2. Aims of this article

2.1 Introduction

One of the aims of the Ancient Merv project is to produce an Atlas of Islamic Merv; an interpretation of the Islamic city of Sultan Kala and its suburbs from c. the 8th-13th centuries AD. This is largely based upon aerial photographic and satellite imagery, stored in a Geographic Information System (GIS).

The urban space alone covers some 600ha, with good definition of features. The quantity of data would be difficult to reproduce in a conventionally published format, so the intention is to provide an overview of the data, its interpretation, and a wider discussion of the development of the city, in published book form, with the majority of the imagery, databases, transcriptions/plots, etc. being presented through online data sources.

The plan of the city, with its buildings and streets, courtyards and open spaces, gardens and suburbs, appears clear at first glance on the vertical aerial photographs or satellite image. But how does one delineate these features: where to draw the line? Does the thickness of the line reflect our idea of the scale of the original wall? Does our modern drawn line follow the line of the ancient wall or is it on the line of its cone of collapse? How is the line influenced by the shadow at the time the image is captured? Can we see the difference between rooms (internal and roofed) and yards (external and unroofed) – or is this a factor of our interpretative assumptions? Do we see the building forms we know and therefore recognise? Clarity varies across the landscape, as a result of past actions (degradation, redeposition, later actions) and the nature of the structure (scale, process of abandonment, reuse of materials).

We need to provide a theory for our interpretation and understanding of the imagery – and our interpretations of it as a relic urban form. Ontology, the determination of information that is fundamental to understanding, can perhaps provide us with a mechanism to define those categories that can be said to exist in our perception. The degrees of certainty in the interpretation of the urban plan data for the Islamic city of Sultan Kala provide a challenging ontological approach, explicitly referencing our application of hermeneutic theory.

It is hoped that hierarchies of assumptions (identification of individual wall lines; which frame spaces, rooms and courtyards; which are grouped as parts of specific buildings; which are part of urban blocks) and ontologies (information about these assumptions and the variable confidence of interpretation, from the position of lines to spatial function) could provide a dynamic structure for the presentation of data, interpretation and theory.


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Last updated: Mon Sept 29 2008