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Combining palaeoseismic and archaeological records along the Silk Roads of Uzbekistan

In March 2022 we spent a week in Uzbekistan discussing projects and undertaking field investigations in collaboration with the Institute of Seismology, National Academy of Sciences.

Map of the sites visited during our trip along with active faults from the AFEAD database and historical earthquakes from the EMCA database.

Uzbekistan is sited at the westernmost margin of the Tien Shan ranges, with environments ranging from high mountains along the borders with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan through to desert in the west. There is a proven widespread earthquake hazard, with examples of destructive earthquakes including an event in 1966 that caused widespread destruction in the capital city of Tashkent.

Clock stopped at the time of the 1966 Tashkent earthquake. National Museum of Uzbekistan, Tashkent.

The identification of active faults and potential palaeoseismic sites is challenging, due to modification of the landscape by major river systems and through widespread agriculture. Conversely, there is a long and rich archaeological and historical record that has the potential to add to our understanding of the seismic hazard. Our developing collaboration with the Academy of Sciences developed from this need for combined earthquake geology and archaeological investigations. The Oxford team consisted of Richard Walker from the Earth Sciences department and Paul Wordsworth from the School of Archaeology. The visit was funded through the Leverhulme Trust ‘EROICA’ program (RPG-2018-371) and was arranged through the kind help of the embassy of Uzbekistan in London.

During the visit we held a one day collaborative workshop on earthquake hazards, which included online presentations from Orestis Adamidis in the engineering department in Oxford, who presented on earthquake-induced liquefaction, from Christoph Grutzner in Jena, Germany, who presented on palaeoseismic trenching methods, and from Grace Campbell, from Arup in London who presented results of a recent World Bank project on resilience in Tashkent city.

The workshop on earthquake hazards, with in person and online presentations ranging from archaeological studies, earthquake engineering, and palaeoseismology.
Paul being interviewed for national TV

The rest of the trip was spent in the field, visting archaeological sites that potentially show effects from earthquake damage, and visiting active fault scarps in their vicinity. As well as to identify sites for further study, an additional aim of the fieldwork was also to transfer knowledge between the geologists and archaeologists.

At the site of Kanka, south of Tashkent, we examined potential fault scarps close to the abandoned city. Earthquake damage has been interpreted within archaeological trenches within the site. The potential of earthquake sources to the south of Tashkent city is of importance in understanding earthquake risk in the city.

Picnic lunch at the site of Kanka with colleagues from the Institute of Seismology

We then travelled overland to Samarkand, stopping briefly at fault scarps near Zamin. Of particular interest at Samarkand is the geomorphology of the rangefront south of the city, where long term fault movement has led to the preservation of several hanging-wall alluvial terraces at heights of up to 50 m above the present-day river level. We also visited apparently active faults to the north of the city also. Whilst there we took the opportunity to visit some of the historical sites of Samarkand.

Uplifted hanging-wall alluvial terraces south of Samarkand.
The best Samsa!
Registan, Samarkand

During our visit we enjoyed the kind hospitality of the Insitute of Seismology in Tashkent. We exchanged ideas for future collaboration and hope to return again soon to follow up on sites identified during the brief field visits.

You can see a news item on the Tashkent workshop on the website of the National Academy here O’zbekiston Respublikasi Fanlar akademiyasi (academy.uz)

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