Ancient Merv Project

Great Kyz Kala, Merv

Research, conservation and management of a World Heritage Site

Way stations, Merv

Since its establishment in 2001, the UCL Ancient Merv Project has been concerned with research, conservation and management at this remarkable World Heritage Site.The project has a number of over-arching aims

  • To improve our understanding of the survival and potential of the archaeological resource.
  • To undertake active research into the cities, developing interpretative models to aid in both their management and research.
  • To develop the information base upon which decisions about the management and research potential of the cities are taken.
  • To develop the local skills base, in all relevant aspects of archaeological research, site management and conservation.
  • To develop active management of the archaeological resource.
  • To make the research available to the widest possible local audience, and especially to enhance the educational uses of the site and the archaeological resources.
  • To make research data available to the widest possible academic audience.
  • To use the project for methodological and technical development.
Icehouse, Merv
Specific current project activities
  • Development of holistic and integrated site management.
  • Development of information and documentation platform, including GIS development & archives
  • Exploration of long-term urban dynamics, specifically focusing upon the transition from the Sasanian to early Islamic city; the development of the Umayyad, Abbasid and Seljuk cities; the nature of Mongol Merv – continuity, reuse and change.
  • Investigation of the relationship of Merv to its hinterland in the delta and its wider connections to the ‘Silk Roads’ of the region.
  • City wall and standing building documentation and conservation.
  • Development of local education programmes, especially with Turkmen schools.
  • Capacity building in archaeology, conservation (both site/monument conservation and artefacts and collections management), management, interpretation and advocacy.

Research Impact

Related outputs

  • 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
  • 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
  • Corbishley, M (2005) The Ancient Cities of Merv: Handbook for teachers. London: Institute of Archaeology, University College London. Translated by Gaigysyz Joraev.
  • 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
  • Herrmann, G. and A. Petersen (1997) The Ancient Cities of Merv Turkmenistan. A Visitor’s Guide. London: The International Merv Project.
  • 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
  • Puschnigg, G (2008) Hellenistic echoes in Parthian Merv: transformation and adaptation in the ceramic repertoire, Parthica 10, 109-127
  • Williams, T (2002) Ancient Merv: Queen of Cities, World Heritage 24, 4-15, UNESCO
  • 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 (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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Williams, T (ed) (forthcoming) Merv: the medieval city of Sultan Kala. Development and infrastructure from the 7th to the 13th century, Saffron press
  • Corbishley, M (forthcoming) Merv: a case study, in Archaeology and education, Newcastle
Other outputs
  • Conferences
    Numerous conferences, ranging from archaeological to site management/conservation outputs. A number of papers in progress to publication.
  • Media
    – numerous appearances/features Turkmen national television; contributor to History Channel programme on Genghis Khan.
    Radio interviews
    , including Today programme on Radio 4 on World Heritage training
  • Tourism/economyContribution to developing visitor facilities, preparation of material for tour guides, promotion of the site through tourism literature and the British Embassy, and local employment.
  • Society/culture
    Increased awareness at a local and national level in Turkmenistan, education initiatives substantially increased schools access to the site and classroom teaching, open days, etc. Education programme now been requested to extend to all the State Archaeological Parks across the country. Changing local political and social attitudes to the site.
  • Public policy
    Changes in local political will to support site management, increased national profile of archaeology, reintroduction of teaching in university, changing government attitudes to the management of rural sites, especially in connection with UNESCO Silk Roads project (see other research form). British Embassy support for archaeological resource management reflected in two grants and two Chevening scholarships for Turkmens to undertake masters’ courses at UCL.
  • ConservationChanging attitudes to minimum conservation intervention, wider development of practices, leading to Turkmen lead on major grant funding applications for sustainable conservation.
  • Site management
    Development of management plan at Merv used as basis for nationwide training programme, leading to significant changes in management practice across the country, and significantly greater participation from Turkmen professional staff. Plan to be used as platform for regional (Central Asian) training and capacity building.
  • Other academic impacts
    Parallel ceramic reference collections in Turkmenistan and the Institute of Archaeology, UCL: will provide a major resource for the study of the region and already utilised for research projects.
Relevant doctoral research
  • David Gilbert Islamic ceramic production in the Merv Oasis in the 7th – 13th Centuries (principal supervisor Tim Williams)
  • Gaigysyz Jorayev A comparative study of the role of heritage in Post-Soviet Central Asian nation-building (principal supervisor Tim Williams)


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