Institute of Archaeology


Prof Tim Williams

Professor of Silk Roads Archaeology

Institute of Archaeology Gordon Square

Institute of Archaeology

Joined UCL
1st Aug 2002

Research summary

Background in urban archaeology, especially along the Silk Roads (with a focus on Late Antique and Early Medieval Central Asia); archaeological heritage management, including cultural routes and landscapes; World Heritage;and approaches to complex stratigraphy.

  • Director of the Ancient Merv Project, undertaking research on this major Silk Road city since 2001, with a research focus on the Islamic urbanism, and the sustainable management of World Heritage Site.
  • Expert member of UNESCO serial trans-national Silk Roads World Heritage nomination project and undertook the ICOMOS Silk Roads thematic study. Worked on the UNESCO serial transboundary Silk Roads World Heritage nomination project, including undertaking the ICOMOS Silk Roads thematic study, a Maritime Silk Routes project, and the East Asia Silk Roads case study.
  • Principal investigator of the Central Asian Archaeological Landscape (CAAL) project, supported by Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. The project assists Central Asian countries to digitise archaeological archives and national monument records, systematically explores landscapes through satellite imagery, and combines these to create a geospatial database that provides a strategic resource for the countries to research and manage their heritage.

Teaching summary

Tim is Professor of Silk Roads Archaeology, and has taught graduate modules on urban archaeology, heritage management, and heritage in Asia, and undergraduate courses in advanced archaeological field techniques and the archaeology of Iran, while contributing to numerous other courses. He currently teaches a MA module in the Archaeology of the Silk Roads.


University of Leicester
First Degree, Bachelor of Arts | 1980


Learnt much as a seasonal site supervisor at Phil Barker’s excavations at Wroxeter between 1976-1982,  the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust 1976-7 & 1980, Colchester Archaeological Trust 1980, and then the Department of Urban Archaeology (Museum of London) between 1981-1991. Between 1991-2002 was Head of Archaeology Commissions at English Heritage, before joining UCL in 2002.

With a focus on urban archaeology, initially in Roman Britain, then during rescue excavations in the souks of Beirut. This developed an interest in the Late Antique transition to the early Islamic city, which led me down the Silk Roads to Central Asia, where in 2001 I became the Director the UCL/Turkmen research project at the Silk Road city of Ancient Merv, Turkmenistan. Developing contacts and research interests in Central Asia led to establishing the Central Asian Archaeological Landscape (CAAL) project in 2018.

As a member of the International Scientific Committee on Archaeological Heritage Management (ICAHM) I have participated on ICOMOS advisory missions and panels, especially with regard to the Silk Roads, developing the strategy for Silk Roads World Heritage nomination through a thematic study, and assisting with nomination dossiers. Established the UCL/Northwest University (Xi'an) International Centre for Silk Roads Archaeology & Heritage in 2018.

Awarded the Sir Richard Burton Medal in 2022 by the Royal Asiatic Society: given 'to those who have undertaken exploration and research in the East, more particularly in close association with local people, or in difficult circumstances’.