently exploring issues such as the nature of domestic housing, sanitation, diet and the organisation social space, through the analysis of aerial photographs and the excavation of streets and houses within the city.
There are numerous research questions to which the cities of Merv could make a major contribution. The strengths of the archaeology lie in the quality of the surviving below ground archaeological record, the spatial scale of the resource, and the shifting nature of the urban settlement, which has resulted in major phases of urban occupation being relatively accessible (near the surface) and well-preserved (taphonomically as well as physically).
Merv offers opportunities to explore urban settlement on a grand scale. It is possible to develop the models and approaches to sample urban form and its complexity, rather than simply reacting to specific questions of layout or development, and to explore spatial variation within broad models of urban development. Historical models of urban design and attitude, inferred from documentary sources, provide an important framework, but the archaeological record is capable of complementing this, exploring the velocity of change, the scale of adoption and rejection, the penetration of public attitudes into private space. Targeted work at Merv is developing a more complex interpretation of the changing nature of the settlement and its population over time.
Well retrieved material culture and environmental assemblages are fundamental to enabling us to explore facets of urban life. The broader context of long-distance and local exchange, the trade along the silk road and its impact on the economies and societies at Merv, makes the interpretation of such assemblages complex and rewarding.
There has been a wide range of excavations already conducted at Merv, over a considerable period of time, and of very varying quality. There has been a tendency to focus on elite and public building (palaces, high-status residences, madrasa, mosques, etc, and the city walls), although there are occasional examples of excavations on other elements of the urban landscape, such as industrial sites and non-elite residences. Unfortunately the latter are under-represented in the published material, and the more recent stratigraphic excavations.
In selecting specific research topics, an attempt has been made to focus on a small number of key issues that make best use of the quality of the resource and our limited resources. Broadly, the use of space and changing urban dynamics provide the starting points, and the programmes have been selected to complement the existing record, rather than seek to replicate it.
There are a number of inter-linked research objectives below, each within their own research & fieldwork component. The primary component at present is The Seljuk city.
Throughout these sections, emphasis is placed upon using the documentation of old excavations, most of which are being backfilled for conservation reasons, to provide a cost-effective sample of the archaeological resource.
- Gyaur Kala - the Sasanian and early Islamic cities
- The transition between Gyaur Kala and Sultan Kala – the Umayyad & Abbasid cities i) The scale and date of occupation in the area later encompassed by Sultan Kala ii) Late occupation in Gyaur Kala
- The Seljuk city i) Urban infrastructure in the Seljuk city ii) Suburban development
- The nature of Mongol Merv – continuity, reuse and change
There are a number of areas where research work is needed to drive forward specific management concerns for the area:
[image reference is broken]
- Abdullah Khan Kala & Bairam Ali Khan Kala i) Defences ii) Interior iii) Western extension (Bairam Ali Khan Kala) iv) Immediate hinterland v) General
- Modern activities i) The suburbs of Sultan Kala ii) Gyaur Kala army base
- Defences and standing structures
- Abandoned excavation sites
- AHRC Ceramic Database
There is an urgent need to develop reference collections, and working and sustainable archives, in Turkmenistan. The development of an international teaching and study collection of ceramics, with fabric & type-series, comparative collections, etc, has been undertaken, and was generously supported by the Arts and Humanities Reserach Council (AHRC), providing an on-line resource, published catalogues and discussion (2005) and handing collections in the IoA and Turkmenistan (2005).
The catalogue is at present being developed to be hosted on these webpages.[image reference is broken]
- Training programme: finds conservation
As part of collaboration between Ancient Merv Project and Heritage Without Borders (HWB) three experienced conservators travelled to Turkmenistan from 27 August to 23 September, 2011. This was aided by kind sponsorship from the Global Heritage Fund and UCL Qatar. HWB provided support to the excavation team on-site, assessing, stabilising and packing small finds from previous field seasons. They also provided conservation proposals for a number of museum objects and provided training for a small group of Turkmen conservators/museum professionals. HWB in collaboration with Ancient Merv Project staff also looked into the feasibility of setting up a more permanent conservation laboratory on-site at Merv, to carry on the conservation work in future seasons.
An important part of the remit of the Heritage Without Borders project at Merv was to provide conservation training and advice to local conservators and heritage professionals. The four trainees received in-depth training.
In a very successful first year of involvement, the HWB volunteers contributed to the stability and investigation of 50% of the 1300 small finds on site. They also opened a mutually beneficial dialogue with the local conservators and students in providing training.
In the spring of 2013, Margrethe Felter, Ciarán Lavelle and Francesca Guiducci – three HWB conservators – travelled to Turkmenistan with Ancient Merv Project team and undertook further training and conservation activities on the ground. Through its volunteers and through collaborations with Ancient Merv Project, HWB had established very good links with the Ancient Merv Archaeological Park and with the Institute of History of Turkmenistan.
- Education Programme and Teacher's Handbook
Please click on pictures to download Ancient Merv Teacher's Handbook
Teacher's Handbook | Defining the education programme | Producing education resources | Evaluation | Future plans
The Teacher's Handbook provides information on World Heritage Site nominations, and sets the historical background to Ancient Merv by looking at the chronology of Mary, Central Asia and the World, and by focusing on the development of the Silk Routes. A detailed description of the history of the cities of Merv follows, supplemented by information on the need for undertaking archaeological and conservation activities to ensure the survival of Ancient Merv for future generations.
The book provides detailed information to teachers on how it can be used to support evidence-based and life-long learning. On-site educational activites at Ancient Merv can be undertaken, prepared and/or followed up in the classroom by using Resource and Activity sheets. These are developed incrementally over time when research progresses. Both the Teacher's Handbook and the Resource and Activity sheets have been prepared in Turkmen and are currently being distributed in the Merv region.
A Teacher’s Handbook has been prepared and discussed with the staff of the Ministry of Culture, the Central Asian Institute, the Merv Archaeological Park and teachers from School No. 4 in Bairam Ali. After consultation, the Teacher's Handbook was printed with a generous grant from Shell. In addition, a short-print run DTP version of the handbook in English, for sponsors circulation and English Language teaching in Turkmenistan , has also been completed.
The Teacher's Handbook is supported by two small on-site museums, which have been prepared in 2004 and 2005. The vision for the future Interpretation Centre includes detailed plans on providing educational resources, interpretation, handling sessions, classrooms and activity spaces in order to ensure high quality education and learning opportunities. Young Turkmen people are the future of this country and increasing the depth of their understanding of the archaeological resource, and the ways in which they value it, is vital for the future of cultural heritage in Turkmenistan.
Our broad aims for an education programme at Merv were to
- help local people become better informed about this World Heritage Site, and by extension about their archaeological and historical heritage
- make the public more aware of the problems of conserving their own heritage
- encourage teachers to use Merv in their teaching, not just in history but in other subjects and to use a visit to full advantage
and which involved
- researching the Turkmen education system and curriculum
- finding out whether local schools used the site for formal educational visits
- asking if local families visited the site.
Visiting Merv: There was clear evidence for visits being made to the site at Merv by
- the 300 schools in the local authority district of Mary including the nearest small town of Bairam Ali, with the key times being for 11 year-olds studying ‘My Homeland’ in history and for 14 year-olds studying the ‘History of Turkmenistan’ in history. Schools made formal visits which included whole classes and usually spent half a day at the site, in the spring and the autumn
- family groups who came in coaches from all over Turkmenistan to visit this famous site
- local children who often visited in large family groups, mainly to make formal visits to the religious sites and buildings.
Teaching about Merv: Formal meetings with groups of teachers established that
- Pre-visit work dealt with Central Asian historic periods, such as the Achaemenids and the Seljuks, as well as the Silk Roads
- On-site only the main monuments were visited with the teacher talking about each one in turn. No individual or group activity took place
- Post-visit work was an essay by 11 year-olds about what they had seen and what made the biggest impression on them, and a discussion about the visit was conducted in classes of 14 year-olds
- resources were desperately needed, both written and visual, to help teach about Merv
- information about the Silk Roads would be useful as it was part of the curriculum
- the idea of activity and resource sheets for pupils were welcomed although these did not form part of their usual teaching methods
- teachers were interested in information about archaeological methods and the issues of conservation.
Individual teachers eager for new resources and willing to come from the towns and villages around Merv to the ancient site for structured educational visits. They were eager to use an evidence-based approach for their pupils’ learning. The Turkmen people are fiercely proud of their heritage. Merv is an iconic site known better than any other historic site in Turkmenistan and considered fundamental to their history.
On the basis of discussions with teachers draft ideas for teacher resource materials were then prepared. These were tested with a teachers’ group in Bairam Ali and with individual teachers in Ashgabat. The results of these discussions were draft materials which were translated into Turkmen and tested on site visits with groups of students and their teachers. After corrections and amendments the final pack was published which consisted of
- An illustrated 36-page colour book for teachers with sections on World Heritage Sites, Timeline, Silk Routes, History of Merv and its monuments, Archaeological techniques, Conservation at Merv and Teaching Strategies covering a number of curriculum subjects
- 12 resource sheets (with material which couldn’t be included in the book such as a number of historic photographs) for pupils to use in the classroom and 6 activity sheets for use on site. These were accompanied by notes for teachers suggesting ways in which they might be used and for extension work in cross-curricular subjects.
Subsequently additional activity sheets were produced to add to the pack. All educational resource materials are free. After publication of the book an English-language version was produced (available here) together with the activity and resource sheets. These have proved useful for English-language teachers in Turkmenistan.
During and after the publication of the educational resources groups of teachers tested and evaluated the material. Some of this was informal evaluation by receiving comments through the Park staff. Formal evaluation was also carried out with a group of teachers who were asked specific questions about the value and use of the material, with opportunities for their own comments. All comments about the material were positive.
The most important areas for the future, if we are to establish a sustainable education programme are:
- To ship copies of the book to Turkmenistan
- To run courses for teachers at Merv to introduce the programme and to provide some in-service training
- To establish a teacher’s group based in Bairam Ali to oversee and continue the programme
For more information about the teacher's handbook or the educational programmes at Ancient Merv, please contact Mike Corbishley or Gaigysyz Jorayev at email@example.com
- Management Planning
Development of Integrated Site Management
Site management provides the over-arching context in which all aspects of the project will take place. The way forward at Merv is for the continued development of holistic site management. This necessarily involves compromises, but the work is stimulating and situated in an ethically more acceptable framework of interactions and outcomes. Real team working is not easy to achieve - it is not just a paper-based exercise - but we feel that it is the only sustainable way forward for international collaboration. Since the start of the Ancient Merv Project, there has been a real sense of common goals and shared vision developed with the Ministry of Culture, The Ancient Merv Archaeological Park, and the international team. Shared knowledge, including developing common terminologies, has greatly improved the exchange of information and ideas.
The conditions of Merv are changing from a physical, social, and administrative point of view. Although the principal aim of a management plan at an archaeological site is to ensure the long-term conservation of the place and its values, the plan must be a tool for managing change. Causes and effects of decay are at the origin of radical changes in the aspect of the site; the arrival of more tourists will possibly modify the economic and social structure of the local community and have an impact on the site; the evolution of settlement and social attitudes towards the site will change its character and context, and the intervention of the archaeologists will modify its historic and scientific significance.
The development of a management plan at Merv is considered important, not only for its final product (“the plan”), but also, and perhaps mainly, for the process that are leading to its formulation. This process is an opportunity to gain insights into the importance of the site for the local, national, and international communities, to understand the site through the values assigned to it, and for its physical characteristics, and as an opportunity for training local experts and managers in a process that can be repeated at various scales.
Basically, the plan is following a three-stepped approach: the first step is the formulation of the principal aims of the plan (completed) and the recognition of the interest groups (completed). The second level was an assessment of the place and investigates the values, administrative context, and physical conditions of the site (completed). This phase of documentation of the resource leads to the compilation of a statement of significance which will guide the activities of the third phase: the establishment of policies, strategies, and goals which will find place in the formulation, implementation, and monitoring of the plan. This stage has partially been implemented already, given the importance of developing action-plans in a real-world situation – the Park needed to see action, not just debate.
Areas of analysis and intervention
Having presented in short the methodology of the planning process, it is essential to at least predict some of the areas of concern of the plan (see also the capacity building projects and the specific conservation actions taking place as part of that process).
1. Stakeholders: Consultation and workshops with local experts and stakeholders took place during the 2001-2004 field campaigns: the opinions and positions of all the relevant stakeholders were discussed.
2. Administrative context: this has been extensively researched during the 2001-04 stage of the project. Formulation of the plan will suggest a management structure and specific duties for staff, in order to make the application of the plan feasible.
3. Physical assessments: the standing buildings, excavated sites and buried resources have been extensively documented during the first stage of the project. Experimentation and monitoring have identified decay rates and conservation needs: monitoring will continue. Aerial and satellite imagery analysis, supported by fieldwork, has identified land use change and landscape evolution. A Park GIS has been established. Field documentation has developed a database of monument condition.
4. Values assessment: consultations conducted in the first 2 years of the project, involving the local team and CraTerre-EAG, resulted in the compilation of the statement of significance for all the standing structures and excavations.
5. Socio-economic analysis: part of the assessment is to understand the current problems of the area and investigate possibilities for development based on the integration of a protected archaeological site in the socio-economic context of the local community. A process of recognition and awareness would ensure the “ownership” of the site by the local community and by consequence reduce looting and vandalism. Studies of tourism, local community attitudes, and the local administration are underway (since 2003).
6. Tourism analysis: observation of tourist behaviour has been analysed (2003) and proposals are being developed on ways to manage access and circulation, and to improve the visitors’ experience, but also the site revenues and the benefits for the local community.
7. Conservation: following the physical assessment, structural and site conservation has been prioritised using an “at risk” methodology. The vulnerability approach is also being used to predict and prevent damage, thus changing the perspective from conservation based on reaction to one based on prevention. Urgent repairs are being conducted according to best practice approaches. Experiments are taking place into approaches and methodologies, and common standards are being established amongst the partners.
8. Infrastructure: A small visitor centre at the site has been developed (2003-04). Plans are underway to develop an extensive visitor, education, storage and Park office facility at the site.
9. Training: Conducting the planning process with the local team has been an opportunity for training in management planning approaches, preventive conservation, maintenance, and monitoring techniques. Formal training has taken place for specific and long-term tasks, such as the consolidation and repair of mudbrick and fired brick structures. A major programme of capacity building is now underway.
10. Plan compilation: the original management plan, drafted as part of the World Heritage Site application in 1999, needs to be updated and substantially revised. A programme for drafting a new management plan has been agreed between the Park, CraTerre-EAG, the project team and UNESCO. The UNESCO World Heritage Centre and the World Monuments Fund provided financial assistance to produce this plan. A draft plan is underway and will be available here soon for consultation. Six objectives for the management plan have been unanimously agreed upon. These are to:
• Conserve the archaeological & standing buildings
• Protect the site
• Document and promote the site
• Improve interpretation and education
• Develop site facilities[image reference is broken]
- Ancient Merv Open Day
Ancient Merv Project continuously works with the local schools, education centres and the local villages in order to engage with different groups of the local stakeholders and to communicate the findings of the project. The report below highlights the project's first, full-scale open day for the local community of Merv.
Open day and Art competition
Jumageldy Pirliew, Nadia Glassup, Sjoerd van der Linde and Gaygysyz Jorayev worked together with the park staff and archaeologists of the Ministry of Culture in organizing an open day at Ancient Merv. On Sunday the 1st October, around 50 people came to the site to learn about the history and management of Ancient Merv. The open day consisted of:
- Art competition. Children of neighbouring villages of Merv had been invited to enter into an Art competition. During the open day, the winning entries were announced by the British Ambassador to Turkmenistan. The winning entries can be seen here.
- Handling collections. Several handling collections have been developed to help archaeologists of the Ministry of Culture and the Park to explain visitors about archaeological research. The handling collections and activity sheets will be used by the park guide Jumageldy Pirliew in educational activities throughout the year.
- Site visit. Visits were organized to an excavation at Sultan Kala, were archaeologists of the Ministry of Culture explained to visitors about the archaeological work undertaken. Visitors were also taken to several sites within the park.
- Ancient Merv Movie. The Ancient Merv Project and the Archaeological Park staff developed a short interpretive movie about the history and management of Ancient Merv. The movie, available in Turkmen and English, was shown during the open day and will be available for teaching purposes at UCL and the Ancient Merv Park.
We would like to express our gratitude to Mr. and Mrs. van der Linde and to the Wiebe Visser Heritage Foundation for their kind financial support to make this day such a succes.
- Exploring medieval routes
Pathways, Post Roads, and the Settlements of the Black Sands: exploring medieval routes from the Oxus to Merv, Turkmenistan
The Silk Routes have long traversed the most inhospitable regions of Central Asia, crossing immense mountain ranges and vast deserts. As Empires have grappled for control of the region, so the roads and pathways crystallised trajectories of movement through the landscape, the remains of which give a glimpse of the complex network of trade and exchange that occupied these lands.
In March 2009 the Ancient Merv Project launched an initiative to investigate further the medieval pathways that connected Merv with its immediate hinterland and the Silk Routes. The Karakum Routes Survey 2009 took an interdisciplinary approach to analysing the extensive landscape between Merv and the Amu Darya (Oxus) River, charting the remains of way-stations, camps and seasonal oases in order to understand the nature and variety of movement through this challenging landscape.
A wide range of sources attest the character of routes and settlements in the medieval Karakum desert. The most vivid depictions are those of early Arab Geographers who travelled these routes from the 9th century onwards. Similarly, the establishment of post roads necessitated detailed records which describe the structuring of the routes and measures to maintain them. However, given that most historical sources deal with official state routes and major way-stations, it is pertinent to ask whether these were the only means of travel through the desert.
With readily available high resolution satellite imagery, it was possible to combine the known archaeological, historical and geological data, as a basis for further investigation into the presence of settlements in the arid landscape east of Ancient Merv. The resulting map of satellite anomalies and uninvestigated ruins was tested through intensive ground survey; sampling surface ceramics to give an idea of relative dates.
The shifting sands, the creation of a modern road and railway to the Amu Darya and the enormous Karakum canal have altered the landscape dramatically since the medieval period. However, through systematic ground-truthing a number of sites were identified with an incredible range of forms, from large, well-preserved caravanserai complexes, to the remains of small scale camps in natural basins.
Combining the data in a Geographical Information System (GIS) framework it was possible to compare the location of archaeological sites with documented historical routes, water resources and topography. Buffers were drawn to give the comparative distance between way-stations, and plotted with respect to the sites’ relative chronology.
Approximately parallel to the modern road, the survey identified a series of large structures that span a range of dates (8th-13th centuries), providing striking evidence for a substantial highway linking Merv with the city of Chardzhou on the Oxus. The scale of these buildings leads to fundamental questions. For example, were they state sponsored or privately maintained? These queries will only be answered by carefully revisiting primary sources, and through excavation to gain a finer chronological resolution for site occupation.
Several smaller sites were also located, comprising very concentrated pottery scatters in natural topographic basins, currently occupied by modern shepherding outposts. Ceramic sherd abrasion confirms that they are most likely in a primary context. How exactly did these smaller camps function in the broader trade network?
A trajectory of major traffic along what appears to be an Imperially advocated road has left fascinating clues as to its structure and maintenance, and alludes to methods of ‘controlling’ the Silk Routes. Meanwhile, it is feasible that trade also percolated through informal pathways, which would have arguably remained more stable over time if they were independent of trends in international trade and the investment of fluctuating Empires. Exploring further it will be possible to extend the survey to encompass alternative routes and contrasting terrain, to investigate how this pivotal region in global trade supported the exchange of material culture and ideas for over two thousand years.
For additional information on this project, please also visit Karakum Routes Survey webpage
This Project was supported by and received assistance from: The British Academy
- Development of an Information Platform
There is an important set of existing information and there have been numerous interventions in the site. The International Merv Project material is currently being prepared for publication (with support from the current Ancient Merv project). Some of the Soviet YuTAKE Expedition material has been published, although a large amount remains in the extensive unpublished archives. In addition, there are records of other archaeological interventions, scattered archives/collections of material, and numerous other resources such as aerial photographs and accounts of visits, spanning a considerable period of time. The information exists in a number of different archives, including those in Britain, Russia, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, and in a number of formats. Publication have, as always, been selective, and a wealth of information on deposit survival, sequence, layout, economy, environments, etc, remains to be extracted and documented from the extant work. Much of the earlier work at Merv also remains difficult to access (including Russian texts, few of which have been translated).
This material is being brought together and made accessible. A site plan of all interventions, with their current condition, has been compiled. Research is underway on collating and translating archive material. Work underway includes:
• Aerial photographs - rectification and plotting
• Maps - scanning (raster) and selective digitisation (vector)
• Establishment of a basic survey grid data
• Satellite imagery
• Surface collection data
• Excavations - basic location information for all previous interventions
• YuTAKE reports and archive – research & translation
• Physical archives of material – in Ashgabat, Mary, and even local garages!
• IMP excavations – analysis & publication
• Historic photographic archives – monument condition, etc.
This aerial photo shows the Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar and the remains of the complex of religious buildings which survive around the mausoleum.
GIS & database development
The above information is handled by a GIS with supporting databases. Considerable work has taken place to geo-rectify the existing imagery (air photos, maps, trench locations, etc), and integrate the existing surface scatter survey and field surveys. Substantial progress has been made in the development of the textual and database elements, although substantial work remains to be done.
There is an urgent need to develop reference collections, and working and sustainable archives , in Turkmenistan. The separation between “nationally” significant material (held by the national or regional museums) and the rest (basically discarded) was stark. The provision of facilities and infrastructure to support an archaeological resource centre for Merv are being actively explored, and temporary storage facilities have been established.
There is an urgent need to develop reference collections, and working and sustainable archives, in Turkmenistan. The development of an international teaching and study collection of ceramics, with fabric & type-series, comparative collections, etc, has been undertaken, and was generously supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), providing an on-line resource, published catalogues and discussion (2005) and handing collections in the IoA and Turkmenistan (2005).[image reference is broken]
- Conservation of standing structures
The Ancient Merv Archaeological Park encompasses archaeological sites of the last four thousand years during which the main building material has been earth: sometimes made into mud bricks and bonded with mud mortar, sometimes rammed or placed into position, and nearly always covered with mud plaster.
The architecture and archaeology preserved in the Park is of international importance, partly due to the preservation of standing structures, such as the corrugated Kyz Kalas and the spectacular icehouses, and also because of the excellent preservation of over 1,000 hectares of buried archaeological deposits.
The east face of the Little Kyz Kala in 1954.
The same face of the Little Kyz Kala in 2003 shows how much erosion has taken place. The erosion is mainly caused by the wind.
For over two thousand years the main building material in Central Asia has been earth: sometimes made into mud bricks, sometimes rammed or placed into position, and nearly always covered with mud plaster (a mix of mud and straw). As people building in earth today know, such buildings need regular maintenance, with new coats of plaster applied to walls and roofs every few years.
Once the buildings and town walls at Merv were abandoned the process of decay started. Wind and rain steadily eroded the structures: once roofs had collapsed, walls lost material from both their tops and faces. However, the process was gradual, so buildings like the Great Kyz Kala have only lost about 1.5m in height over a thousand years.
In recent years, however, the process has accelerated considerably. The watertable in the Merv Oasis has risen due to the construction of the Karakum Canal. While this has brought major advantages for the agriculture of the region, it has been disastrous for the standing buildings. Water seeps into the bottom of the walls, and as this dries the salts in the water crystallise on the wall surface. This makes the surface much more fragile, and the wind removes the face of the wall rapidly. The result is great portions of the wall base collapse, and this process happens annually until the whole wall falls down.
Today the damage to the surviving earthen architecture and archaeology at Merv is accelerating. The main problems are:
Water (a) rising groundwater - water seeps into the bottom of the walls, and as this dries the salts in the water crystallise on the wall surface, eroding the base of wall (undercutting).
(b) falling water - in the form of rain or snow damages earth buildings and makes the surface much more fragile.
Wind. Wind removes the faces of walls. Wind can carry desert sand and this blasts and abrades the walls.
Vegetation. Plant roots can grow through and damage the earth walls and buried archaeology. Plants can also trap moisture, and lower the relative temperature, which can speed up damage to the fragile earth structures.
Animals. Humans move out and animals, birds, insects, and reptiles move in to earthen buildings. Animals can excavate burrows in earthen material, and by depositing their waste they can accelerate the rates of erosion.
People. Sometimes the people who come to visit the monuments in the park cause damage to them. This is because taking the same path through a monument can cause it to erode. In addition the park and the monuments are sometimes damaged by illicit activities such as robbing.
To find the best solutions for Merv we are undertaking experiments with traditional materials, such as mud plasters, mud mortars and mud bricks, as well as new materials, such as using a geotextile to separate the new conservation work from the archaeology. We are also using techniques that have been developed on other sites around the world, such as backfilling, alongside techniques more local to Merv, such as including wheat straw in mud plasters. We hope that by combining new and traditional techniques, with information from around the world, and from Merv, that we will find the best solutions for conserving these fragile earth structures.
During past fieldwork we undertook an evaluation of all the standing historic structures and extant archaeological trenches within the Archaeological Park, assessing their current condition, research and educational potential, and conservation priorities. This has been instrumental in shaping an emergency conservation programme for the Park, which is now underway. Some of the work we have undertaken so far includes:
• Repairing eroded wall bases. The heavily eroded and undercut wall bases have been filled and packed with new mudbricks. These repairs provide support for the structure and limit the effects of damage from rising water, as the erosion occurs in the new material rather than the old material. In some places underground drains have been installed, and in other the original fired brick damp-proof course has been reinstated.
• Drainage works. Conservation work has been carried out to give the monuments better drainage. Simple measures like building low slopes are effective in redirecting water run-off from particularly fragile areas in monuments.
• Capping. Work at the top of walls is carried out to help water flow away from the structure. This is through placing new mudbricks or new plaster of the tops of walls. This ‘cap’ makes rain or snow fall away from the wall or structure and means the erosion occurs in the new material rather than the old material.
• Preparing damaged surfaces. Mud plaster surfaces that are damaged and cracked have been replastered using mud plaster and chopped wheat straw. These surfaces are regularly maintained to cover cracks and ensure they last longer.
• Replacing earlier conservation work. Some earlier conservation replaced the mud plaster finishes and surfaces on the monuments with heavier materials, such as concrete or cement. These harder materials were thought to last longer than the traditional finishes and surfaces. However they actually caused more problems, because they were heavier than the original materials and because these materials stopped the earth structure from being able to ‘breathe’. As the buildings could no longer breath moisture could become trapped underneath the cement finish or surface. Where it has been possible, such as on the roof of Ibn Zeid, these harder materials have been removed, and they have been replaced with traditional mud plaster. These enable the building to ‘breath’ again, and with the regular maintenance of these surfaces the building can last much longer.
• Documentation and Backfilling. Archaeological excavations over the last 100 years have created a lot of open and eroding trenches in the archaeological park. These open and eroding trenches cause problems because they are big and deep, water runs off in to them. As they are cooler and attract water, vegetation, animals and birds live in the trenches, causing damage through burrowing and by depositing their waste. Because some of these trenches have been left open and eroding for such a long-time water, wind, plants and animals have caused the sides of the trenches to slump and have covered what remained of the exposed archaeology. To try to limit some of the damage that occurs to the trenches some of them have been backfilled.
Tamping down backfill material in Shariyar Ark to conserve the archaeological remains. In the background is ‘geo-textile’ which covers the walls and allows them to ‘breathe’ through the backfill.
Remedial work has begun. The Archaeological Park has started to tackle the situation with a programme of cleaning and repair, along with the targeted repairs to support the most vulnerable structures. A team from CRATerre-EAG in Grenoble, under the direction of Sébastien Moriset and with UNESCO support, have constructed a laboratory for the Park, to explore the chemical properties of the soils and the best methods for developing sustainable new mudbrick and earth materials with which to repair and consolidate the structures. The World Monuments Fund , with support from The J.M. Kaplan Fund, Inc and the American Express Company, have generously supported the Turkmen/UCL/ CraTerre-EAG team, which has enabled a programme of “at risk” emergency repairs to the buildings within the Park. We have also undertaken a survey of the canal and irrigation systems, which has been used to develop a programme of targeted cleaning and repair, working with the local community to avoid some of the worst of the seasonal flood damage.
A further important part of this conservation programme has been the careful recording, by members of the archaeological team, of the areas to be conserved prior to the work beginning. In most cases this has involved photographic recording, but in certain cases excavation has been required. What is heartening is the way that the archaeologists, the conservators and the Park managers are working closely together to provide an integrated approach to these complex problems.
Progress on agreed priorities
1. Ben Hakri mosque, Gyaur Kala – initial research completed and basic cleaning underway.
2. Palace (Shahriyar Ark) – clearance and drainage complete – underpinning planned for Sept 2005.
3. Mausoleum of Ibn Zayd – roof maintenance, water spouts and base of wall work completed. Still some problems with the quality of materials, and water spout impacts. To be completed September 2005.
4. Great Kyz Kala – repairs of superstructure cracks, capping selected wall sections & drainage channels completed.
5. Timurid House & icehouses – clearance of vegetation, documentation, removal of debris, capping major wall cracks, and improvement of drainage completed.
6. Abdullah Khan Kala – programme for emergency repair agreed.
7. Köshks in vicinity of Park – Porsy Köshk (Stinking Köshk) documented, condition assessment undertaken, and action plan prepared.
8. Entrance to the city of Erk Kala – major drainage channels, exacerbated by visitor erosion: cleaned, documented and consolidated.
9. Archaeological section through Gyaur Kala defences – maintenance programme established and implemented – improved drainage, repaired structural cracks and cleaning.
10. Little Kyz Kala – monitoring conservation interventions and modification of drainage.
11. Moat/canal west of Sultan Kala – 2kms main drain cleaned.
12. Old excavations – documentation, survey and reburial of at risk sites in Sultan Kala & Gyaur Kala: two additional sites documented and reburied Gyaur Kala; work planned for reburial of so-called Rulers House in Sultan Kala in autumn 2005.
13. Artefact conservation & storage – current conditions assessed and strategies being developed for future facilities as part of new interpretation centre.
14. Monitoring – continued monitoring programmes.
15. Ben Hakri mosque and Firuz & Kushmiehan Gates – records of previous work collated to enable interpretation and planning of future conservation interventions.
A three week training programme was undertaken at Ancient Merv Archaeological Park, between the 13th - 30th June, 2005. This consisted of two courses:
• Course 1: Ethics, philosophy and approaches to the management of Cultural Heritage sites. A one-week course aimed at a broad audience from a range of Parks across Turkmenistan. Because of the practicalities of Park staff availability, this was arranged as the middle week of the programme.
• Course 2: Approaches to documentation of Cultural Heritage sites. A two week course primarily aimed at the Merv Park Staff, but also attended by some staff from other Parks. Practical elements of the course included:
- documentation and condition assessment of Porsy Köshk;
- documentation of the conservation activities at Erk Kala;
- reburial of archaeological site.
Other conservation activities
Other conservation and management activities undertaken by June 2005 included:
a) Development of a new site management plan for the World Heritage Site –additional sections have been drafted for consultation in autumn 2005.
b) Reports have been prepared on the scale and speed of change of the modern cemeteries in the northern and southern suburbs of Sultan Kala. This information will enable the Ministry and Park to open dialogue with the local authority, and community and religious groups, in the hope of finding a solution to this encroachment and destruction, while maintaining the social, religious and associative values of the cemeteries.
c) Development of a glossary of conservation and architectural terms in Turkmen & English.
d) Translation of existing project documentation and databases into Turkmen - in progress.
e) Translation of archaeological recording manual into Turkmen - in progress.
The solutions to the conservation problems at Merv are not easy. It is our challenge to assess the problems and successes of the work we are carrying out and to build upon the existing knowledge as a means to help manage this unique site.
At Merv we are working closely between conservators and archaeologists, in particular in collaboration with Dr Kakamurad Kurbansakhatov (The State Institute of Cultural History of the Peoples of Turkmenistan, Central Asia and the East), Dr Mukhammed Mamedov and Dr Ruslan Muradov of the National Department for the Protection, Study and Restoration of Historical and Cultural Monuments, Ministry of Culture of Turkmenistan, and Rejeb Dzaparov, Director of the ‘Ancient Merv’ Archaeological Park, and Sébastien Moriset and Mahmoud Bendikir CRATerre-EAG (Grenoble, France). To see our generous sponsors who supported this work click here.
- Merv Interpretation Centre
The Ancient Merv Archaeological Park, Turkmenistan’s first World Heritage Site, urgently needs facilities for interpretation, education, management, conservation and archaeological activities.
The Ancient Merv Project and the Archaeological Park Staff aim to develop a modern world-class interpretation centre to support the sustainability of the interpretation, management and conservation activities at the site, fostering economic and social benefits for local communities. The current interpretation facilities are hugely inadequate for this renowned site, and do little to enhance the understanding, enjoyment and economic benefits for the c. 20.000 local people and 7000 schoolchildren visiting the site each year.
The Archaeological Park needs to maximise the economic benefits from foreign visitors (c. 1000), charging a realistic entrance fee, matched by offering appropriate facilities and interpretative material. The envisaged Interpretation Centre aims to:
• Make interpretative and educational resources available to local people;
• Develop local and national support for conservation & site management;
• Provide facilities for sustainable international tourism;
• Enhance the existing Park infrastructure and capacity;
• Underpin the long-term future of the cultural resource at Merv;
• Be self-sustaining: use a conservative estimate of international tourism and
commercial activities to sustain the running costs & staffing of the new centre;
• Provide a venue for local community activities and enhance interaction between staff and visitors
The Merv Interpretation Centre will be a modern building. The Merv Interpretation Centre is therefore envisaged as an expanding green courtyard, evoking the spirit of the ancient cities of Merv, with the building units situated within shaded, well-maintained, garden plots. The modular courtyard vision will also enable the creation of different outside activity community spaces, such as picnic areas, alongside spaces for experimental building, craft and educational activities. The Centre will provide permanent and temporary Exhibition spaces, Educational facilities such as classrooms, park offices and research facilities (libraries and study spaces) and space for storage and conservation work.
BUILDING WITH EARTH
The centre will be constructed from modern earthen architecture. The choice of earth as a building material reflects the archaeological, historic and contemporary local building practises. Earth is a material ideally suited to the harsh desert climate of Merv. Training in earth construction will contribute significantly to knowledge about the material, and maintenance will develop expertise in site conservation activities. The sustainable and ecological approach to building and landscape design at the Merv Interpretation Centre will be the first such approach to building and landscape design in Turkmenistan (and Central Asia) and will represent a significant new project, of national and international significance.
COSTS AND FUNDING
An outline costing suggests that vast resources would be needed to implement all aspects of the physical building, with additional resources to underpin the development of specific technical areas. The centre will be self-financing after construction: with ticketing, retailing, and events, aimed at current visitor numbers covering maintenance, staff, security, & equipment, while in a rising tourism market it would provide additional resources for conservation activities.
We are at present looking for funding opportunities to develop this important interpretive and community resource for Ancient Merv. We welcome any questions about fundraising opportunities or comments about our proposals - you can contact us here.
- Training Programme
Ancient Merv Project has a long history of training and capacity building programmes. The project staff worked with specialists from all Archaeological Parks of Turkmenistan in order to ensure that the local capacity exists for documentation, protection and management of the archaeological heritage in the country.
The first large-scale training programme for Turkmen specialists was organised between the 13th - 30th June, 2005. A three week excercise was undertaken at Ancient Merv Archaeological Park. This work was generously funded and enabled by a grant from The Kaplan Foundation, with the support and administration of the World Monuments Fund. Special thanks go to Gaetano Palumbo and Mark Webber for their support throughout this project. The programme was attended by staff from the State Archaeological Parks, from all over Turkmenistan, to work together at Merv, developing skills in digital photography, archaeological recording, documentation and management planning. It consisted of two courses:
Course 1: Ethics, philosophy and approaches to the management of Cultural Heritage sites . A one-week course aimed at a broad audience from a range of Archaeological Parks across Turkmenistan .
Course 2: Approaches to documentation of Cultural Heritage sites . A two week course primarily aimed at the Merv Park Staff, but also attended by some staff from other Archaeological Parks. Practical elements of the course included:
- documentation and condition assessment of Porsy Köshk;
- documentation of the archaeological and conservation activities at Erk Kala;
- reburial of archaeological sites.
Example of work: Condition assessment of Porsy Köshk
Work was undertaken as part of the documentation course to prepare a detailed condition assessment for Porsy Köshk, one of the “at risk” structures within the park. The assessment considered information about the monument (location, type, date and description), assessment and description of monument condition, assessment of visitor potential, assessment of significance (and factor that detract from significance), risk assessment and management proposals (see attached form). The document was prepared over four mornings in the field, and lively discussion and collation of the documentation in the classroom. The fieldwork provided an important opportunity to experiment with, and gain experience of, digital photography, which was used in the production of the field reports. The system refined and developed for the Porsy Köshk will be used for the monument documentation for a number of other köshk buildings as part of the ongoing work programme.
Undertaking the documentation at Porsy Köshk
Example of work: Documentation of the archaeological and conservation activities at Erk Kala.
Recording the exposed archaeology of the late defences of Erk Kala. The defences were being badly damaged by rainwater run-off, causing deep gullies that cut through the fragile archaeology. The gullies were cleaned, the archaeological sequence documented (an opportunity to train Turkmen staff in archaeological recording), and then backfilled with sacrificial material to stabilise the slope.
This work included courses on Archaeological recording & documentation. The trench was also used for a practical session on the approaches to reburial of archaeological sites. The course considered strategies for preventative conservation, the condition assessment of old excavation sites, and worldwide perspectives on reburial programmes. The participants then undertook all stages of the processes: documentation, installation of the separator, preparation of the materials and compaction.
Other work undertaken:
Training course participants reburying an archaeological excavation in Gyaur Kala
Work was undertaken, as part of the documentation course in week 3, on the detailed documentation and monitoring of an excavated section through the Gyaur Kala defences.