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Palaeoseismology and archaeoseismology along the Silk Roads of Uzbekistan

Krzysztof Gaidzik describes his recent experiences searching for past earthquakes and active faults as part of the Earthquakes in Central Asia project.

Bibi-Khanym Mosque strongly damaged during the 1897 earthquake.

In April of 2023, the Quakes in Central Asia team traveled to Uzbekistan to conduct paleoseismic and archaeoseismic studies of the major mountain front faults that control the fascinating tectonic region covering the westernmost margin of the Tien Shan ranges. Christoph Gr├╝tzner from the Friedrich Schiller University Jena and Krzysztof Gaidzik from the University of Silesia in Katowice joined with Makhira Usmanova Turabovna, Tahir Zahidov Kamilovich, and Zukhriddin Shukurov Fazliddinovich of the Institute of Seismology, Academy of Science of the Republic of Uzbekistan in this fascinating trip.

Shaded and colored SRTM model of E part of Uzbekistan with the location of sites visited during our trip and active faults from the AFEAD database.

Rich culture, a long history with numerous fascinating historical and archaeological monuments, fault activity at the westernmost margin of the Tien Shan ranges, and historical and instrumental seismicity all combine to make Uzbekistan an excellent place for palaeoseismological and archaeoseismological studies. However, the actual identification of active faults is challenging, due to modification of the landscape by major river systems and human activities, together with widespread thick loess cover.

Apart from the first day, dedicated to the preparations and meeting at the Institute of Seismology, Academy of Science of the Republic of Uzbekistan in Tashkent, the rest of the trip was spent in the field. We visited several sites along a few faults in the vicinity of Jizzakh and Samarkand and archaeoseismolgical sites in and around Samarkand to combine palaeo- and archaeorecords on past seismicity. We surveyed several alluvial fans and terraces displaced along the mountain front reverse faults. Where local conditions were favorable, and appropriate material was accessible, we collected samples for dating to determine the slip rate of studied faults.

Digging a pit in the uplifted alluvial fan for OSL sampling to estimate slip rate, close to Sysak.
Alluvial terrace displaced by a reverse fault in Sazagan.
Christoph taking sample for OSL dating from dipping alluvial deposits.

Searching for evidence of historical earthquakes, we also visited several archaeological and historical sites in and around Samarkand that has the potential to add to our understanding of the seismic hazard. Historical buildings in Samarkand might serve to study the youngest seismic events from the 19th and 20th centuries, especially those that were not entirely repaired. Archaeological sites might provide data on significantly older events; however, further studies in close cooperation with archaeologists are needed.

Sadly we have learnt that our colleague Tahir Zahidov Kamilovich has passed away since the fieldwork, and we dedicate this page, and the outputs of this important new collaboration to his memory.

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