reflections on 2019

2019 began with celebration and gratefulness among the core UCL CAAL team as Arcadia (a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin) had generously awarded the grant and contracts were in place. A few more Skype meetings before everyone relocated to the UK and coffee with lemon cake could be enjoyed by all. By spring several doctoral students joined the team and meetings grew ever larger and longer, finalised by Marco coming on board as our remote sensing leader. May arrived with unusually chilly weather in London but warm hearts coming together at the first project workshop with the principle partners in Samarkand. Many old friends reunited and new friendships created in the space of a few days. Among other things, the overall goals and mission of the project were discussed with the way forward solidified in terms of the Central Asian teams beginning to inventory their archives and assess needs for digitisation and estimate timelines and staffing needs. The three-language thesaurus already had a foundation and was amended and changed according to regional timelines and terminologies some of which sparked interesting debates. Ever present on everyone’s mind was concern over copyright and protecting individual and institutional intellectual property. Evenings in Samarkand witnessed some wonderful dancing and singing by participants, especially one evening as we inadvertently joined an 8-year-old’s birthday festivities…fun was had by all! We also toured several archaeological sites in the vicinity including but not limited to Afrasiab and Ishrathana Mausoleum. Archaeologist Simone Mantellini (Università di Bologna) lead a tour of the excavations at Kafir Kale. That excursion was followed by everyone enjoying just ripe cherries picked right off the trees lining the road back to the van.

Summer saw teams returning to their institutions and work began in earnest in the archives and setting up the GIS systems with continuing work on the thesaurus and spreadsheets related to archiving datasets. Assessment trips were made by Marco and Gai and we began to see the fruits of the digitisation process in files uploaded. In a series of teasers, bits and pieces were shared and only served to whet our appetites for more. Colleagues in Central Asia (Tatyana FILIMINOVA, Mavlyuda YUSUPOVA, Bakyt AMANBAEVA, Bobomullo BOBOMULLOI, Denis SOROKIN, Farukh KHABIBULLAYEV) continued their field seasons with archaeological excavations, architectural assessments, and trainings.

Autumn began with additional staff brought on in London to work on remote sensing; further kinks and translation of the ever-growing thesaurus; and further plans for travel to participating teams. October ended with a trip by Tim and Gai to Kujand, Tajikistan for site work at Bunjikat including photogrammetry to create high-resolution 3D data and using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to accurately map extensive landscapes. Tim and Gai once again returned to Turkmenistan for an ongoing project as well as incorporating the institutions there into the CAAL project. Ona also had a side meeting in Bukhara with many project participants who were there for a regional ICOMOS meeting.

While everyone was busy mapping or scanning, Kim embarked on a 7 city tour to catch up with the teams in Central Asia as evidenced on Twitter and Facebook and an increased activity on Instagram helped along by high schoolers in Dushanbe and university students in Bishkek (love the youth!!).

Words bandied about in 2019 can be summed up with ‘superpassionate’ which first appeared during the Samarkand workshop and was again mentioned in Tashkent many months later. It is the most apropos term to describe the people involved in this project and their lives’ work. This first year has been full of hard work by everyone and many starts and stops as is usual with the geographic, linguistic, institutional scale of such an endeavour. In all the meetings (some of those London meetings do go on for an age!) and discussions in Central Asia I never once heard a complaint or challenge which wasn’t immediately addressed by an opportunity or solution. The diverse professional and personal backgrounds of the participants equate to such an immense amount of expertise and enthusiasm that we only feel hopeful about what we are setting about to accomplish.

We end the year with the same sentiments in which it began – gratitude and anticipation for the opportunity to work on this project and with such amazing people who are both colleagues and friends – a rare joy indeed. We eagerly look forward to 2020 and seeing much of the background work finally made available to the public in terms of Arches implementation and case studies from the archives. The new year promises to be eventful and energetic and everyone involved in CAAL wishes everyone else a wonderful one filled with many happy moments with many excellent colleagues whom you respect and with whom work is only ever a pleasure as we are currently experiencing!!  Happy Happy 2020 all around!!


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