The Surkhan Darya province (20,800 km2) is situated in the south of Uzbekistan and borders Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan; most specialists consider that it forms part of the ancient region known as Bactria. In simplified terms, the province can be described as an alluvial valley, limited by the Amu Darya river to the South and surrounded by mountains on all three other sides. The main mountain passes are the “Iron Gates,” on the road to Samarkand, and the low foothills, which separate it from the Kafirnigan valley and Dushanbe to the northeast. The climate is continental with mild winters, little rainfall (just over 100 mm./year in the south, but more in the north) and a long summer drought. Agriculture therefore depends to a large extent on artificial irrigation in the alluvial plain, although dry farming is practiced in the foothills. The mountains, especially
Fig. 1. A view of Bactria in GIS, with the archaeological
sites of the Surkhan Darya province.
For nearly 70 years, archaeological work was undertaken in the Surkhan Darya province exclusively by Soviet teams. They produced a wealth of quality data including over 2500 publications describing the excavations of sites such as Dzharkutan and Sapalli Tepe (Bronze Age), Kuchuk Tepe and Kyzyl Tepe (Iron Age), Dal’verzin Tepe, Khalchaian and Termez (Kushan period), Balalyk Tepe and Kujov Kurgan (early Middle Ages) or Budrach and Termez (Pre-Mongol period).3 Foreign archaeological teams started working in the province in the early 1990’s and since then seven foreign teams have undertaken excavations in collaboration with Uzbek teams (two Japanese, two French, one German, one Russian and one Czech) (Fig. 3). Archaeologically speaking, the Surkhan Darya province is thus one of the most thoroughly studied areas in Central Asia. It is therefore obvious that a systematic regional survey would be meaningless had the vast amount of data from the Soviet period not been taken into account.4
A large number of geographical studies of the area have also been undertaken,
Fig. 2. The upper Surkhan Darya plain with the
Hissar Mountains in the background.
Finally, a number of ethnographic studies of the area exist [e.g. Karmysheva 1976]. They include descriptions of the different types of exploitation of the landscape and of the interaction between ethnic groups. As such they provide useful material which can be compared to the geographical and archaeological data. Any serious study of the Surkhan Darya requires this vast amount of data to be organized. I have alluded to the problems associated with data management, but it is useful to underline
Fig.3. Archaeological work underway on the southeast
angle of the citadel of of Termez. The various
fortifications visible in the photo are dated from the
Kushan period up to the beginning of the 13th c.
(photo: MAFOuz de Bactriane).
Fig. 4. The land units of the Surkhan Daryabr
province according to Ergeshov 1974.
In a situation such as this, there is no miracle solution. Either you ignore the data, or you include only the most famous sites and a handful of major publications, or else, as in this case, you sort through the data systematically. A site gazetteer (based on Arshavskaia et al. 1982) was therefore developed in close collaboration with Uzbek scholars, and the 2500+ publications that concerned the area were systematically indexed.
The site database includes 680 sites, nearly all of which were localized in the field either using a GPS or by calculating the coordinates on 1:10,000 scale Fig.3. Archaeological work underway on the southeast angle of the citadel of of Termez. The various fortifications visible in the photo are dated from the Kushan period up to the beginning of the 13th c. (photo: MAFOuz de Bactriane). Fig. 4. The land units of the Surkhan Darya province according to Ergeshov 1974. Fig. 5. The remains of a typical archaeological site in the Upper Surkhan Darya plain. 31 maps of the early 1950’s (the precision of these maps is such that they include topographical anomalies less than 30 centimeters high and 5 meters across) [Fig. 6].5 Ironically, localizing previously known sites proved much harder than finding new sites, since it was necessary
Fig. 5. The remains of a typical archaeological
in the Upper Surkhan Darya plain.
The bibliography includes all the publications concerning the archaeology of the Surkhan Darya province and a list of the archives of archaeological excavations. They are systematically indexed by site, by theme and by period, with commentary. For example, the bibliography of the Kushan period site of Dal’verzin Tepe includes over 350 references with commentary, classified according to the area of excavation and/or the theme.
Once all these
Fig. 6. Map of the archaeological sites
around Denau, in the center of the Upper
Surkhan Darya plain. No. 222 is Khalchaian.
Apart from giving researchers
Fig. 7. Transhumant routes, pastures and
archaeological sites in the northern half of
the Surkhan Darya province.
Fig. 8a. Part of the Khodzha Ipak alluvial
cone showing a raster geomorphological
map, land units vectorized from Ergeshov
1974 and water courses and the limits of
terraces based on 1:10,000 scale maps.
Figs. 8a and 8b give a good idea of how the GIS can be used to combine data of variable quality. In Fig. 8a the underlying
Fig. 8b. The same area, this time with
redrawn land units, non-irrigable zones,
floodplain, territories, water courses and
Fig. 9 highlights the differences in settlement pattern between the Iron
Fig. 9. Iron Age (square) and Kushan
period (round) sites in the Upper Surkhan
In collaboration with scholars from the Institute of Archaeology in Samarkand, the GIS will now serve to integrate further databases. Three specific projects are underway. One is to integrate databases of all the coins found during excavations in the province, the second to include published and unpublished plans of all the sites and excavations, and the third to digitalize data from the ongoing excavations of the sites of Termez, Khajtabad and Payon Kurgan.
GIS is particularly interesting because it can evolve so easily, not only by adding new data but also by correcting mistakes, omissions and lacunae. This makes the process of elaborating hypothesis and testing them much more fluid, especially because the results can then be integrated back into the GIS. A medium-term goal of this project, in relation to the others described in this section is to create a series of interrelated databases, to which all scholars can contribute and have access. By doing this, it should then be possible to work towards a networking of the different Central Asian GIS projects.
The dream of a Central- Asia-wide archaeological database, which various scholars formulated long before GIS existed,6 is in many respects now technically possible. The contemporary political divisions and the nature of archaeological research in the area (data management problems, languages, etc.) make it especially necessary. Finally the fact that relatively few scholars are currently working in Central Asia may make it easier to reach a consensus on the form that such a network should take.
Obviously, this can only succeed if all archaeologists feel that their work is correctly attributed and that it is in their interest to integrate their data into a global system. This can be achieved by clearly indicating the author of the original work (and each of the authors responsible for cataloguing and digitizing it) and by networking projects in each of the institutions that collaborates, rather than centralizing the data in one single point.
It is planned to make the GIS of the Surkhan Darya available on the Internet in the near future. In the meantime, and in line with the concept of creating an open platform, specific data concerning a given site, period or theme of the Surkhan Darya province are available on request from the author.
From the Editor| THE MAIKOP TREASURE | In Celebration of Aleksandr Leskov| GREEKS, AMAZONS, AND ARCHAEOLOGY| Archaeological GIS in Central Asia| Archaeological GIS and Oasis Geography in the Tarim Basin | An Archaeological GIS of the Surkhan Darya Province(Southern Uzbekistan) | Methods and Perspectives for Ancient Settlement Studies in the Middle Zeravshan Valley | Reasoning with GIS : Tracing the Silk Road and the Defensive Systems of the Murghab Delta(Turkmenistan) By: Barbara Cerasetti Evolving the Archaeological Mapping of Afghanistan | Storing and Sharing Central Asian GIS: The Alexandria Archive| The Search for the Origins of the Jews Harp | Excavation and Survey in Arkhangai and Bulgan Aimaqs, Mongolia July 20-August 17, 2005