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The impact of the Mongol conquests on earthen cities in Central Asia



The conquest campaigns of the Mongol Empire took place in the first half of the thirteenth century, deposing the Persianate Khwarazmian Empire and seizing its territories from Kazakhstan to the Persian Gulf and the Caucasus.

Historical accounts, such as those by Rashid al-Din (AD 1247–1318) and Ata Malik Juvaini (AD 1226–1283), describe scenes of mass destruction and violence, massacring and enslaving populations.

Based on these descriptions, the destruction has been long been suggested to be the cause of the depopulation of the region’s earthen-built cities. However, a new study by Dr Katie Campbell from King’s College at the University of Cambridge, now suggests that the depopulation rather than the destruction, is the primary reason for urban abandonment, as the remaining populations lacked the manpower and resources to maintain the earthen structures and supporting irrigation systems.

Archaeological evidence in Central Asia has found little supporting evidence of the direct destruction by the Mongols that supports the described historical narrative; however, convincing examples can be found elsewhere in parts of Russia and Eastern Europe.

Instead, previous excavations report a trend of architectural abandonment and desolation, contradicting the Mongol destruction accounts.

According to the study, abandonment events can be tracked from the 12th to the 14th century at the sites of Merv and Otrar following the Mongol conquest, with evidence of renovations, and occasionally, destruction. It is probable that the economic, political, and environmental stresses caused by the Mongol disruptions exacerbated pre-existing issues and hastened urban decline in cities which were already struggling.

According to Dr Campbell, “Both archaeological and ethnographic evidence demonstrate the importance of maintenance to earthen-built cities, and the potential for significant disruption to urban infrastructure, especially architecture and irrigation, which would occur from a decrease in population.”

“The specific properties of earthen architecture, especially the availability and affordability of mud as a building material, led to low-level reuse, and a widespread pattern of the eventual movement of cities after it was no longer possible to maintain them,” added Dr Campbell.

With the extensive economic and population disruptions caused by the conquests, the cities no longer had a sizeable population to undertake their basic maintenance, initiating the deterioration of the urban fabric that was difficult or impossible to reverse. This likely meant that earthen buildings, and sometimes entire cities, were abandoned and rebuilt across the region.

Dr Campbell said: “As the result of the archaeological findings and accompanying historical patterns, I argue that textual sources describing the destruction and desolation of cities by the Mongols should be considered within the context of patterns of construction and maintenance, which had persisted in these earthen cities for centuries.”

“Although it is likely that the Mongols caused some damage to the urban fabric, they did not literally destroy entire cities. Nonetheless, they did cause a crisis of urbanism in Central Asia, predominantly because they disrupted cycles of maintenance by sending the urban population into flight,” added Dr Campbell.

The result was a series of destroyed medieval cities that were likely destroyed by natural erosion rather than by the Mongol attacks.

University of Cambridge

Header Image: Otrar – Image Credit : Mikhail Gurulev – CC BY 4.0

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Excavation uncovers traces of the first bishop’s palace at Merseburg Cathedral Hill




Archaeologists from the State Office for Monument Preservation and Archaeology (LDA) Saxony-Anhalt have uncovered traces of the first bishop’s palace at the southern end of the Merseburg Cathedral Hill in Merseburg, Germany.

Construction of the early Romanesque Merseburg Cathedral was begun by Bishop Thietmar of Merseburg in 1015.

It was consecrated in 1021 in the presence of Emperor Heinrich II (Henry II), however, following a series of collapses in the eastern part of the structure, the cathedral wouldn’t be formally consecrated and opened until 1042 by Bishop Hunold.

The Merseburg Cathedral of St. John and St. Lawrence is today considered one of the most important cathedral buildings in Germany.

The LDA team were excavating the basement of the so-called Martinikurie, a two-story residential building from the Baroque period. Excavations revealed the remains of the first bishop’s palace, dating from from the time of the second consecration of Merseburg Cathedral.

According to the LDA: “We found the almost completely preserved basement-like lower floor of a hall building, whose 1.75 metre thick foundation walls are still preserved up to a height of 3.40 metres. Steps in the masonry and a pillar from the time of construction inside the building prove that at least one hall-like upper floor once stood on top of this.”
The palace was constructed by Bishop Hunold, who headed the diocese of Merseburg between 1036 and 1050.

“This finding makes it possible to locate one of the most important buildings of the episcopal see in Merseburg – a building that, with its location and size, clearly expresses the self-confidence of the diocese, which was re-founded in 1004 by King Henry II of Germany” added the LDA.

Header Image Credit : LDA

Sources : State Office for Monument Preservation and Archaeology (LDA)

This content was originally published on – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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Archaeologists find ancient papyri with correspondence made by Roman centurions




Archaeologists from the University of Wrocław have uncovered ancient papyri that contains the correspondence of Roman centurions who were stationed in Egypt.

The papyri were discovered in Berenice Troglodytica, an ancient seaport of Egypt on the western shore of the Red Sea. The city was founded by Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285–246 BC), who named it after his mother, Berenice I of Egypt.

During the Roman period, Berenice Troglodytica was one of the main waystations for the trade in war elephants and exotic goods, imported from India, Sri Lanka, Arabia, and Upper Egypt.

Excavations of an animal cemetery located on the western outskirts of the city have uncovered an accumulation of ceramics originating from the Mediterranean, Africa and India.

Image Credit : Instytut Archeologii Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego

Among the accumulation, the team found Roman coins, a fibula, ostracons (fragments of texts on ceramics), and several papyri.

The papyri contains the correspondence of centurions, naming Haosus, Lucinius and Petronius. Centurions were soldiers who were promoted to command a centuria or “century”, a military unit consisting of between 80 to 100 men.

“In the correspondence, Petronius asks Lucinius (stationed in Berenice Troglodytica) about the prices of individual exclusive goods. There is also the statement: “I am giving you the money, I am sending it by dromedarius (a unit of legionnaires moving on dromedaries). Take care of them, provide them with veal and poles for their tents.”

Dr. Marta Osypińska from the Institute of Archaeology of the University of Wrocław, said: “For Egyptologists and other scientists dealing with antiquity, this is an extremely rare and high-calibre discovery.”

“In this part of the world, there are very few sites from the Roman period. The Egyptians tend to leave little historical accounts from this time in history, because it is the moment when they were conquered.” added  Dr. Osypińska.

Header Image Credit : Instytut Archeologii Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego

Sources : PAP

This content was originally published on – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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