4.1 Introduction: the nature of the contemporary landscape

Audio: Lynne Paterson, British Embassy, Ashgabat.
(Q: Is this an important part of Merv to you?)

The landscape of present day Merv seems to most observers to be relatively featureless and barren (Fig. 8 and Fig. 9 (rotating image). Indeed, when asked about its significance, non-archaeologists see it as having little importance (for example, listen to Paterson's answer to urban question 3).

What is not immediately apparent, of course, is the quality and scale of the buried archaeological resource. Within this area there are between 3 and 7m of archaeological stratigraphy (Fig. 10), starting immediately below the surface (Fig. 11). This represents a rare opportunity to study one of the best-preserved examples of early Islamic urbanism anywhere in the world. It also represents an important challenge for long-term conservation, especially when its values are not so readily apparent to most people.

Figure 8

Figure 8: The landscape inside the city of Sultan Kala today: an undulating vista. The Madjan canal lies to the left (attracting the lush vegetation), while the low mounds indicate the position of buildings to either side of the canal. The Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar stands in the background.

Figure 10

Figure 10: Excavations in 2006 across the Madjan Canal, in the foreground, with side channels. Note the depth of the deposits and the quality of their survival.

Figure 11

Figure 11: The archaeology starts right below the surface at Merv. Here a trench (originally cut for agricultural drainage in the 1960s) exposes a complex sequence of Islamic streets. Intact street surfaces and walls survive only 30-50mm below the modern surface. Most of the area of the abandoned cities was not suitable for modern agriculture, so there is little or no damage, or subsequent reworking, and erosion/collapse deposits seal well-preserved stratigraphy.


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Last updated: Mon Sept 29 2008