UCL Giving


£3.495m award to further documentation and preservation of Central Asian heritage

16 January 2024

The charitable fund Arcadia is to support a UCL Institute of Archaeology-led team to extend its documentation of archaeological heritage sites in Central Asia.

A person approaches an ancient structure in a desert setting.

Since 2018, the UCL-based Central Asian Archaeological Landscapes (CAAL) project has been working with local partners in Central Asia to document and disseminate knowledge of the archaeological heritage of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Republic of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Republic of Uzbekistan and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China.

An initial five-year project was funded by a £2.89 million grant from Arcadia. Now, Arcadia has awarded an additional £3.495 million to enable the continuation of the work until 2028.

There is a vast quantity of archaeological heritage across the six countries, stretching from the Caspian to western China. This ranges from major sites, such as ancient megacities (like Merv, Samarkand, or Turfan), significant religious monuments, and major ancient burial complexes, to smaller sites such as caravanserai and mountain forts, extensive landscapes of irrigation systems, and remote nomadic camp sites.

Much of this heritage is at risk from issues such as urban expansion, changing agricultural practices, and the climate crisis. The CAAL project prioritises sites and landscapes that are ‘at-risk’ or that have not been previously well documented.

UCL researchers work with local teams to analyse high-resolution satellite imagery, undertake complementary field surveys, and digitise existing archival records. This material is collated in a digital inventory of archaeological sites, monuments, and landscapes, using open-source GIS software (QGIS), and this will form the basis of national heritage inventories.

Thanks to Arcadia, we now have a platform for a sustainable future for Central Asian archaeological heritage,” said Professor Tim Williams, Principal Investigator of CAAL. “Their funding will ensure that the multidisciplinary team can continue to document and promote the awareness, protection, and research of the cultural antiquities of this vast region."

“Awards such as this serve to highlight the truly global impact of philanthropy at UCL,” said Angharad Milenkovic, UCL’s Vice-President (Advancement). “We are so incredibly proud to play a role in the preservation of places which hold such significance for both the region itself and the wider world, and hugely grateful to Arcadia for their continued support in realising this shared ambition."

"Comprehensively recording Central Asia's rich but often endangered archaeological heritage is crucial for protecting it," said Dr Arthur Dudney, Director of Cultural Programmes at Arcadia. "The project is a model for long-term collaboration between local and international experts that will leave local, regional and global legacies. We are delighted to partner with UCL in this effort."

Established at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, and led by Professor Tim Williams with Co-Investigator, Dr Gai Jorayev, CAAL is now a partnership of more than 20 institutions in six countries and represents a shared space for archaeologists, architects, conservation professionals, and others with an interest in the archaeological heritage of Central Asia.

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Arcadia is a charitable foundation that works to protect nature, preserve cultural heritage and promote open access to knowledge. Since 2002, Arcadia has awarded more than $1 billion to organisations around the world


UCL, CAAL and the International Institute for Central Asian Studies (IICAS).