'The Dry tank: Development and disuse of water management infrastructure in the Anuradhapura hinterland, Sri Lanka

Krista Gilliland, Ian A. Simpson, William Paul Adderley, Christopher Ian Burbidge, Alan J. Cresswell, David C.W. Sanderson, Robin Alexander Evelyn Coningham, Mark James Manuel, Keir Magalie Strickland, Prasanta Gunawardhana, Gamini Adikari

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33 Citations (Scopus)


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1012
Number of pages1028
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number2
Early online date9 Oct 2012
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013


  • Geoarchaeology
  • Sri Lanka
  • Archaeology
  • Anuradhapura
  • Collapse
  • Landscape abandonment
  • Water management


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