Creating a geospatial inventory of sites across Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China
The range of archaeological heritage across Central Asia (Republic of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Republic of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Republic of Uzbekistan, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China) is vast and much of it is undocumented, understudied, and under threat. Made possible by funding from the Arcadia Fund – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, CAAL is developing a digital inventory of these sites utilising the open-access Arches platform.
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. This fragile record of the adaption of humans to the complex Central Asian landscapes is under threat from multiple activities: development projects, changing agricultural practices (especially given climate change and the changing patterns of irrigation as a result of the collapsing glaciers of the ‘third pole’ in the Himalaya-Hindu Kush mountain ranges), urban expansion and rural depopulation. At present it is hard to estimate the scale of these threats, but this project will help to understand this. The future depends on strategic planning, where archaeological resources are considered as part of planning and sustainable development policies. This cannot happen unless there is solid, and more accessible, platform of information for the local agencies to work with and engage in this debate.
Some dozen teams from twenty institutions in seven countries are creating an open access digital inventory of archaeological landscapes in the region. Remote sensing teams are mapping and exploring from above. Archival teams are delving into often fragile and unpublished records of a century of research and digitising pages, glass plate images, films, colour renderings, hand drawn maps and field diaries, as well as annual reports. Together this data will provide a unique source of information for researchers and other interested parties with details about the contents of the archives, shifts in landscapes over time and the human interactions integral to all this.
Our project is generously funded by a grant from Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. It stems from Tim Williams’ long time relationship with the archaeologists of Central Asia and their joint passion for exploring, preserving and sharing the immense knowledge produced through millennia of socio-economic, religious and environmental shifts.