Methods - Research Themes - Sites - Projects


The work of the Laboratory of Geoarchaeology is focused on the study of ancient human habitats and encompasses a broad range of activities, from field survey and aerial reconnaissance to field studies (geomorphology, geology, paleoclimate, hydrology, pedology, palinology and botany, ecology, archaeology), laboratory analyses, mapping and modeling, and the publication of research.

A most important aspect of this work is that no survey or study is solely site-based. Research objects are large areas where archaeological remains are examined in the context of the environmental surrounding so that an integral part of the investigation is dedicated to the reconstruction of climatic and environmental changes, settlement patterns, land-water use, interregional roads, archaeological and modern landscape.

The Laboratory is currently involved as an institution or through its members with several international and interdisciplinary projects, funded through both local and international institutions.

The section "Research Themes" gives a broad picture of the main themes of research; the section "Methods" underlines the basic procedures used by the geoarchaeological approach; the section "Sites" lists the areas and monuments of Central Asia where research has been applied; the section "Projects" quotes the main projects that have been implemented during the last 10 years.




Field work is implemented by multidisciplinary teams and concerns research objects not solely site-based but consisting of large areas where archaeological remains are examined as part of the environmental surrounding. Fieldwork, supported by preliminary existing documentation, consists of visual study, trenches, collection of GPS data for mapping, and the collection of samples for laboratory analyses.

Remote sensing and aerial photography
Remote sensing by satellite images and by microlight aerial photography has been carried out for several sites of Kazakhstan: the Turkestan oasis, the Otrar oasis, the Kyzylkum dry deltas of the Syrdarya, the delta of the Talas river, Akyrtash, Tamgaly, Serektas, and Issyk. [aerial photography of the Laboratory of Geoarchaeology: pdf presentation ]

Laboratory analyses
Laboratory analyses made in Almaty by members of the Laboratory or in cooperation with colleague institutions cover most of the exigencies of the geoarchaeological work: granulometry, mineralogy (X-ray), elemental and organic chemistry, palinology (pollen and spore), botany, microfossils and carpology, and ESR dating.

Computer methods
Computer methods (Excel, CorelDraw, MapInfo) are largely used for mapping. Specific programs (Cropwat et alia) are used for simulative modeling.

Protection and conservation measures
Scientific documentation comprehensive of plans for protection and conservation measures has been carried out, in cooperation with UNESCO and with national agencies, for the petroglyph site of Tamgaly and the mausoleum of Turkestan (nominated in the World Heritage List), for the petroglyph sites of Eshkiolmes and Arpauzen (inscribed in the World Heritage Tentative List), the medieval oasis of Otrar, the Buddhist petroglyphs of Tamgalytas, and the cultural landscape of the Eastern Pamirs.

Training of young specialists is a major concern among the activities of the Laboratory.
Compilations are provided in English, Russian and Kazakh languages for didactic purposes. They concern: geology, climatic change, methods of the survey, study and protection of cultural monuments, and surface and underground water uses in Central Asia.
The section "Volunteer Camps" provides information about the summer training camps for archaeological volunteers from around the world, which the Laboratory runs every year.




Reconstruction of paleoclimate and paleo-environment, based on palynological analyses, has been provided for Semirechie during the last 3500 years; for the Lower Syrdarya region during the last 5000 years, for the Taraz valley during the last 2500 years and in the Balkash lake for the last 5000 years.

Land-water use
Chu-Ili mountains (management of springs and wells from Bronze to Ethnographic times); Otrar oasis on the lower Syrdarya (surface water use by irrigation schemes from early to late Middle Ages); Turkestan oasis (underground water systems "karez" of mid-late Middle Ages)

Settlement patterns
Settlement patterns of Bronze, Early Iron, Medieval and Ethnographic times have been documented for Semirechie, the Otrar oasis, the Turkestan Oasis, and the Eastern Pamirs. A database of the urbanization of the Tienshan piedmonts and all Kazakhstan is being completed. 

Ancient metallurgy
Ancient metallurgy has been studied: in the upper Bien valley where we have studied through excavations 3 metallurgic villages (with more than 20 houses each and inhabited from Bronze to Medieval times) and several kilns dated to Early Iron and medieval period; and in the Turghen valley where 2 medieval kilns have been investigated. Aerial and field documentation have been implemented in the Bronze Age tin mines of the North Kalbinsk range (Askaraly).

Ancient and modern landscape
Paleo and modern landscapes have been studied in Semirechie, the lower Syrdarya, Karatau range (Kazakhstan) and the Eastern Pamirs (Tajikistan).

Rock art
Central Asia holds one of the richest and most abundant petroglyph collections on the world, of which the study of the surrounding paleo-environmental has been and is still mainly carried out by members of the Laboratory, by geo-archaeological studies as well as by implementing, in cooperation with NIPI PMK and with UNESCO support, a general data base of Central Asia rock art sites and training of local specialists for the standardization of methods (CARAD, Central Asia Rock Art Database).




Map of the study-sites in Central Asia (KZ, KG,UZ, TJ)

1-Shabgata (Paleolitic sites and underground mosque); 2. South Emba (settlements and cemeteries); 3. North Ustyurt (Mesolithic-ethnographic settlements, cemeteries and animal traps); 4. Syrdarya delta (Kuandarya, Janadarya, Inkadarya; Neolithic-ethnographic settlements and cemeteries, ancient irrigation systems); 5-Signak(settlements and irrigation systems); 6-Turkestan oasis (settlements and karez systems); 7-Otrar (settlements and irrigation systems); 8-Left Syrdarya bank-Kyzylkum (settlements and irrigation systems); 9-Keles-Chardara region (settlements); 10-Arys valley (settlements and irrigation systems); 11-Sarmishsai (Nuratau, petroglyphs); 12-Bazardara-AkJilga (mines, settlements and petroglyphs); 13-Shakty (Mesolithic petroglyphs);  14-Shoroly (settlements and petroglyphs); 15-Karakol (Iron Age cemeteries); 16-Arpauzen and Baba Ata (settlements, mosque and petroglyphs); 17-Lower Talas valley (settlements, cemeteries and irrigation systems); 18-Assa Valley (Paleolithic sites, settlements and cemeteries); 19-Talas delta (settlements and cemeteries); 20-Upper Talas (KG, settlements, cemeteries and irrigation systems); 21-Chu valley (KZ and KG, settlements, cemeteries and irrigation systems); 22-CholponAta (petroglyphs);  23- Mount Jambul (settlements and petroglyphs); 24-Khantau (settlements and petroglyphs); 25-Kuljabasy (settlements and petroglyphs), 26-Almaly (settlements, cemeteries, irrigation systems and petroglyphs, 27-Tamgaly and Serektas (settlements and petroglyphs);  27-Tamgalytas (settlements and petroglyphs), 29-Talgar valley and surroundings (settlements, mines and cemeteries); 30-Turgen-Assy (settlements, mines, cemeteries and petroglyphs); 31-Chilik (settlements, cemeteries and petroglyphs), 32-Charyn (settlements, mines, cemeteries, irrigation systems and petroglyphs), 33-Kegen (settlements and cemeteries); 34-Besshatyr (settlements, cemeteries and petroglyphs), 35-Eshkiolmes (settlements, cemeteries and petroglyphs); 36-Bayanjurek (settlements, mines, cemeteries and petroglyphs); 37-Upper Tentek river (settlements and cemeteries); 38-Lepsy and Aksu deltas (settlements, cemeteries, terraces and shorelines survey); 39-Torangylyk (settlements, cemeteries and shorelines survey); 41- Sayak region (Stone Age workshops-campsites, settlements, cemeteries and shorelines survey); 42-Tokrau valley-Uzynesyk peninsula (camp sites, settlements, cemeteries, terraces and shorelines survey); 43-Urdjar (settlements and cemeteries); 44-Shilkty (cemeteries); 45-Zaisan-Shorga-Aksuat (settlements and cemeteries); 46-Kaljir (settlements and cemeteries); 47-Ablaikit (settlements and cemeteries); 48-Berel (settlements and cemeteries); 49-Askaraly (tin mines, camp sites, settlements and cemeteries), 50-Ulytau (settlements and cemeteries); 51-Karakengyr (settlements and cemeteries); 52-Terekty (settlements, cemeteries and petroglyphs); 53-Khan Molasy (cemetery), 54-Peninsula Barsakelmes (settlements, cemeteries and irrigation systems).

Balkhash-Tienshan system
Paleoenvironmental evolution of the Balkhash Lake: geology, climate, hydrology, botany and ecology. Study and GIS of the ancient settlements and land-water use of the Ili-Balkhash basin including the medieval settlements of the Chinese side have been completed.

Lower Syrdarya
The lower Syrdarya is one of the main study objects of the Laboratory. It includes the oases of Chardara, Otrar, Turkestan, Chiili, the ancient courses in the Kyzylkum desert (Zhosaly), the ancient delta distributaries (Janadarya and Kyandarya), and the Kazakh shores of the Aral sea.

Semirechie Bronze and Early Iron Age habitats
Human habitats and paleo-environmental conditions have been studied in sites of Semirechie located in 4 kinds of ecological environment: mountains (Turghen-Assy at 2500-3000 m asl, upper Bien valley at 1600 m); river canyons (Charyn at 900 m); piedmonts (Talgar, Kegen at 800 m); and desert oases of the Chu-Ili Mountains (Tamgaly, Serektas, Kuljabasy, Khantau at 500-800 m).
In the upper Bien valley and in Turgen the study also concerned monuments of ancient metallurgy.

Petroglyph sites of South Kazakhstan
Several rock art sites have been studied and documented by geo-archaeological methods and some of them entered into the standard database under the CARAD programme: Arpauzen (Karatau), Khantau, Kuljabasy, Tamgaly (Chu-Ili mountains), Tamgalytas (Lower Ili river), Eshkiolmes, Bayanzhurek, Tasbas (Jungarian Range) in Kazakhstan; Sarmishsai in Uzbekistan (in cooperation with the Institute of Archaeology of Samarqand); Shakty and Ak-Jilga in the Eastern Pamirs, Tajikistan (in cooperation with ACTED-UNESCO).

Otrar oasis
The upper layers of some old towns of the Otrar oasis have been studied by archaeological excavations during the last 40 years but the oasis as a whole was never the subject of a systematic geoarchaeological study. This has happened only during the last 4 years under a INTAS project coordinated by members of the Laboratory. The work concerned a large area of 80x40 km and produced: a reconstruction of the paleoclimate and paleo-environment of the region for the last 5000 years; the paleo-hydrology of the Syrdarya and Arys rivers through a study of abandoned courses in the central part of the oasis as well as 80 km into the Kyzylkum desert; detailed fixation of geomorphological features and reconstruction of 6 generations of irrigation schemes correlated with settlement patterns and estimation and modelling of paleo-water flow and agricultural potential.
In cooperation with the UNESCO WH, 130 monuments of the oasis (of which 40 were documented for the first time) have been provided with a plan for protection measures.

Turkestan oasis

The Turkestan oasis has been the object of 2 investigations:

-   land survey, GPS mapping, satellite images and aero documentation of all the medieval tobe (towns and villages) of the oasis, in cooperation with the TAE (Turkestan Archaeological Expedition) and the Turkestan Museum Azret Sultan.

-   land survey with discovery, GPS mapping and excavation, and aerial photo of systems of ground water devices (karez) approximately dated to the Middle and late medieval period, in cooperation with the TAE (Turkestan Archaeological Expedition).

Chu valley medieval towns (KG)
Aerial documentation of the medieval tobe and irrigation systems of the Chu valley in Kyrgyzstan, in cooperation with UNESCO-KG for documentation for protection and conservation plans.

Talas valley ancient settlements and land use (KZ-KG)

The upper course and the Talas valley in Kyrgyzstan and the middle and lower course of the Talas river, as well as the valley of the river Assa have been the object of geoarchaeological study (GIS, paleoenvironmental reconstruction) during the years 2006-2008.


Iron Age kurgan complexes of Semirechie and Northeastern Kazakhstan

The most impressive kurgan complexes of these two regions have been the object of aerial photo-documentations and geoarchaeogical surveys, they include the sites of: Burundai (Almaty), Issyk and Turgen, Chilik delta (Zhuvan-tobe 1-2), Besshatyr, Aksuat, Shorga, Shilikty, Berel.


Kalmyk fortifications and Buddhist monuments

The monuments of the Oirat (Jungar or Kalmyk) khanate in Kazakhstan are the object of aerial photo-documentations and geoarchaeogical surveys (mapping and paleoenvironmental reconstructions) as a fundamental thematic study of the Kazakh Scientific Research Institute on Problems of the Cultural Heritage of the Nomads. Among the Oirat monuments researched are: Kalmaktobe (place of Anrakhai battle, Eastern Chu-Ili Mountains), Zaisan forts (Kaljir and Kurgan-tobe), Ablaikit, Jalauly (Kegen), Tamgalytas (Ili river).




Several projects, from different sponsorship and in cooperation with other national institutes (Institute of material culture, ex-NIPI PMK, Thetys, etc), have been implemented under the coordination or the participation of members of the Laboratory.


-  97-2220: “The formation process of the nomadic societies in Semirechie during the Bronze and Early Iron epochs. Ecological and archaeological investigations” (1998-2000).

-   2000-0699: “Land use and irrigation works in KZ in the present and historical times. Geo-archaeological investigations”. (2002-2005)


-   Land and aerial survey and documentation of the cultural properties of Tamgaly, Turkestan, Otrar (Kazakhstan), Sauran (Turkestan) for their nomination in the UNESCO-WHL (2000-2009)

-   CARAD, Central Asia Rock Art Database. Coordinator: Alexey Rogozhinsky (2003-2006)

-   ACTED-UNESCO (Project “Cultural and Eco-tourism in the Mountainous Regions of Central Asia and in the Himalaya”): Land survey and documentation of the monuments and cultural landscape of Eastern Pamirs (Tajikistan) for protection and conservation measures (2004);


-  OLKETANU (Social Fund, Taraz): Geoarchaeological study of the Talas and Assa valleys (KZ and KG) (2006-ongoing project)

-  RIHN (Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto, Japan; Project 4-5FR “Historical Interactions between the Multi-cultural Societies and the Natural Environment in a Semi-arid Region in Central Eurasia”): Paleonvironmental reconstruction and anthropogenic impacts in the Ili-Balkhash basin (2008-ongoing project)