11.2 The way forward

The articulation of research context, of our assumptions, and of the structuring and organisation of our interpretations, provides a useful platform to enable us to write interpretations of past societies at Merv. It may also provide an effective platform to enable others to do the same.

Where we draw the line in our transcriptions is as much to do with what we want to research and explore, and the issues we are debating, as it is about any clear idea of what form a wall or structure below the surface took.

'Realism suggests that research is not totally objective but changes according to temporal and geographical backgrounds and increasing academic knowledge. Every research process is seen as a hermeneutic spiral, characterised by reflexivity.' (Rajala 2004).

What digital technologies and storage facilities offer is the ability to present material and its interpretation in multiple forms, allowing the user to explore much more than we could offer in a conventional publication. I found it liberating on occasion to leave the sense of place to images, film and oral histories; a rotating photograph of the urban landscape seemed to me to convey scale and character well. Indeed, perhaps the crucial issue became where to draw the line in what was presented: two images of a monument, or thirty? And a film? And interviews? And satellite images and aerial photographs, and plans, and ...

Selection is about framing a narrative and an argument: it is about choosing material to articulate ideas. What digital technologies and storage offer is the chance for others to ask different questions, narrate different elements, and chose their own images and data to underpin this creative process.

Kevin Lynch, in his seminal work The image of the city (1960), articulated some of the complexity and issues that I see as central to our work on the Merv landscape:

'The city is a construction in space, but one of vast scale, a thing perceived only in the course of long spans of time. ... On different occasions and for different people, the sequences are reversed, interrupted, abandoned, cuts across. It is seen in all lights and all weathers' (Lynch 1960, 1).
'Nothing is experienced by itself, but always in relation to its surroundings, the sequences of events leading up to it, the memory of past experiences ... Every citizen has had long associations with some part of his city, and his image is soaked in memories and meanings' (Lynch 1960, 1).
'Not only is the city an object which is perceived (and perhaps enjoyed) by millions of people of widely diverse class and character, but it is the product of many builders who are constantly modifying the structure for reasons of their own. While it may be stable in general outlines some time, it is ever changing in detail' (Lynch 1960, 2).

We can accept, indeed revel in, the complexity of change over time, the complexity of agency, and the multiplicity of perceptions that its past inhabitants had of this amazing city. We can also accept that there are not clear answers, but rather opportunities to explore the archaeological material from differing viewpoints and ideas. I am an inhabitant of the city today: I walk its dead streets (both on aerial images and on the ground) and dream of its antiquity; I ponder ways of moving across the landscape and what I might have encountered – not just visually, but also with the benefit of memory, experience, smell and light.

'The urban landscape, among its many roles, is also something to be seen, to be remembered, and to delight in' (Lynch 1960, v)


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Last updated: Mon Sept 29 2008