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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

All Research Projects

Anuradhapura (Sri Lanka) Project: The Hinterland (Phase II)

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.


The first phase of this project, the excavations at Anuradhapura, has presented the development of the city from an Iron Age village into a mediaeval metropolis. Despite our understanding of this urban process, knowledge of the role played by communities within its hinterland is very poor. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, this project has successfully modelled non-urban and monastic networks within the hinterland of Anuradhapura. Rather than finding a hierarchy of towns, villages and hamlets, as many have assumed populated the ancient landscape, we have identified a complex network of secular and religious heterarchies linking the urban core and the rural hinterland. Indeed, there is little evidence of large-scale, secular towns in the hinterland, with Buddhist monasteries instead playing the role of administrators, centres of redistribution and places of craft specialisation. However, it is clear that Buddhism was not the only religion that was patronised within the hinterland, with the clear development of terracotta cults and other practices running alongside the more orthodox Buddhist monastic institutions. These institutions however were clearly linked to the construction, management and maintenance of hydraulic systems that enabled agriculture to prosper, and fed water to the city of Anuradhapura itself. This complex interchange between places of Buddhist worship, secular administration and centres of trade, termed Buddhist Temporalities, is unique within Early Historic South Asia, and has only been identified through an interdisciplinary and international approach to the research project.

Published Results

Authored book

  • Coningham, R.A.E. & Gunawardhana,P. (2013). Anuradhapura: Volume 3 The Hinterland. BAR International Series.

Journal Article

  • Lucero, L.J., Fletcher, R. & Coningham, R.A.E. (2015). From ‘collapse’ to urban diaspora: the transformation of low-density, dispersed agrarian urbanism. Antiquity 89(347): 1139-1154.
  • Bailiff, I.K., Lacey, H.R., Coningham, R.A.E., Gunawardhana, P., Adikari, G., Davis, C.E., Manuel, M.J. & Strickland, K.M. (2013). Luminescence dating of brick stupas: an application to the hinterland of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. Antiquity 87(335): 189-201.
  • Gilliland, K., Simpson, I.A., Adderley, W.P., Burbidge, C.I., Cresswell, A.J., Sanderson, D.C.W., Coningham, R.A.E., Manuel, M.J., Strickland, K., Gunawardhana, P. & Adikari, G. (2013). The dry tank: development and disuse of water management infrastructure in the Anuradhapura hinterland, Sri Lanka. Journal of Archaeological Science 40(2): 1012-1028.
  • Coningham, R.A.E., Gunawardhana,P., Davis, C.E., Adikari, G., Simpson,I.A., Strickland, K.M, Gilliland, K. & Manuel, M.J. (2012). Contextualising the Tabbova-Maradanmaduva 'culture': Excavations at Nikawewa, Tirappane, Anuradhapura District, Sri Lanka. South Asian Studies 28(1): 1-14.
  • Coningham, R.A.E, Gunawardhana, P., Manuel, M.J., Adikari, G.A., Young, R.L., Schmidt, A., Krishnan, K., Simpson, I.A., Davis, C.E & Batt, C.M. (2011). Response to Goonatilake. Antiquity 85(329): 1065-1067.
  • Coningham, R.A.E., Gunawardhana, P., Manuel, M.J., Adikari, G., Katugampola, M., Young, R.L., Schmidt, A., Krishnan, K., Simpson, I., McDonnell, G. & Batt, C. (2007). The state of theocracy: defining an Early Medieval hinterland in Sri Lanka. Antiquity 81(313): 699-719.
  • Coningham, R.A.E., Gunawardhana, P., Adikari, G., Katugampola, M., Simpson, I. & Young, R.L. (2006). The Anuradhapura (Sri Lanka) Project: the hinterland (phase II), preliminary report of the first season 2005. South Asian Studies 22: 53-64.

Chapter in book

  • Strickland, K.M., Coningham, R.A.E., Gunawardhana, P. & Simpson, I.A. (2018). Hydraulic Complexities: Collapse and Resilience in Sri Lanka. In Water and Society from Ancient Times to the Present: Resilience, Decline, and Revival,. Sula, F. & Pikirayi, I. Routledge. 259-281.
  • Coningham, R.A.E., Manuel, M.J., Davis, C.E. & Gunawardhana, P. (2017). Archaeology and Cosmopolitanism in Early Historic and Medieval Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka at the Crossroads of History. Biedermann, Z. & Strathern, A. London: UCL Press. 19-43.
  • Coningham, R.A.E., Manuel, M.J. & Shoebridge, J.E. (2016). Reconstructing Networks of Trade and Exchange in the Indian Ocean during the Early Historic Period: Case Studies from Anuradhapura (Sri Lanka). In Imperial Rome, Indian Ocean Regions and Muziris: New Perspectives on Maritime Trade. Mathew, K.S. Routledge. 31-51.


From the Department of Archaeology

Related links

Scottish Soldiers Project

Cooperating with the Palace Museum in China