I started working on the CAAL project in October 2019 as a research assistant on the remote sensing team, working on the identification of archaeological sites in Tajikistan. This gave me the opportunity to deepen my knowledge of the country and its archaeology and developed my increasing interest in Central Asia.

After two years of not being able to travel because of the pandemic, I had the opportunity to join Gai Jorayev and Marco Nebbia on a trip to Kyrgyzstan in early May 2022.

After an 11-hour flight, we were greeted at Bishkek airport with a warm and friendly smile from Professor Bakyt Amanbaeva, co-director of the excavations at the Ak-Beshim archaeological site and one of our CAAL team leaders. She drove us to Tokmok, a journey that ran through beautiful landscapes, the vast green Chuy valley surrounded by the snow-capped Ala-Too Mountains on one side and the mountains of neighbouring Kazakhstan on the other. By the roadside, scenes of everyday life unfolded between herds of grazing cows and sheep, followed by shepherds on foot or on horseback, mud brick builders, children going to school, women selling soft drinks, people waiting for buses, and a series of villages consisting of a few houses with tin roofs and some yet to be finished.

Figure 1. View of the Ala-Too mountains from the car on the way to the hotel.

We had lunch at the restaurant built entirely of wood on an artificial lake, with swans and carps swimming below us. Professor Amanbaeva ordered several courses for us including two different types of fried bread, mixed salads and carrot salads seasoned with sweet and sour and coriander, and mixed meat dishes, all accompanied by black tea.

After a short rest, we headed to a local hotel where the Japanese team working on the Ak-Beshim archaeological site was staying. We were given a very warm welcome by Professor Kazuya Yamauchi, co-director of the archaeological site with Professor Amanbaeva, who introduced us to the team and showed us the courtyard used for washing pottery and storing artefacts. The fragments of pottery they found in a few weeks were many, from tiles to rims, handles, vase bodies, remains of animal bones, mostly horses and other organic remains. We had dinner together, talking about our respective goals and finishing introducing ourselves to the rest of the team. Despite not knowing each other, and speaking Russian, English, or Japanese, a wonderful connection was immediately established.

Figure 2. Finds from Ak-Beshim stored in boxes in the courtyard of the Japanese team’s hotel.
Figure 3. Remains of the citadel of the Sogdian city on the site of Ak-Beshim.

We spent the next three days with the Kyrgyz-Japanese team, mapping with two different drones the ancient city of Suyab (modern-day Ak-Beshim), the Burana Tower (a short distance from Tokmok), the Solenoye Ozero salt lake, and the site of Han-Teppa (also known as Кан-Дөбө, Khan-Dobo, Qan-Döbö or Ton settlement) in the Issyk-Kul area. Although I had previously gained some familiarity with the archaeology of Central Asia, seeing it in person was totally different. The vastness of the sites, with beautiful mud brick structures, and the impressive city walls, remnants of pottery everywhere, and above all seeing the kurgans in person for the first time, was exciting.

In addition to the beauty of the archaeology, the surrounding landscape with high and often snowy mountains, pasture with cows, and the feeling of peacefulness completed the spectacular character of the sites.

From a landscape point of view the salt lake was probably my favourite place, but from an archaeological perspective the site of Ak-Beshim really impressed me, with its cultural diversity – from the Sogdian to the Chinese city, from the Buddhist temple to the Christian Nestorian church – all in one huge site.

Figure 4. Gai Jorayev demonstrating to members of the Kyrgyz team how to fly a drone over the Han-Teppa citadel.
Figure 5. View of the Nestorian Christian church on the site of Ak-Beshim.
Figure 6. Han-Teppa site, with a number of kurgans at the foot of the mountain.
Figure 7. Archaeological site of Balasagun with Burana tower.
Figure 8. View of the site of Han-Teppa with the Issyk-Kul Lake in the background.

We continued our trip to Bishkek, where we had a series of meetings. These included meeting the Director of the Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnology of the National Academy of Sciences of Kyrgyz Republic, Professor Abylabek Asankanov, together with Professor Amanbaeva; and Chynarbek Zholdoshov, the lead specialist in the Cultural Heritage Protection and Development Directorate of the Ministry of Culture (and another CAAL team leader) together with Aysin Duyshanalieva and Olesya Tereschenko at the Ministry of Culture; and finally Gulbara Adbykalykova, acting Director of the National History Museum. We presented the CAAL database, discussing the different relationships between the data, and examples of processed data generated via remote sensing. We also discussed adapting the database to meet local requirements. In response, we received extremely positive feedback; for me, seeing and hearing Gai and Marco in action was very inspiring and informative.

The last two days in the capital were spent sightseeing, visiting museums, walking the long tree-lined boulevards and squares, and visiting the Osh bazaar with its beautiful stands of breads, spices and nuts.

Nine days absolutely flew by, it was a wonderful trip. I saw beautiful places and sites, I got closer to my colleagues, who were fantastic from the first to the last day, and even if they didn’t realise it, they taught me so many things in the field and during the meetings. I had the opportunity to get to know some of our colleagues including Bakyt Amanbaeva and Chynarbek, who are wonderful and extremely friendly people. I also got to meet Yamauchi-san and his team, who were always willing to show and explain the ancient city of Ak-Beshim and the sites we visited together in the Issyk-Kul area. From my side, although in my own small way, I tried to contribute being always ready in case I could support my colleagues in any way. Future resolutions, definitely improve my public speaking skills!

Figure 12. National History Museum.

And, last but not least, wonderful spices, fruits and breads at Osh Bazar.


We have chosen to use the term drone rather than UAV in an effort to be more inclusive. For more on this gendered terminology see Joyce, Karen E., Karen Anderson, and Renee E. Bartolo. 2021. “Of Course We Fly Unmanned—We’re Women!” Drones 5, no. 1: 21.


    1. Thank you Nicky for you comment! The site was introduced to Federica by Professor Kazuya Yamauchi as Han-Teppa or the Ton settlement. We have amended the text to include the other transliterations of the name and added a link to the UNESCO Silk Road Sites in Kyrgyzstan list – see No. 2 for sites of southern Issyk Kul for more on this area. Thank you also for including a link in your comment to the 2010 archaeological report by Kyrgyzstan-Turkey Manas University at Kan-Dobo (in Kyrgyz) – fabulous!!

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