Ancient Merv Project
The UNESCO World Heritage site of Merv, Turkmenistan is one of the most completely preserved of the oases cities along the Ancient Silk Roads in Central Asia. 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.
Background | The
Site | Threats | Conservation
and Management | Future Work
The Institute of Archaeology has been involved with work at the Ancient Merv Archaeological Park, Turkmenistan since 1991. The first phase of the project (the International Merv Project) was directed by Georgina Herrmann (Institute of Archaeology), St John Simpson (British Museum) and Kakamurad Kurbansakhatov (then of the National Institute for the History of Turkmenistan of the Cabinet of Ministers), and focussed on understanding the archaeology and architecture of the Archaeological Park, and highlighted the problems affecting the survival and detoriation of the monuments. Tim Williams initiated the second phase (the Ancient Merv Project) in 2001, following the inscription of the Park as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The current involvement is concerned with the complex conservation and management issues posed by this remarkable site, furthering our understanding of the site through archaeological research, and disseminating the results of the work to the widest possible audience.
Merv lies on one of the main arms of the ancient Silk Roads that connected Europe and Africa to the Far East. The broad delta of rich alluvial land created by the Murgab river, which flows northwards from Afghanistan, forms an oasis at the southern edge of the Karakum Desert. Bronze Age settlement is known throughout the oasis, but especially along its northern margins at sites such as Gonur. The ancient cities of Merv developed at the heart of this oasis, close to the course of the main river channel in antiquity. The first of the walled cities at Merv was the Achaemenian city of Erk Kala, constructed around the 5th century BC. In the 3rd century BC this city was turned into a citadel for a vast new walled city, Antiochia Margiana (today called Gyaur Kala), nearly 2 kilometres across and covering some 340 hectares. The great city of Gyaur Kala was to develop with the ebb and flow of empires and trade over the next 1,000 years. In the 8th century AD a new city, Marv al-Shahijan (Merv the great: today Sultan Kala), was built alongside the old city. By the 11th century this city enclosed some 570 hectares within its walls, but in 1221AD the city was sacked by the Mongols, and although it continued to be occupied it was no longer the city it had been!
By the 15th century the old town was largely abandoned in favour of a new planned town, later called Abdullah Khan Kala, which was built some 2 kilometres to the south. This Timurid city was carefully laid out, covering some 46 hectares, with axial streets, a citadel area, baths, mosques and madaris, all enclosed by a defensive circuit.
For more information, see the article Ancient Merv: Queen
of Cities in UNESCO World Heritage Review
Today the damage to the surviving earthen architecture and archaeology at Merv is accelerating. The main problems are:
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 2001-2 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 on the standing buildings includes:
Some of the work we have undertaken so far on the open and eroding archaeological trenches includes:
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 (State Institute of Cultural History of the Peoples of Turkmenistan, Central Asia and the East), Dr. Mukhammed Mamedov and Dr Ruslan Muradov (Ministry of Culture), Rejeb Dzaparov (The Ancient Merv State Park for Historical and Cultural Monuments), and Sébastien Moriset and Mahmoud Bendikir CraTerre-EAG (Grenoble, France). Our work has been supported by funds from UNESCO and The World Monuments Fund, alongside core support from the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.
More information will appear soon on the Institute of Archaeology Ancient Merv Project webpages.
Page last modified on 06 mar 12 22:18