Karakum Routes Survey – University of Copenhagen

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Karakum Routes Survey
Paul Wordsworth
The Karakum Routes Survey began with the aim of plotting the course of roads and pathways from the ancient city of Merv to the Amu Darya River, which formed part of the fabled ‘Silk Roads’ of Central Asia. The stretch of land being studied is the southernmost extent of the Karakum desert in modern day Turkmenistan, on the border with Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Major trade appears to have crossed the region from at least as early as the Achaemenid period, or earlier, in spite of the barrenness of the terrain and the arid climate. However the focus of the project rests on the medieval remains of the 10th-13th centuries, which are is by far the most widespread archaeological material in this particular segment of the desert.

Having completed a preliminary field-season in 2009, the Karakum Routes Survey (KRS) returned in 2011 to examine archaeological sites on the medieval routes and pathways between Merv and the Amu Darya River. The survey focussed on an area in Mary welyat where a number of large caravanserai ruins and ceramics scatters had been noted during the previous fieldwork. All of the information gathered will be analysed further using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to establish patterns of travel and trade through the desert in the early-mid medieval Islamic periods.

In 2009 the Karakum Routes Survey began the prospection of sites along the routes eastwards from Merv, using a combination of remote imagery, historical maps and ground survey. After a desk-based study which analysed satellite imagery for anomalies and historical maps for clues to the whereabouts of ruins, a number of sites were identified to be visited on the ground through systematic field survey. Building on the data gathered in the preliminary study, further potential sites were identified during a second phase of desk-based analysis, which were then targeted for ground survey in 2011. Previously recorded sites were also revisited in 2011, to carry out comprehensive documentation and collect more material for the purposes of dating. The survey methodology comprises four main areas: topographic survey, photographic documentation, kite photography and diagnostic material sampling.




I wish to thank the following for their continued help and assistance:

The Ancient Merv Project (AMP) under the directorship of Tim Williams, University College London

Gaigysyz Joraev, University College London

Nick Pearson, Director of On Site Archaeology, York

Dr Leslee Michelsen, Museum of Islamic Art, Doha

Dave Gilbert, AMP UCL

Alexis Pantos, freelance photographer

Elise Thing, ToRS, Københavns Universitet