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New grant to University College London (Institute of Archaeology)

Medieval icehouse at Merv, Turkmenistan (Gai Jorayev 2018)

Posted: 18 February 2019

Central Asia is one of the most heritage-rich areas of the world. Soviet isolationism led to restricted access to research in the region and to a devalued view of its historical significance. Many sites in the regions are not yet documented or even unknown. Consequently, they are often endangered due to rapid development of agriculture, expansion of cities and infrastructure. It is impossible to protect all sites, but we can record them before they disappear. We awarded more than £2.8 million to University College London Institute of Archaeology  to digitize existing archives and records and produce new documentation for undocumented sites. All records will be made available online for free.

Learn more about the Central Asian Archaeological Landscapes project here.

The project’s press release:

Digitizing endangered archaeological heritage in Central Asia

The Central Asian Archaeological Landscapes (CAAL) project has been launched at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, dedicated to the digitization of archaeological heritage across this vast region – one that stretches from the Caspian Sea to western China. The project has been made possible by the generosity of Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.

From megacities to religious sites, from nomadic camps to burial mounds, from mountain forts to complex water management systems, there is an astounding range of archaeological heritage across Central Asia. While many of these sites are already protected by state legislation, a very significant number are not. A vast range of heritage is rapidly disappearing through recent urban expansion, changing agricultural practices, rural depopulation, and the effects of climate change.

The project will create an online digital inventory, adopting the open-source ARCHES inventory package developed by the Getty Conservation Institute and the World Monuments Fund. This will enable a better understanding of the full range of archaeological heritage distributed across the region, fostering its management and protection. This exciting new project is led by Tim Williams (UCL Institute of Archaeology), who is Director of the International Research Centre for Silk Roads Archaeology and Heritage, a joint initiative between UCL Institute of Archaeology and Northwest University (NWU) School of Cultural Heritage and Culture, Xi’an, Peoples Republic of China;  both institutions having a long history of Silk Roads archaeology and research. The CAAL project is a partnership between institutions from the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Republic of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Republic of Uzbekistan, and the People’s Republic of China (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region). It also includes the International Institute for Central Asian Studies ), based in Samarkand, and the ICOMOS International Conservation Centre Xi’an.

The multinational and multidisciplinary team will digitize existing archives and records, and in doing so will consolidate information held by regional institutions and research centres into a single multilingual catalogue. This will be enhanced by new research using a combination of high resolution photographic and satellite imagery, along with ‘on the ground’ field visits, in order to discover new sites, improve documentation, promote awareness and scholarship, and facilitate policy-making to better enable site and landscape preservation.

The project will create a shared space for archaeologists, architects, conservation professionals, as well as the wider public interested in the fascinating and varied archaeological heritage of Central Asia.

Comments and enquiries to tim.d.williams@ucl.ac.uk and k.tewinkle@ucl.ac.uk