Ancient Merv




Ancient Merv

Site Information

Country: Turkmenistan
State: Mary
Location: 37° 35' 59" N - 61° 49' 59" E
Elevation: 205m above sea level
Field Documentation Date(s): September 1st, 2007
Project Release Date(s): April 15th, 2009
Time Range: 600 BCE - 1400 CE
Era: Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, Sassanian, Hephthalite, Umayyad, Abbasid, Tahrid, Samanid, Ghaznavid, Seljuk, Timurid, Mongol
Culture: Central Asian, Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, Sassanian, Ummayad, Abbasid, Tahrid, Samanid, Ghaznavid, Seljuk, Timurid, Mongol
Site Authority: State Historical and Cultural Park Ancient Merv
Heritage Listing: UNESCO World Heritage Site
world map with location

Site Description

more

The archaeological remains of Ancient Merv lie within Turkmenistan’s Murghab River delta, surrounded by the Karakum Desert. The State Historical and Cultural Park of Ancient Merv is an internationally important archaeological site which has been settled for over 4,000 years and urbanized for the last 2,500 years. Unlike many similar sites, which were continually occupied and built atop each other, the cities of Merv periodically shifted, with five distinct cities built next to each other, leaving each relatively well preserved. Ancient Merv lies in a harsh desert environment, with scorching summer heat and below-freezing winter cold; yet cities were not only existed here, they thrived. The cities’ location was highly strategic, on the trade and pilgrimage routes of the ancient world, where its position in the river delta provided a natural watering and resting place along the Silk Roads that crossed Central Asia, connecting the great civilizations of the Orient with Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Merv grew into one of the largest cities in the world.

The core area of the State Historical and Cultural Park "Ancient Merv" encompasses over 1,200 hectares, making it the largest archaeological park in Central Asia, and it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999. Across the vast flat landscape lie multiple cities, with nearly 1,000 hectares enclosed within the various city walls, plus extensive sprawling suburban areas. The Archaeological Park has barred modern agriculture within the park boundaries and is actively engaged in additional protection and conservation efforts for the monuments; the Park has begun to welcome a growing number of visitors.

The standing remains include the defensive circuits of the various cities and standing buildings, including the unusual köshks (fortress-like buildings) and numerous important Islamic mausolea. The long history of successive occupation has left incredibly well-preserved archaeological stratigraphy (layers), ranging in depth from 3 to 17m, across the Ancient Merv Park.

To the north-east of the park lies the oval city of ERK KALA, the oldest of the cities, founded in 6th century BCE during the Achaemenian Empire. The surviving citadel walls, rebuilt over many years of occupation, still stand over 30m in height; these walls provide the highest point in the flat landscape for as far as the eye can see. Within Erk Kala the archaeological stratigraphy built up over its occupation (to the 13th century CE) to a depth of 17m.

In the 3rd century BCE Erk Kala was became the citadel for the massive new Hellenized (Classical Greek-style) city of Antiochia Margiana (today called GYAUR KALA), part of the Seleucid Empire. The square city, with a defensive wall circuit of 8 km, was laid out with a rectangular street grid. The city was rapidly infilled, although its four corners were left undeveloped, providing four large open-air locations within the city walls. These open areas within the city walls were likely used for orchards, gardens, or protected campsites for the travelling caravans passing along the Silk Road. The city was occupied for nearly 900 years by a succession of empires
return to top


History

more

The Merv oasis has a long history of human occupation dating back more than 4,000 years. At its peak, Merv was one of the largest cites in the world, capital of a vast empire, home of revolutions, and a magnet to merchants and scholars because it straddled the ancient Silk Road through Central Asia, acting as an important hub along the way
return to top


Project Narrative

more

There is a long history of archaeological exploration at the site. The site was intermittently explored through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before a concentrated campaign of fieldwork by YuTAKE during the mid 20th century. Most recently the International Merv Project (IMP), a collaborative project involving the National Institute for the History of Turkmenistan, The Institute of Archaeology, London, and the British Museum, has been undertaking work at Merv between 1992-2000, the results of which are currently being prepared for publication.

In 1987 Turkmenistan established an archaeological park to protect the walled cities, some of the immediate extra-mural areas, and selected outlying buildings. This has already done much to improve the basic condition of the site, removing modern agriculture from within the walled areas and generally improving access to the monuments. In 1999 the site was declared a World Heritage Site. However, there are daunting conservation issues and in 2000 Merv was placed on the World Monuments Watch’s list of the world’s 100 most endangered sites.

ANCIENT MERV PROJECT

The Ancient Merv project was established in March 2001. This project started as a five-year (2001-2005) collaboration between the Institute of Archaeology, UCL and the State Historical and Cultural Park Ancient Merv, part of the National Department for the Protection, Study and Restoration of Historical and Cultural Monuments within the Ministry of Culture of Turkmenistan. This has subsequently been extended for a second five-year period (2006-2010).

The Ancient Merv project is directed by Tim Williams (Institute of Archaeology, UCL) and Dr Mukhammed Mamedov (National Department for the Protection, Study and Restoration of Historical and Cultural Monuments, Ministry of Culture), with the considerable support of assistant director Dr Gabriele Puschnigg and Dr Louise Cooke (Institute of Archaeology, UCL). The project is undertaken in collaboration with Dr Ruslan Muradov of the National Department for the Protection, Study and Restoration of Historical and Cultural Monuments, Ministry of Culture and Rejeb Dzaparov, Director of the ‘Ancient Merv’ Archaeological Park.

The current involvement is concerned with the complex conservation and management issues posed by this remarkable site, furthering our understanding of the site through archaeological research, and disseminating the results of the work to the widest possible audience.

The Ancient Merv project has been generously supported by the World Monuments Fund, the J.M. Kaplan Fund and American Express (both with the support and administration of the WMF), the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Max van Berchem Foundation, the British Academy, The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) at the J. Paul Getty Trust, and the British Embassy in Ashgabat.

SCANNING AND HIGH-DEFINITION PHOTOGRAPHY PROJECT

For six weeks, from the start of September to mid-October 2007, a team of two laser scanning technicians -- one graduate student from University College London and one professional surveyor from Plowman Craven -- embarked on a programme to digitally preserve the earthen monuments of the Merv oasis.

The Aims were:

1) To substantially enhance the documentation of the standing buildings and city defences of the cities of Merv, a World Heritage Site in Turkmenistan.
a. The majority of the architecture is earthen, and while conservation strategies are in place, realistically it will be impossible to stop the erosion of these monuments. The conservation program is based on an “at risk” strategy: identifying those elements most at risk across the whole range of historic buildings, but prioritized on the basis of their significance.
b. Earthen architecture is a fragile resource, and it is virtually impossible to stop it degrading without intervention. It is vital, therefore, to have the best possible documentation of the structures. This both underpins future conservation activities and also provides a point in time record of the structures prior to further degradation and loss.
c. Realistically, for most of the Islamic city walls (which extend some 12 km) it is going to be impossible to conserve more than a representative sample. 3-D scanning offers the opportunity to document key features before they are obscured or lost through erosion.

2) To help build capacity in the Ministry of Culture staff in approaches to, and standards of, site documentation.
a. The Ministry of Culture has trained architects at both the national and archaeological park level. These staff have been engaged in the documentation and conservation of historic buildings for some time. They have not, however, had many opportunities to explore the role of documentation as a tool for preservation (by record), or its intimate relationship with planning conservation interventions. This project will provide such an opportunity.

The scope of the work was planned as a fieldwork project to last for six weeks in September/October 2007. The program was prioritized on the following criteria:
1) The most significant monuments, as established in discussion with the Ministry of Culture: a full, fine detail, recording program for the most archaeologically and culturally significant monuments within the Archaeological Park.
2) Those monuments most likely to have conservation programs in the coming years.
3) Those monuments most fragile and susceptible to loss.


return to top


Preservation

more

Ancient Merv

The Ancient Merv Archaeological Park encompasses archaeological sites of the last four thousand years during which the main building material has been earth: sometimes made into mud bricks and bonded with mud mortar, sometimes rammed or placed into position, and nearly always covered with mud plaster.

The architecture and archaeology preserved in the Park is of international importance, partly due to the preservation of standing structures, such as the corrugated köshks and the spectacular icehouses, and also because of the excellent preservation of over 1,000 hectares of buried archaeological deposits.

Once the buildings and town walls at Merv were abandoned the process of decay started. Wind and rain steadily eroded the structures: once roofs had collapsed, walls lost material from both their tops and faces. However, the process was gradual, so buildings like the Great Kyz Kala have only lost about 1.5m in height over a thousand years.

In recent years, however, the process has accelerated considerably. The watertable in the Merv Oasis has risen due to the construction of the Karakum Canal. In the 1950s, the Soviet Empire designated much of Turkmenistan as a cotton-growing region to serve its vast populace. To provide the necessary water supply to this arid desert, the largest earthen canal in the world was constructed in the desert of Turkmenistan. The Karakum Canal provides water to these harsh lands for agriculture and the needs of modern cities. However, the poor construction of this canal means that up to 50% of the water during its fullest periods floods out onto the surrounding land. This has caused a vast problem by drastically shifting the groundwater levels, creating new ponds and pools of stagnant water, and increasing the salinity of desert soils. So while this has brought major advantages for the agriculture of the region, it has been disastrous for the standing buildings. Water seeps into the bottom of the walls, and as this dries the salts in the water crystallise on the wall surface. This makes the surface much more fragile, and the wind removes the face of the wall rapidly. As a result, the wall foundations of monuments which have stood for centuries have now suddenly began to erode. The erosion of wall bases (called “undercutting”) causes immediate structural instability, resulting in catastrophic loss of archaeological material when large sections--or sometimes entire walls--come tumbling down in a matter of just a few years.

The main problems are:

WATER (a) rising groundwater - water seeps into the bottom of the walls, and as this dries the salts in the water crystallise on the wall surface, eroding the base of wall (undercutting).
(b) falling water - in the form of rain or snow damages earth buildings and makes the surface much more fragile.

WIND. Wind removes the faces of walls. Wind can carry desert sand and this blasts and abrades the walls.

VEGETATION. Plant roots can grow through and damage the earth walls and buried archaeology. Plants can also trap moisture, and lower the relative temperature, which can speed up damage to the fragile earth structures.

ANIMALS. Humans move out and animals, birds, insects, and reptiles move in to earthen buildings. Animals can excavate burrows in earthen material, and by depositing their waste they can accelerate the rates of erosion.

PEOPLE. Sometimes the people who come to visit the monuments in the park cause damage to them. This is because taking the same path through a monument can cause it to erode. In addition the park and the monuments are sometimes damaged by illicit activities such as robbing.

CONSERVATION AND MANAGEMENT SOLUTIONS FOR THE SITE

To find the best solutions for Merv we are undertaking experiments with traditional materials, such as mud plasters, mud mortars and mud bricks, as well as new materials, such as using a geotextile to separate the new conservation work from the archaeology. We are also using techniques that have been developed on other sites around the world, such as backfilling, alongside techniques more local to Merv, such as including wheat straw in mud plasters. We hope that by combining new and traditional techniques, with information from around the world, and from Merv, that we will find the best solutions for conserving these fragile earth structures.

During past fieldwork we undertook an evaluation of all the standing historic structures and extant archaeological trenches within the Archaeological Park, assessing their current condition, research and educational potential, and conservation priorities. This has been instrumental in shaping an emergency conservation programme for the Park, which is now underway.

The solutions to the conservation problems at Merv are not easy. It is our challenge to assess the problems and successes of the work we are carrying out and to build upon the existing knowledge as a means to help manage this unique site.

The main aims of the Ancient Merv Project's digital preservation project are directly linked to these issues. The project aims to provide a baseline of high quality documentation for the threaten structures, and to the necessary data to analyze, measure, and understand the erosion processes in a more comprehensive way, in order to augment the current and future conservation and preservation efforts within the park.

return to top

Kepter Khana of Shahryar Ark

This structure has suffered some structural loss due to wall collapses in the last decade. The greatest damage is a hole on the south-east side, a result of a structural collapse in the late 1990s. The Kepter Khana is also suffering from undercutting of the walls on the north from fluctuating water table levels. This undercutting was so severe that a conservation intervention took place in the 2000s: the erosion was cleaned, and new mud bricks, made in the traditional manner, were packed in the eroded gaps to provide sacrificial material, to prevent the loss of most (if not all) of the northern end of the structure. The use of the HDD data and Geographical Information Software to compare a hydrological analysis of the terrain with the geo-referenced scan data showed that the north corner sits within a small basin on the Palace's elevated platform. With this knowledge, new measures can now be taken by archaeological park staff to alleviate the cause rather than simply treating the symptoms.
return to top

Palace

Several walls and wall-sections have collapsed within the last few decades due to undercutting from the rising water table. Conservation has taken place in the 1990s and 2000s, clearing debris to reduce water capillary action, and the construction of supporting buttresses.
return to top

Seljuk House (Kepter Khana of Sultan Kala)

The Seljuk House has suffered extensive collapses in the last few decades and very little of the walls remain standing. It was therefore raised from its pre-field seasons status to 'high priority' once a visual inspection made clear the urgency of its documentation.
return to top

Greater Kyz Kala

The corrugated walls of the Greater Kyz Kala have suffered badly from the prevailing winds. This has caused the northern side to be sand-blasted flat over the centuries, with the western wall not far from it. The corrugations, however, survive well on the east and south sides of the monument. There is extensive erosion across the structure, with three of the walls having sections that collapsed; the east side is currently suffering the most extensive damage. There has been modern conservation work at the base of the entire structure, where undercutting has been filled with mud brick, built in traditional style to help protect the monument's authenticity. Two buttress walls have been added to support the northern half of the east wall and a metal stair case has been built through an erosion hole for visitor access (although the original door was likely on the east side). The top two floors have collapsed and created an undulating interior surface, with an appearance like a frozen ocean of mud. It is likely, however, that this mud helps protect the interior architecture of the lower floor.
return to top


Area Descriptions

more
Gyaur Kala
City Wall Defenses
Erk Kala
Suburban Areas
Greater Kyz Kala
Icehouse 1
Icehouse 2
Timurid Pavilion
Sultan Kala
Northern Walled Suburb
Shahryar Ark
Kepter Khana of Shahryar Ark
Palace
Southern Walled Suburb
Sultan Kala main city
Grand Bazaar
Madjān Canal Trench
Seljuk House (Kepter Khana of Sultan Kala)

Gyaur Kala

Gyaur Kala Description:

Gyaur Kala was a Hellenistic (3rd century BCE) expansion of the original city, Erk Kala.

Today the city’s most obvious remains are the 8 km circuit of city walls, which had a long history of modification and reinforcement. The excavation section through the wall, documented by the HDD project, clearly shows the stratigraphic build up of layers--both in height and thickness--over the centuries.

After the founding of Sultan Kala, Gyaur Kala remained an important suburb of the new city, housing much of the industrial and craftsman workshops for the area. It continued to be occupied up to the Mongol sack of 1221CE.


return to area list


City Wall Defenses

City Wall Defenses Description:

Today the city’s most obvious remains are the 8 km circuit of city walls. Constructed in the 3rd century BCE, and frequently repaired and substantially enlarged up to the 7th century CE. The excavation section through the wall, documented by the HDD project, clearly shows the stratigraphic build up of layers--both in height and thickness--over the centuries.


return to area list


Erk Kala

Erk Kala Description:

Erk Kala is the oldest city within the Ancient Merv Archaeological Park, founded in 6th century BCE during the Achaemenian Empire. Erk Kala became the citadel of Gyaur Kala when that city was constructed in the 3rd century BCE. The surviving Erk Kala citadel walls, rebuilt over many years of occupation, still stand over 30m in height. Within Erk Kala the archaeological stratigraphy built up over its occupation (to the 13th century CE) to a depth of 17m.


return to area list


Suburban Areas

Suburban Areas Description:

The suburban areas around the Islamic city of Sultan Kala supported a large array of activities and people. In the west a potters’ quarter has been identified, from the various kiln remains; south of this were a number of caravanserai and two semi-fortified elite buildings (the Greater and Lesser Kyz Kalas); while to the south of the city were at least four icehouses (still visible); and much of the surrounding area would have been cultivated for agriculture. Though these areas are beyond the city walls, their occupation and history was still long and rich.


return to area list


Greater Kyz Kala

Greater Kyz Kala Description:

This immense structure stands on the east side of the Hormuzfarra canal.

The Great Kyz Kala is the largest in a group of buildings outside the west wall of Sultan Kala, which includes, the Lesser Kyz Kala, 250m to the south, the Kyz Bibi complex, approximately 300m to the north-east, and two more köshks to the north. The immediate vicinity has been protected and the ground surface shows little sign of disturbance. The remains of a ruined structure of uncertain plan survive to the north-east of the main building, though these have been cut by a road.

The Greater Kyz Kala is the largest köshk in the Merv oasis, only a little smaller than the Palace in Shahriyar Ark. Although internally in a ruinous condition, its general form and many details of the architecture are still visible. This two-storey köshk, approximately aligned north-south, consists of a rectangular platform with sloping sides with corrugated walls above.

In 1937 Pilyavsky recorded the maximum dimensions as 42.20 x 37.20m, in 1998 these were recorded as 45.30 x 37.80m, and the new scan data provides dimensions of 46.53 x 36.20m. The platform is c. 4.00m high and the building survives to a height of c. 12.00m. The walls of the upper storey are c. 2.00m thick.

The north and west walls are eroded, although runnels indicate the original position of most corrugations. The central section of the east wall has collapsed since 1974 (Atagaryev and Pilyavsky 1974, 117). Originally there were 22 corrugations with an arched entrance at upper storey level, visible in both Zhukovsky’s and Pilyavsky’s photographs. Zhukovsky suggested that this entrance might not have been original (1894, 163). Since there is no sign of an entrance at ground level, the platform is relatively complete, and breaks in the north and west walls do not have original edges, it seems probable that this was indeed the entrance, particularly as Zhukovsky noted rubbish below the entrance which he thought may have been the ruins of a staircase, or more probably a ramp. The best preserved corrugations are on the south facade, where they have been protected from the prevailing wind. Eighteen survive: each corrugation is half octagonal in plan with a diameter of c. 1.30m. They rise from a pointed base in the platform to form the crenellated parapet. The corrugations at the corner have a pointed profile.

The lower storey or basement rooms are inaccessible, although they were once reached by a stairway at the north end of the köshk: their presence is implied by the windows at the base of the corrugations. Today four windows survive on the south wall, four at the north end of the east façade with an eroded area at the south end probably indicating the site of a fifth window, at least one more on the west, and two on the north at a higher level lighting the stairway. These narrow windows measure approximately 0.90m in height, and widen from a top of c. 0.15m to a base of 0.26m: the roof slopes downwards into the interior and is formed of a single line of bricks.

The interior of the upper storey is a vast, sloping open expanse, 38.55 x 32.10m: the southern end is higher than the northern, suggesting that the southern rooms of the lower storey were taller than those at the north. Fragments of walls indicate that there was a minimum of 16 rooms built around a central space. The best preserved traces are against the west wall. From south to north, Room 1 measured 3.50 x 5.50m in Pilyavsky’s time, although only a 1.40m stump of wall survives today; it was barrel vaulted and aligned east-west. Room 2 is poorly preserved with only traces of the side walls visible. It was built at a lower level than Room 1 and is c. 3.55m wide. Traces of a zone of transition and a squinch at the south corner, not previously noted, prove that it was domed. The floor of Room 3 was probably about a metre lower than that of Room 2; a squinch in the north-west corner indicates that this room, width c. 4.80m, was also domed. The well-preserved squinch is composed of seven concentric arches set within a recessed rectangular panel, 1.70 x 0.85m, over a projecting string course, three bricks thick. The walls on either side of the squinch are slightly curved to form the drum of the dome, a feature repeated in the Lesser Kyz Kala and the Kyz Bibi mausoleum. Room 4 is a large rectangular vaulted room, 7.00m long, the vault formed with bricks laid horizontally. There is a panel of appliqué decoration above the zone of transition consisting of a series of tri-lobed, blind niches. In the centre of the wall below the decorative frieze are the remains of a large, poorly preserved niche, width c. 1.10m, orientated W.W.S. Room 5 in the corner measures 5.35 x 4.93m and was roofed with a quadripartite lanceolate vault, springing from a three-brick string course. The bricks of the vaults are laid radially, edge to edge, either at 90 degrees to the axis of the vault or slightly oblique to it (Pugachenkova 1958, 137). The outline of the floor of the parapet can be made out about a metre below the triangular tops of the corrugations/crenulations on the interior of the west wall.

Little survives on the north side, although it was better preserved in Zhukovsky’s photograph and when planned by Pilyavsky in the 1930s. The stairway is located next to Room 5. One flight of stairs, roofed with a series of stepped tunnel vaults, led down to the basement, and the other, lit by a narrow window, led up to the roof. The stairway measures 1.05m in width. Of Rooms 7 and 8 to the east only stumps of walls survive next to the central break in the north wall and 7.20m to the east.

Rooms 9 and 10, both barrel vaulted and aligned east-west, survive at the north end of the east wall; they measure 5.32 x 2.85 and 2.90m respectively. Finally, a stump of wall, 1.25m in length, survives 9.30m from the south wall. The interior of the south wall is too poorly preserved to suggest the original arrangement of the rooms. The internal walls of the upper storey measure c. 1.00-0.85m, with the exception of the stump, width 1.70m, in the southern end of the west wall.

In 1998 a glass rim sherd of early Islamic date was recovered from a brick in situ on top of a crenulation, clearly residual. Sherds including ishkhor ware, a black and yellow slip-painted glazed ware, were found during preliminary cleaning prior to conservation work. This ware is quite common at Merv, examples were found in our excavations in the furnace area in Gyaur Kala (Iran XXXV, 1997, 14-5) in levels dated to the ninth to tenth centuries.

Some conservation work has been carried out since 1960 by the Archaeological Park ‘Ancient Merv’, in particular the construction of two mud brick buttresses on the interior of the east wall: some underpinning was undertaken in the autumn of 1998 to try to prevent collapse of undercut walls, and significant work has taken place in the 2000s, especially on the wall under-cutting.

Ref: Herrmann, G., 1999. Monuments of Merv: traditional buildings of the Karakum.. Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. London: Society of Antiquaries of London


return to area list


Icehouse 1

Icehouse 1 Description:

The icehouse structures, of which four still remain intact, are located south of Sultan Kala. These large, conically-domed earthen structures would have had sheets of ice built up on the ground level over the course of the winter to provide year-round ice supplies. There are remains of wood beams that stretched across the domes; it is possible these were for structural support and/or used to hang meats and other culinary items for cold storage.

Icehouse 1 is about a kilometre south of the south-west corner of Gyaur Kala, south-east of Sultan Kala and due east of Icehouse 2 and the Timurid pavilion or Köshk Imaret. The köshk south of Gyaur Kala is c. 400m to the west.

This tall conical structure has a steep, strongly banded profile, curving towards the top. The internal diameter is 17.20m, and the walls stand to a height of c. 15.00m. The lowest part, a height of 1.45m, is built of pakhsa blocks, above is a band of mud brick, approximately 1.85m high. A second layer of pakhsa, height of 1.00m, marks the apex of the vertical side walls, above which the mud bricks of the walls corbel inwards to form a conical dome. At a height of approximately 7.00m above ground a row of circular holes is set into the side of the dome with a further five, and traces of a sixth, rows above at irregular intervals. Fragments of wooden poles survive in a number of holes of all except the highest rows. They are angled, alternately to left and right.

Entrance is via an arched doorway in the north, the shadier side where the cooler winds blow, and has a width at springing of 3.00m. There are four niches in the base of the walls, of which the pointed arch of only one, Niche 3, is complete and has a width at springing of 1.82m and a depth of 1.30m. Each niche contains a rectangular chimney or ventilation shaft; that of the well-preserved Niche 3 measures 1.74 x 0.60m, and that of Niche 2, 1.38 x 0.56m. The openings at the top of the shafts of Niches 2 and 3 are visible near the top of the exterior dome.

The structure is comprised of mud bricks, averaging 270 x 60mm in size and pakhsa blocks. The surface was roughly plastered and wooden beams formed part of the structure.

This building is unique in a number of ways: It is steeper and more curved in profile than the other icehouse examples, and the brick size is slightly larger. However, the most unusual feature is the presence of the ventilation shafts or ‘chimneys’, which scholars such as Beazley and Rogers suggest rule out the identification of this building as an icehouse, and by association of the others as well (pers. comm.).

Ref: Herrmann, G., 1999. Monuments of Merv: traditional buildings of the Karakum.. Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. London: Society of Antiquaries of London


return to area list


Icehouse 2

Icehouse 2 Description:

The icehouse structures, of which four still remain intact, are located south of Sultan Kala. These large, conically-domed adobe structures would have had thin sheets of ice built up on the ground level over the course of the winter to provide year-round ice supplies. There are remains of wood beams that stretched across the domes; it is possible these were for structural support and/or used to hang meats and other culinary items for cold storage.

Icehouse 2 is unique in its interior design with small, triangular niches running in bands along the walls; this design seems purely decorative and is not seen on any other extant structure within the park.

The icehouse is north of Abdullah Khan Kala, 50m north-west of the Timurid Pavilion or Köshk Imaret. Icehouse 1 can be seen in the distance to the east.

This tall, stepped conical building stands at least two metres above present ground level. The base is large, at least 3.0m high and 1.30m thick. A recent collapse has revealed the crown of an arch in the centre of its south side. The building is entered from the north via an arched entrance, width 1.70m and 2.0m thick. The interior is circular with a diameter of 13.30m, with a corbelled dome of mud brick. Although ruined, the walls of the dome reach an interior height of c. 15.00m. At a height of approximately 6.00m above the present floor level there are three courses of diagonally laid bricks. Four rows of such diagonal brick work are found at differing intervals higher up. Above the second layer is a row of slots for beams, which pierce the walls.

There are arched niches on the east with widths of 1.62m and thickness of c. 1.40m and on the south-west (eroded and open, width 1.68m); the east niche is still blocked by an outer layer of mud brick. There is no trace of any chimney such as in Icehouse 1. The arches were built of up to three courses of bricks, set radially, with the keystone formed of bricks set horizontally. There are four putlogs, measuring 180 x 200mm and having a depth of 52mm, between the north door and the east niche and probably originally another four (only three are visible) between the east and south west niches. Traces survive of a shallow, rectangular alcove of unknown purpose on the south side with width at least 0.65m and a height of at least 1.10mm.

Ref: Herrmann, G., 1999. Monuments of Merv : traditional buildings of the Karakum, Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. London: Society of Antiquaries of London.


return to area list


Timurid Pavilion

Timurid Pavilion Description:

From the late 14th century CE the region was occupied and controlled by the Timurid Empire, a Turko-Mongol dynasty. This is one of the few remaining Timurid buildings at Merv. It is a small, square structure with a grand entry door and a large number of intricate and delicate mud-plaster decorations.

The pavilion is located 800m north-east of Abdullah Khan Kala and 150m south-east of Icehouse 2. It was first recorded by Pugachenkova, when two structures were still standing, the main building or pavilion and an entrance gateway or portal, 28m to the west (1958, 390). There is no trace today of this portal, even as soil marks in air photographs. The main building can be seen in the background of Cohn Wiener’s photograph of Icehouse 2, and both can be seen in Pugachenkova’s photograph (1958, 389, taken from the west). The pavilion was built on a low mound and currently stands in a large and dense reed bed next to a track and modern irrigation canal.

The Portal: the facade consisted of a pishtaq or screen with a pointed arch and a doorway giving on to an iwan in the form of a half octagon (Pugachenkova 1958, 389-90).

The Pavilion, doubtless set in a garden or orchard, is rectangular, 11.30 x 12.75m, and consists of a monumental facade on the west leading into a single square room, 7.00 x 6.95m. There are arches in each wall, presumably originally open, but later blocked and plastered. The roof was flat and would have been supported on wooden beams. Remains of a high parapet above the iwan, visible in archive photographs, had disappeared by 1998, as had the tops of the upper niches. A stairway, 1.00m wide, on the south wall led to the roof: there are still two vertical ceramic drains, square in section, 700mm wide on that wall.

The entrance iwan, 3.10 x 1.95m, is flanked by pairs of superimposed, rectangular panels containing arched niches, each with a muqarnas hood and 1.25 and 1.32m wide; these were well preserved in Cohn Wiener’s and Pugachenkova’s photographs (1958, 389). The rear wall of the iwan is in two registers, the lower one containing the central, arched opening, 1.70m wide, and the upper, an arched niche, flanked by rectangular panels with recessed niches. Traces survive of plaster decoration inside the main iwan and the side niches. The effect of two storeys is continued on both the exterior and interior walls. They are decorated with registers of rectangular panels containing recessed niches. A 2.0m wide panel over the central arches is flanked by alternate narrow and wide panels of 0.59-1.17m width. The tops of the narrow panels contain a pointed, scalloped design; the wider panels have a chamfered decoration. The decoration is plastered and painted with parts of the pink colour surviving in the south-west corner of the interior. The edges of the panels of the upper register of the exterior back wall are formed of small engaged columns.

This decoration must have been secondary, as it could only have been done after the arches in the side and back walls had been closed. These arches, 1.70 x 2.10m, are set within rectangular frames with coved plaster decoration. The south, east and north entrances were blocked with a single course of mud brick with a grey mud-plaster render. Fragments of stucco decoration survive within the south arch. The north arch was already open in 1992; the blocking of the south arch had collapsed by 1997, apart from a small section on the east. An inscription on surviving plaster fragments recorded a visit in March 1942 by a Ukrainian from the Poltava region.

The mud bricks of the main construction and the ‘blocking’ are the same size, 250 x 250 x 50mm (Pugachenkova 270 x 270 x 55mm). The foundations are yellow fired bricks, 250 x 250 x 50mm. The walls on the exterior and interior were coated with mud plaster, c. 60mm. thick. The interior was plastered with pink coloured gypsum, 150mm. thick, and the iwan and niches were also plastered. Wood was extensively used: putlogs round the interior walls suggest the use of scaffolding. Wooden beams, diameter 150mm, were used above the blockings of the arches, and slots for tie-beams, often in pairs, penetrated the walls.

Ref: Herrmann, G., 1999. Monuments of Merv: traditional buildings of the Karakum.. Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. London: Society of Antiquaries of London


return to area list


Sultan Kala

Sultan Kala Description:

Around the time of the Islamic Abbasid Revolution in 748CE (which displaced the ruling Umayyad dynasty), a new city was constructed to the west of Gyaur Kala, on the opposite bank of the canalised Murghab River. This new city, Sultan Kala, was the answer to growing water problems within Gyaur Kala, providing the opportunity for a new city to be designed around a canal running through its centre. It was also a testament to the leadership prowess of the founders of the new city. Within Sultan Kala an intricate citywide plumbing system was built, with pipes designed to pull water from the canal to surrounding buildings and reservoirs. Much of Gyaur Kala remained in occupation as a suburb to the new city, largely as an industrial area with known ceramic and metal workshops.

Sultan Kala subsequently expanded. A citadel (Shahriyar Ark) and a defensive town wall were built in the 11th century CE, and suburbs to the north and south were soon walled, bringing the total wall circuit to some 12 km.

Only two gateways have so far been excavated, these are the Firuz (western) gate and the Kushmeihan (northern) gate. The Firuz gate appears to have at least three phases of construction. In the first phase there was a direct entrance set between two semi-elliptical bastions. In the second phase a wall was inserted to make the gateway into a bent entrance. In the third phase the bent entrance was retained and a higher floor level was established. Evidence for the northern, Kushmeihan gate is more difficult to interpret although at present it appears to have been a water gate for the Madjān canal rather than a main thoroughfare. The walls of the suburbs are less well preserved although it is likely that they were less substantial structures in the first place.

In the 11th century CE, Merv (Sultan Kala) became the power base for the Seljuk dynasty. It was under this new leadership that Merv reached the apex of its prosperity, wealth, influence, and size. By the mid-12th century CE the estimated population soared to 200,000 people, making it one of the largest cities in the world at the time.

After a bloody sacking by the Mongol armies in 1221CE, the city never regained its past prosperity.

Sultan Kala lies at the heart of the Ancient Merv Project's current research and excavation work.

Ref: Herrmann, G., 1999. Monuments of Merv: traditional buildings of the Karakum.. Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. London: Society of Antiquaries of London


return to area list


Northern Walled Suburb

Northern Walled Suburb Description:

Around the time of the Islamic Abbasid Revolution in 748CE (which displaced the ruling Umayyad dynasty), a new city was constructed to the west of Gyaur Kala, on the opposite bank of the canalised Murghab River. This new city, Sultan Kala, was the answer to growing water problems within Gyaur Kala, providing the opportunity for a new city to be designed around a canal (the Madjān) running through its centre.

Sultan Kala expanded along the Madjān and by the 10th century CE has extended through the area that was to become the northern suburb. A citadel (Shahriyar Ark) and a defensive town wall were built in the 11th century CE, and suburbs to the north and south were soon walled, bringing the total wall circuit to some 12 km.

Ref: Herrmann, G., 1999. Monuments of Merv: traditional buildings of the Karakum.. Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. London: Society of Antiquaries of London


return to area list


Shahryar Ark

Shahryar Ark Description:

The citadel of Shahriyar Ark, constructed c 1080CE, is located in the north-east corner of the city of Sultan Kala. There are currently two breaks in the wall, one on the western side which is the present day entrance to the area and another on the south side. It is likely that the break on the western side was always the main entrance although the original form of the gateway is unknown. Whether the break in the southern part of the wall was ever a gateway is not known although it does not appear to tie in well with the lay-out of the interior. At the south eastern end of the wall there are the remains of a passageway set into the thickness of the wall with arrow loops overlooking Sultan Kala. The outer walls are thicker and better fortified than the wall dividing Shahriyar Ark from Sultan Kala. There is some evidence that the northern part of this wall, facing the northern suburb, has been thickened to provide additional strength. At the north east corner there is a huge bastion which overlooks Shahriyar Ark, the northern suburb, and the exterior. The remains of a few semi-elliptical bastions can be seen and in two places there are remains of passageways set into the walls.

The citadel houses the largest known structure within the city, the Palace. Although much is currently buried or eroded, the size of the palatial building is clear from satellite imagery as well as terrestrial observations. The Palace still has several identifiable rooms, some of which feature unique checkerboard-pattern brickwork on the walls, arranged around a large central courtyard, possibly with a fountain in the centre. The palace would have had a commanding view from its elevated platform of the open area to the north, thought to be formal gardens. Other elite buildings also existed within the area of the Ark.

Ref: Herrmann, G., 1999. Monuments of Merv: traditional buildings of the Karakum.. Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. London: Society of Antiquaries of London


return to area list


Kepter Khana of Shahryar Ark

Kepter Khana of Shahryar Ark Description:

The Kepter Khana of Shahriyar Ark is one of a number of such buildings within the Merv landscape. This one is located immediately west of the Palace structure and is upon the same elevated platform as the palace.

Their exact function is unknown: they are long, narrow structures with corrugated walls. “Kepter Khana” translates as “pigeon house”: a name derived from the idea that the numerous square niches lining the interior walls resembled pigeon coupes. The purpose of these niches is in fact unknown; another interpretation being that the buildings were libraries and the niches were shelves for scrolls.

This corrugated building is one of the best-preserved in Merv. It is built on a low mound in the centre of the citadel, 60 metres north-west of the Palace. It is rectangular in plan and oriented north-south. Pilyavsky recorded it as 21.65 x 7.65m; in 1998 it measured 21.40 x 7.40m. It survives to a height of c. 8.0m. It is entered from a low doorway, width 1.05m, in the centre of the east wall, revealed in excavations undertaken by Asilov (1962). Externally the Kepter Khana resembles a köshk. The base of the walls is smooth and slightly battered to a height of 2.80m. The upper section is divided into a series of corrugations, six on the south and eroded north ends, and fifteen on the east and eroded west sides. The top of the walls has not survived: there is an area of collapse at the south east corner, and breaks in both east and west walls at the level of the corrugations. No windows can be observed either in the plinth or between the corrugations.

The corrugations are unique in form: they are semi-circular with a flat vertical rib with a width of 50cm. The corner corrugations are tapered. They rise sharply from the sloping skirt, probably from a course of fired bricks and terminate in another course of fired bricks, which formed the base of a row of squinch arches: all that survives are shadows of these arches on the south and east facades, more visible in Zhukovsky’s photograph.

The interior consists of a single long room, 17.80 x 3.52m, filled to a considerable height with debris from the collapsed roof and from continued use. The internal space is divided into three by four pilasters, which terminate in a string course of fired bricks. This formed the base for transverse arches. Surviving sections of these arches were slightly narrower than the pilasters. Between the pilasters are panels of square niches, arranged in a chequerboard pattern. Traces of the niches survive on the end walls and the edges of the pilasters, although most have broken off. The niches are three bricks high and one brick wide and deep, the bricks measuring 220-250 x 60mm. Pilyavsky recorded the niches as 200 x 300mm and Krikis as 200 x 280mm. Pugachenkova claimed that none of the bricks were bonded to the wall and that they were a later addition (1958, 218). However, the centre brick of the three is bonded to the wall and the niches are probably original.

Two sondages were undertaken by YuTAKE, one by Krikis in 1957 on the south-east and the other by Asilov in 1961 in the entrance. The Krikis sondage was an eight metre square sunk to virgin soil, reached at 4.50m below the current ground surface. The foundations of the kepter khana were near surface and consisted of eleven rows, with a height of 700mm, of fired bricks of various sizes (1302 x 35, 2002 x 35, 2602 x 40, 3002 x 50, 3052 x 50 and 3502 x 50mm), constructed on a layer of compacted soil. Complete bricks were used to face the foundations while the core was filled with reused fragments and half-bricks. Earlier brickwork was found at a depth of 2.10m below the foundations, suggesting earlier occupation. Glazed and unglazed sherds of the eleventh-twelfth to early thirteenth centuries were associated with the kepter khana and of the tenth century with the lower level.

Asilov’s sondage, 6.5 x 1.0m, in the centre of the east side, cleared the entrance. A possible floor level, a thin yellowish layer between 20-50mm thick, was identified level with the eighth row of bricks of the foundations. A fired brick column base was found near the doorway. A tandyr at a higher level would have been from squatter re-use. Numerous Seljuk cut bricks, glazed and unglazed sherds, including fragments of wares typical of post-Mongol production, and fragments of vessels without bases, similar to those from the Kepter Khana in Iskander Kala, were found, as well as peach stones, and grape and watermelon seeds.
Pugachenkova dated the construction of the building to the eleventh-twelfth century and suggested that it was re-used in the fifteenth century, a view supported by Krikis (1958) and Asilov (1962, 21) on the basis of their excavations.

Ref: Herrmann, G., 1999. Monuments of Merv: traditional buildings of the Karakum.. Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. London: Society of Antiquaries of London


return to area list


Palace

Palace Description:

The Palace is located within Shahriyar Ark, constructed c 1080CE, in the northeast of the city of Sultan Kala.

The Palace is the largest building complex within the citadel. Although much is currently buried or eroded, the size of the palatial building is clear from satellite imagery as well as terrestrial observations. The Palace still has several identifiable rooms, some of which feature unique checkerboard-pattern brickwork on the walls, arranged around a large central courtyard, possibly with a fountain in the centre. The palace would have had a commanding view from its elevated platform of the open area to the north, thought to be formal gardens.

The palace, the most important building in the citadel, was built on a mound in the centre. It was probably entered from the east, presumably via a courtyard connecting the palace to the street, which ran due north from the south gate into the citadel. Low areas to north and south of the palace were probably gardens, while mounded areas to the west represent additional buildings. Sixty metres to the north-west is the Kepter Khana.

Even in 1890, the palace was poorly preserved, the south-west corner had already collapsed, and Zhukovsky failed to mention the building. Since that time there has been continuing deterioration. Pugachenkova, the first to record the remains of this rectangular building, measured it as c. 45.00 x 39.00m; in 1998 the ruins were 43.20 x 38.80m. The room numbering follows that in her 1958 publication.

The entrance iwan projects 2.16m from the external wall; only part of one wall still stood in 1998, although the lines of the other walls can be traced on the ground. This led, probably via an antechamber and iwan, into a large, nearly square courtyard 16.50 x 16.70m, the principal feature of the building which originally had four iwans. Walls survive above ground only on the north and west. The north iwan is 5.33m wide and probably about 4.00m deep. The west iwan survives to a depth of 16.70m.

The decoration of the courtyard is best preserved in the north-east and north-west corners and consists of grooved pilasters, traces of which also survive along the north wall. No decoration survives on the lower walls of the iwans, although the upper sections consist of deep niches framed by raised panels, rectangular in form and two bricks deep, set on a course of fired bricks. The tops of the panels are not preserved: the upper sections of those on the north wall of the west iwan curved inwards to form the springing of a cross-vault, like the pilasters in the adjacent kepter khana, and in Porsoy köshk. A segmental archway with a span of 2.30m connected the north iwan with rooms to the north and was built out of two courses of brick, rising from a course of fired bricks.

The north iwan is flanked by low rooms, Rooms 10 and 13, built on two storeys and occupying the same height as the iwan. Room13 measures 4.70 x 3.35m, while Room 10 is smaller, only 2.92 x 3.52m, with a deep arched niche with a depth 1.80m on the west. Both are roofed with balkhi vaults, rising from a three brick string course. Behind Room 10 is another low room, Room 9, with two segmental doorways: it formed part of a staircase, the crowns of the stepped tunnel vaults of which have been revealed by a collapse in the west. Two more staircases are located in Rooms 12 on the east and Room 4 in the north-west.
The iwans and many of the rooms of the palace occupied the full height of the surviving walls. Indeed it is possible that most of the building was single storey with stairways leading to the roof rather than to another storey of rooms, but this is conjectural. Many rooms were roofed with barrel vaults, although some were domed. In 1998 traces survived of only one squinch in Room 26, although traces had survived of another in Room 25 in 1992. The squinch in Room 26 has a projecting arch with a groin rising from the corner to the crown, a typically Seljuk form. According to Pugachenkova, a small domed room in the north-east corner, measuring only 3.00 square m and no longer surviving, was supported by corbelled squinches in the form of rectangular niches with stepped heads.

Many of the rooms were either built with an unusual brick lay or this chequerboard of bricks laid vertically was designed as decoration. In Room 17, for instance, the upper section of the back wall of this barrel-vaulted room is decorated with at least three bands of chequerboard brickwork, slightly offset. The chequerboard effect is achieved by setting bricks vertically alternately four to five ends and faces outwards. The bands start eight courses above the offset and are separated by two courses of bricks laid horizontally. Variations on this form of decorative brick lay can be seen in a number of rooms, in Rooms 9, 11, 14, 22 and 23 (from current ground level). Vertical brick lay is also employed on the west iwan between the raised panels.

The relatively small size of the palace raises questions as to whether it served as the residence of the Seljuk sultan. Its location and plan suggest that it more probably served as the hall of audience.

Ref: Herrmann, G., 1999. Monuments of Merv: traditional buildings of the Karakum.. Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. London: Society of Antiquaries of London


return to area list


Southern Walled Suburb

Southern Walled Suburb Description:

Around the time of the Islamic Abbasid Revolution in 748CE (which displaced the ruling Umayyad dynasty), a new city was constructed to the west of Gyaur Kala, on the opposite bank of the canalised Murghab River. This new city, Sultan Kala, was the answer to growing water problems within Gyaur Kala, providing the opportunity for a new city to be designed around a canal (the Madjān) running through its centre.

Sultan Kala expanded both north and south along the Madjān and by the 10th century CE has extended through the area that was to become the southern suburb. A citadel (Shahriyar Ark) and a defensive town wall were built in the 11th century CE, and suburbs to the north and south were soon walled, bringing the total wall circuit to some 12 km.

Ref: Herrmann, G., 1999. Monuments of Merv: traditional buildings of the Karakum.. Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. London: Society of Antiquaries of London


return to area list


Sultan Kala main city

Sultan Kala main city Description:

Around the time of the Islamic Abbasid Revolution in 748CE (which displaced the ruling Umayyad dynasty), a new city was constructed to the west of Gyaur Kala, on the opposite bank of the canalised Murghab River. This new city, Sultan Kala, was the answer to growing water problems within Gyaur Kala, providing the opportunity for a new city to be designed around a canal running through its centre. It was also a testament to the leadership prowess of the founders of the new city. Within Sultan Kala an intricate citywide plumbing system was built, with pipes designed to pull water from the canal to surrounding buildings and reservoirs. Much of Gyaur Kala remained in occupation as a suburb to the new city, largely as an industrial area with known ceramic and metal workshops.

Sultan Kala subsequently expanded. A citadel (Shahriyar Ark) and a defensive town wall were built in the 11th century CE, and suburbs to the north and south were soon walled, bringing the total wall circuit to some 12 km.

Only two gateways have so far been excavated, these are the Firuz (western) gate and the Kushmeihan (northern) gate. The Firuz gate appears to have at least three phases of construction. In the first phase there was a direct entrance set between two semi-elliptical bastions. In the second phase a wall was inserted to make the gateway into a bent entrance. In the third phase the bent entrance was retained and a higher floor level was established. Evidence for the northern, Kushmeihan gate is more difficult to interpret although at present it appears to have been a water gate for the Madjān canal rather than a main thoroughfare. The walls of the suburbs are less well preserved although it is likely that they were less substantial structures in the first place.

In the 11th century CE, Merv (Sultan Kala) became the power base for the Seljuk dynasty. It was under this new leadership that Merv reached the apex of its prosperity, wealth, influence, and size. By the mid-12th century CE the estimated population soared to 200,000 people, making it one of the largest cities in the world at the time.

After a bloody sacking by the Mongol armies in 1221CE, the city never regained its past prosperity.

Sultan Kala lies at the heart of the Ancient Merv Project's current research and excavation work.

Ref: Herrmann, G., 1999. Monuments of Merv: traditional buildings of the Karakum.. Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. London: Society of Antiquaries of London


return to area list


Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar Description:

One of the current excavations within Sultan Kala being conducted by the Ancient Merv Project is being conducted on a large structure just east of the Sultan Sanjar mausoleum. Referred to as the “Ruler's House” by earlier archaeologists, due to its size and position, it has more recently been termed the “Grand Bazaar” on the basis of new archaeological evidence. Its location and the organization/layout of its “rooms” (possibly shops and workshops) surrounding a central courtyard. Both the large central space and surrounding rooms have remnants of beautiful, much-worn, herringbone floors.


return to area list


Madjān Canal Trench

Madjān Canal Trench Description:

The canal trench is one of the current annual excavations being conducted by the Ancient Merv Project within Sultan Kala. It is located just to the south of the North Gate of Sultan Kala. The excavation aims to create a better picture of how the canal system, bringing fresh water to the city dwellers, worked.

The excavation section was partially scanned to determine the scanners ability to detect different sedimentary layers within the stratigraphy. Off-site archaeological analysis was conducted to see how clearly different stratigraphic layers could be seen in the scan data. The results were fairly positive, as the layers were clearly depicted within the raw scan data. However, the potential of using this new data recording technique in archaeological interpretation (particularly off-site) has not yet been fully realized; more scans must be taken and compared to traditional methods. The method clearly shows much promise.


return to area list


Seljuk House (Kepter Khana of Sultan Kala)

Seljuk House (Kepter Khana of Sultan Kala) Description:

The Seljuk House, a kepter khana.

Their exact function of kepter khana is unknown: they are long, narrow structures with corrugated walls. “Kepter khana” translates as “pigeon house”: a name derived from the idea that the numerous square niches lining the interior walls resembled pigeon coupes. The purpose of these niches is in fact unknown; another interpretation being that the buildings were libraries and the niches were shelves for scrolls.

The ‘Seljuk House’ is on a low mound in the south-east corner of Sultan Kala, 300m from the corner. A deep ditch, a former canal, lies 10m to the west of the structure. A 1.62m sondage by Krikis in 1957 was excavated within the house and sunk to virgin soil, reached at a depth of 5.70m below the surface. It was this sondage that revealed the characteristic panel of niches, like those in the Shahriyar Ark Kepter Khana, shown in YuTAKE archive photographs, as well as uncovering the foundations.

This small rectangular building is aligned north-south. The entrance was in the north wall, no longer extant. Pugachenkova’s and Krikis’ measurements are more or less similar, the former recording it as 12.40 x 6.10m and Krikis as 12.50 x 6.50m. Surviving external walls measure 11.50 x 5.20m and are preserved to a height of 4.50m. In 1998 the east and south walls were reasonably well preserved, while fragments of the west wall and the central partition survived. The most interesting feature is the exterior facade. The walls are divided into shallow rectangular panels containing niches with stepped heads. Krikis described eight panels, each 3.0m high, 1.25m wide and up to 150mm deep. Six decorated panels still survive on the east wall, widths c. 1.17m, and one on the surviving section of south wall, width 1.20m. The raised frames measure c. 75mm. Their original height is hard to determine, as the bottom of the wall is eroded. In her plan, Pugachenkova suggested that there were three panels on the south facade, although there would only have been sufficient space for two. Each panel contains three deep square niches in the centre: single niches occur on the buttresses. The square niches on the south-east corner buttress join to form a right angle slot.

The interior consists of two rooms, approximately equal in size, both 3.50m wide and either 4.50m or 4.40m long. Krikis recorded them as square, 4.02m. His sondage uncovered a collapsed arch and five rows of small square recesses, 2002 x 280-300mm, creating a chequerboard of niches similar to those in the Ark kepter khana. He considered his ‘Tier V’ to be the floor of the building ‘on the grounds that more finds have been made here than in the whole of the rest of the area examined and that it is here that the construction of the buttresses began’ (Krikis 1958, 10). This floor lay c. 2.50m below ground surface. A 2.0 x 1.0m trench was excavated to virgin soil, revealing a fired brick paving from an earlier building in Tier XIV: the bricks measured 2402 x 55mm and 1802 x 35mm. This paving was c. 4.30m from the surface. Virgin soil was reached in Tier XIX, c. 5.70m below the 1957 surface.

Krikis’ report is insufficiently specific but pottery finds above the floor of the ‘Seljuk House’ seem to be compatible with habitation in the eleventh-twelfth centuries (Krikis 1958, 18), while earlier material included sherds with ‘ishkor’ glaze, typical of the tenth century. Examples of this slip-painted ceramic have been identified in our excavations in the Early Islamic industrial area, Gyaur Kala 4 (Iran XXXV, 1997, 10-17, fig. 7). Krikis notes that the small size of the fired bricks of his earlier paving is typical of the ninth-tenth centuries. Small bricks were employed on the fired brick paving found in the courtyard of MGK4, 2102mm and 1802mm (Iran XXXIV, 1996, 15, Pl. IIIb). Based on this evidence, he considered that the south-east corner of Sultan Kala was inhabited not earlier than the ninth century and that the ‘Seljuk House’ was built in the eleventh-twelfth centuries, continuing in use until either the Ghuzz revolt or the Mongol destruction.

Pugachenkova’s plan, elevation and measurements present problems, and the orientation shown on her plan is incorrect (1958, 215-16). She recorded that the walls were plastered with a coating of clay: this was probably mud brick ‘melt’ and was not noted by Krikis.

Ref: Herrmann, G., 1999. Monuments of Merv: traditional buildings of the Karakum.. Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. London: Society of Antiquaries of London


return to area list




Credits:

more     - Joseph Severn
     - Justin Barton
     - Tim Williams