Silk Road Rivers


The University of Lincoln (UK) and the International Institute for Central Asian Studies (IICAS) are implementing the project "Silk Road Rivers: How Water Shaped Societies and Empires in Central Asia". The project is led by Professor Mark Macklin (University of Lincoln).

The work is being carried out in close collaboration with Professor Peter Frankopan (University of Cambridge), Dr Willem Toonen (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), Dr Dmitry Voyakin (IICAS), and with the participation of the Samarkand Archaeological Institute named after Y. Gulyamov and the Karakalpak Research Institute of Humanities.

The project aims to determine the role that the region's rivers played in the development of nomadic and urban societies and empires, particularly irrigation-based agriculture. The project results should address the following fundamental gaps in our understanding of the relationship between hydroclimate change, migration and warfare in Central Asia:

1. How did city-states dependent on irrigated agriculture respond in terms of settlement patterns and population density to rapid and long-term climate change manifested in wet and dry periods?

2. Were wet and dry phases on Central Asian rivers synchronous, or did the timing and spatial pattern of floods and droughts vary across the region?

3. What was the impact of the invasions of the Huns, Turks, Arabs and Mongols and nomadic peoples in general on agriculture and infrastructure associated with urban centers in the river valleys, as well as on less intensive floodplain agriculture and animal husbandry in the basins of Lake Balkash and the Aral Sea?

4. Under what regional hydroclimatic conditions did these migrations and periods of warfare take place?

This new information will be of exceptional value not only to archaeologists, historians, ecologists, and paleoepidemiologists (e.g., the spread of bubonic plague), but also to contemporary water resource managers in Central Asia who need a deep temporal perspective of the current climatic and ecological situation in the region.

In 2023 May, an international team of specialists conducted research work in the Khojaili and Urgench districts of Uzbekistan. Trenching and forty sediment samples were collected for dating (AMS 14C, OSL) of canals and rivers feeding irrigation systems to determine the age of construction, use and abandonment.

The data collected are currently being processed and a scientific report is being prepared.