8 July 2020

Silk Route Networking Session

As the pandemic continues to throw the world into a state of uncertainty and emergency, our in-person networking activities and fieldwork have largely been put on hold. In an effort to continue to forge connections and build relationships despite the challenges and risks posed by Covid-19, we held a short networking session via Zoom on 8 July 2020. Participants joined from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Austria, and the UK to share updates about their current research projects related to cultural heritage in the Central Asia region.

The session began with an introduction to the GCRF Resilient Silk Route Cultural Heritage Network by Mike Crang. Following this overview, Maria-Katharina (Nina) Lang and Tsetsentsolmon Baatarnaran of the Australian Academy of Sciences presented on two ongoing projects titled Nomadic Artefacts and Dispersed and Connected: Artistic Fragments along the Silk and Steppe Roads led by (https://dispersedandconnected.net/de/). The project on Nomadic Artefacts used archival documents and field research to trace the movement of Mongolia Buddhist artefacts through “spatial, social, political and institutional contexts.” This project additionally developed a history of Mongolian museums in the context of Soviet-era political repression and artefact transfers. This work resulted in exhibitions in Europe and Mongolia. Their current project Dispersed and Connected: Artistic Fragments along the Silk and Steppe Roads is an arts-based project including a team of artists, archaeologists, and social anthropologists. The aim of the project is to “collect and explore narrations, imaginations, fragments and artistic expressions along old and new steppe and silk roads, which link dispersed and connected biographies, artistic traditions and memories.” With a collaboration of artists in Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Germany and Austria and field research in Georgia, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, China, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan the project will include exhibitions which juxtapose the “fast processes of transformation due to new infrastructure projects such as BRI with slow narratives of individual, historical artefacts and artistic works.” Tsetsentsolmon presented findings from her field research in Mongolia as part of this project, which focuses on notions of connectivity, materiality and mobility, environmental impacts, and historical and contemporary infrastructure policy and projects. She described her ethnographic research focusing on the construction of a railway in Northern Mongolia, which connects an iron mine site to the main railway crossing Mongolia from Russia to China.

This presentation was followed by Richard Walker of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford to speak about Earthquake Hazards of the Silk Road. Richard’s presentation brought to light the ways in which the landscapes of the Central Asia region have been actively shaped by earthquakes and the new infrastructures being built in geologies with a history and future characterized by natural hazards. The increasing urbanization in Central Asia and the construction of connectivity corridors are being developed in areas of active geology which will have future impacts. Richard began his presentation with a description of the problem – the active faults across Eurasia which have resulted in many earthquakes over a wide region (see map below, each dot representing an earthquake). 

The earthquakes are happening over a wide mountainous geography. While earthquakes present a widespread hazard, Richard explained that there are long periods of time- up to thousands of years- between events. Thus his research focuses on re-constructing and understanding the earthquake record over a long period by bringing together prehistoric data and modern measuring techniques. This research will help to predict when and where earthquakes in future might occur. In the interior of Asia, earthquakes have caused significant casualties with fatalities increasing over the centuries (most likely due to urbanisation). Richard discussed the example of Tehran, which has active faults within the city and along the north edge. The footprint of Tehran, however, has expanded extensively since 1947 and any earthquakes would have a tremendous impact on the city. Richard’s projects in Central Asia has identified an important dataset which includes the late 19th century to the mid-20th century period. Additionally, the landscape of Central Asia can be read for evidence of earthquakes and presents an exciting place to understand these geological dynamics. The current research on Central Asia has been focusing on Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, western China and Iran. A 2011-2017 project called Earthquakes without Frontiers funded by the UK’s NERC and ESRC focused on increasing resilience to natural hazards. Currently Richard’s team has funding through the Leverhulme Trust for the project titled The Earthquake Ruptures of Iran and Central Asia (EROICA) which focuses largely on Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. A further GCRF project will support an interdisciplinary collaboration between Earth Science, History and Archaeology on Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Iran.

The final presentation for the networking session was by Thomas White based in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. He discussed his ethnographic project in Inner Mongolia, focusing on changing forms of land use including the construction of roads and the use of road construction materials by local Mongolian pastoralists in building sheepfold. This ethnographic research is part of the RoadWork Asia project (https://roadworkasia.com/).

Following the presentations, Zoom break-out rooms were opened for smaller groups to meet and discuss further. We hope that the networking session will allow participants to forge connections and collaborations in Central Asia and beyond!