The Jungle Tide: "Collapse" in Early Mediaeval Sri Lanka

Keir Magalie Strickland

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (not awarded by UHI)

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This thesis reassessed the apparent Early Mediaeval collapse of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, through explicit reference to the archaeological record. The study of Anuradhapura¿s terminal period has long been dominated by an over-reliance upon textual sources, resulting in the establishment of a monocausal and highly politically and racially charged narrative that depicts an eleventh century invasion by the Tamil and Hindu Colas as the primary cause of Anuradhapura¿s collapse (Codrington 1960), bringing to an end over a millennium of rule from Sri Lanka¿s first capital. Such is the dominance of this narrative that few alternative explanations for the abandonment of Anuradhapura have ever been posited, with just two alternative models ever described; a ¿malarial¿ model (Nicholls 1921; Still 1930) and an ¿imperial¿ model (Spencer 1983; Indrapala 2005). My thesis set out to first test whether or not Anuradhapura truly did ¿collapse¿, and then to test the existing models for this apparent collapse through reference to the physical archaeological record of Anuradhapura. After archaeologically defining collapse, the three collapse models were synthesised and translated into qualitative signatures of archaeologically visible characteristics and sequences. My thesis then presented and analysed data (both qualitative and quantitative) from over a century of archaeological investigations at Anuradhapura, with specific focus upon the datasets of the ASW2 excavations within the Citadel (Coningham et al. 1999 & 2006) and the recent Anuradhapura Hinterland survey that I worked on (Coningham et al. In press).Following a detailed analysis, this data was summarised and presented graphically, better facilitating comparison with the hypothetical signatures of the three collapse models. The presence/absence of the set archaeological characteristics of collapse were identified across Anuradhapura¿s three zones, clearly confirming the eleventh century urban collapse of Anuradhapura, before the archaeological signatures of collapse for each of the three zones were compared with the hypothetical signatures developed from the three collapse models, in order to determine which, if any, of the existing models could sufficiently match and explain the archaeological characteristics of Anuradhapura¿s terminal period. Finding both the established Invasion and uniformitarian Malarial models to be wholly insufficient in their fit with the archaeological record. Finally, the archaeological record for the collapse of Anuradhapura was related to comparative and theoretical collapse models in order to develop a modified Imperial model ¿ in which the abandonment of Anuradhapura was a deliberate decision by the secular elite in order to reverse declining marginal returns, a crystallized economy and an imbalance of power in the relationship between the secular and religious elites.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Durham University
  • Coningham, Robin, Supervisor, External person
Thesis sponsors
Award date9 Jun 2011
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jun 2011


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