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Durham University

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Publication details for UNESCO Professor Robin Coningham

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.

Author(s) from Durham


We identify and offer new explanations of change in water management infrastructure in the semi-arid
urban hinterland of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka between ca. 400 BC and AD 1800. Field stratigraphies and
micromorphological analyses demonstrate that a complex water storage infrastructure was superimposed
over time on intermittently occupied and cultivated naturally wetter areas, with some attempts
in drier locations. Our chronological framework, based on optically stimulated luminescence (OSL)
measurement, indicates that this infrastructure commenced sometime between 400 and 200 BC,
continued after Anuradhapura reached its maximum extent, and largely went into disuse between AD
1100 and 1200. While the water management infrastructure was eventually abandoned, it was succeeded
by small-scale subsistence cultivation as the primary activity on the landscape. Our findings have broader
resonance with current debates on the timing of introduced ‘cultural packages’ together with their social
and environmental impacts, production and symbolism in construction activities, persistent stresses and
high magnitude disturbances in ‘collapse’, and the notion of post ‘collapse’ landscapes associated with
the management of uncertain but essential resources in semi-arid environments.