Tim Williams: "Central Asia and the Role of Digital Heritage Inventories"

Thu May 19th 2022, 9:00am
Online, via Zoom

Abstract: The Central Asian Archaeological Landscape project (CAAL) is exploring and digitally documenting the enormous 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). While some sites are protected by state legislation, a very significant number are not. This fragile record of human adaption to the varied Central Asian landscapes is under threat: including changing agricultural practices (especially the climate crisis and resultant collapse of the ‘third pole’ in the Himalaya-Hindu Kush mountain ranges), urban expansion, and rural depopulation.

The future depends on strategic planning, where archaeological resources are considered as part of sustainable development policies. This cannot happen unless there is a solid, and accessible, platform of information for local agencies to engage in this debate. Made possible by funding from the Arcadia Fund – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin - CAAL is developing a digital open-access inventory. Teams from over twenty institutions in six countries are helping to create a digital inventory of archaeological landscapes. 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 Archival teams are delving into often fragile and unpublished records of a century of research and digitising pages, glass plate images, films, colour renderings, hand drawn maps and field diaries. Together this digital data will provide a unique source of information for researchers and heritage managers.

About the speaker: Tim Williams is Professor of Silk Roads Archaeology at UCL. His research considers urban archaeology, especially in Roman, Islamic, and Central Asian contexts. He’s the Director of a long-running research project at Merv, Turkmenistan, which has been operating since 2001. This collaboration between the Turkmenistan Ministry of Culture, the Ancient Merv State Park, and the UCL Institute of Archaeology aims to research and conserve the remains of one of the great historic cities of the Silk Roads. Professor Williams will reflect upon how digital humanities, and in particular digital inventories, has opened up new opportunities for the study of the Central Asian past.