HUMAN SKELETAL REMAINS FOUND AT THE DISRICT

GENERAL HOSPITAL PREMISES IN
MATALE

The Report on Forensic Archaeology
Raj Somadeva MPhil. PhD (Sweden ), FSLCA
Professor in Archaeology & Consultant Field Archaeologist
Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology
University of Kelaniya.

Part I

1.1 Introduction
A location containing buried human skeletal remains situated at the premises of the District
General hospital in Matale in the Matale District in the Central province (map 1) was observed
by me on 10th December 2012. This investigation was based on the request made by Dr. Ajith
Jayasena, Chief Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) of the Matale District General Hospital and
the permission granted by the Magistrate’s Courts of Matale. Subsequently I re-visited the
location on 9th January and 10th February 2013 in order to collect some further information
that had emerged during the later stages of the excavation.
Those skeletal remains had been found during an excavation carried out with a view to lay
the foundation for the proposed new bio-gas chamber of the hospital. Digging has been
conducted by the building contractors using heavy earth-moving machinery and during that
process a few of the remains of the human skeletons had been found at a maximum depth
of 1.45 meters beneath the existing ground surface of the location. Some of the skeletons
were physically damaged due to the operation of heavy earth-moving machinery for digging
and therefore they have been excluded from the present study owing to their incomplete
nature itself and the disturbances that had occurred in their soil matrix.
This report presents the forensic archaeological observations made during excavations that
could be useful for arriving at medico-legal conclusions on the skeletons. The content of the

1

Map 1. Map shows the location of the site

report has been organized in two parts that include thirteen sections. Excluding section
1.1 that provides a brief introduction to the present case, the other sections are arranged
following a rational scheme that is needed to justify the conclusion of the study.
Section 1.2 presents the basic hypothesis in which the study attempts to validate in relation
to the existence of the collective burial under observation and meet the objectives of the
2

study which has been set forth accordingly. Section 1.3 attempts to summarize the theoretical
frame of reference of the study. In section 2.1 a short description is presented in order to
introduce the site. Study the post-depositional environment is an essential element of the
interpretation of assemblages in buried contexts. The related notion of ‘site formation’
which is an important aspect discussed in field archaeology has been discussed in section 2.2.
The methodology that has been followed during the recording of data in the field is outlined
in section 2.3. Taphonomy or the process of decaying is one of the vital aspects that have
to be considered in understanding and interpretation of the objects in the subsurface. Some
of the physical characteristics that are critical to the preservation of human bones of the
present case are discussed in section 2.6. The details of the assemblage consisting of few
material objects found from the burial ditch is presented in section 2.5.
1.2 The Present Report
This report develops a forensic archaeological perspective on the findings of the collective
burial found in Matale. Forensic archaeology, a forensic science, is the application of
archaeological principles, techniques and methodologies predominantly in medico-legal
contexts.
Forensic archaeologists are field archaeologists employing a high degree of skill, knowledge
and experience in field craft and technological methods to help locate, recover and interpret
buried objects/evidence. The technological methods employed include geophysical
prospecting, remote sensing techniques, surveying and excavation.
Beyond its forensic archaeological frame of reference, the scope of this report is mainly
concentrated on reconstructing the behavioral pursuits of the burial event within its timespace dimension, to accomplish which, different perspectives of methodology and theory
used in archaeology have been applied. This process involved the retrieval of data and the
testing of the hypothesis through the information derived from the analysis of data.
The hypothesis presented in the discussion is “this collective burial was systemically coupled
with the general process of the hospital. It would have been a burial that spontaneously
occurred at a certain time which had performed within a legal framework. The skeletons
might have belonged to a group of victims who had suffered from some epidemic and were
housed in the Matale District General Hospital at the time of their death. The corpses were
buried in the hospital premises as a pre-cautionary measure taken by the hospital authorities
to avoid public contact with the dead for the reasons pertaining to community health”.

3

If this hypothesis is valid, the following statements would also apply.


(a). There should be medical records in the hospital pertaining to this collective
burial.

(b). The skeletons should be intact otherwise any post-depositional disturbances
whether natural or cultural, would have an impact on them.

(c). The exhumation should prove the behavioral facets that involve with the
formal deposition of each corpse which is bound with the general
cultural practice of burying the dead.
(d). There should be bio-chemical changes remaining visible on the skeletons
caused by the epidemic disease.
(d). There should be culturally reflective objects that remain with the skeletons at
least the components attached to the clothes of the dead that are resistant to decay.

The objectives of this investigation were based on four specific aspects related to the
validation of the general hypothesis presented above.
(a). To retrieve as much information as possible to interpret the intended
purpose of the burials;
(b). To suggest the required measures to determine the postmortem interval of the
burials;
(c). To apply the knowledge and the techniques of field archaeology and archaeological
theory to a problem of medico-legal significance (for similar approach in physical
anthropology. vide, Ubelakar 2006:4)

(d). To synthesize all the information collected to arrive at a medico-legal
conclusion (vide, Blau and Ubelakar 2009);

4

1.3 Theoretical Premises
The most important assumption made by many archaeologists is that the spatial patterning of
the material remains in the buried contexts reflects the spatial patterning of the past activities
(Binford 1962, 1964; Brose 1970; Clarke 1968; Hill 1970; Longacre 1970; McPherron 1967;
Struever 1968; Wilmsen 1970, emphasis in italics). Binford has specifically elaborated this
notion elsewhere. He states;
…. The loss, breakage, and abandonment of implements and facilities at different locations, where
groups of variable structures performed different tasks, leaves a ‘fossil’ record of the actual operation
of an extinct societies (events). (1964:425 emphasis in italics).

Archaeological remains are a distorted reflection of a past behavioral system. Archaeological
knowledge is defined as consisting of the laws that are employed implicitly or explicitly to
retrieve knowledge of the past from material data (Schiffer 1995:35).
Artifacts or in other words the material objects and their pattern of deposition in a buried
context are a reflection of the event those material objects were parts of. Between the time
that the artifacts were manufactured and used in the past and the time these same objects
are unearthed by the archaeologists, they have been subjected to a series of cultural and
non-cultural processes which have transformed them spatially, quantitatively, formally, and
relationally (Collins 1975). In order to reconstruct the past events using the material objects
of the buried contexts, archaeologists are keen to study those processes very carefully. The
general principle of the archaeological inference derives from the assertion that there is
equivalence between a past cultural system and its archaeological record. This assumption
could also be reduced to interpret an organized event which has occurred even in the recent
past.
Part II
2.1 The Site: a general description
This is a location on the eastern quarter of the Matale General Hospital. It is a sloping terrace
towards the northern and north eastern direction. This slope prompts different physical
processes. Notable is the flow of water during the rainy seasons and it has resulted in excess
water seepage into the subsurface. This has influenced the penetration of water in to the
sub soil with soluble chemical elements that results in the fluctuating acidity and the relative
humidity in the subsurface.
The immediate surroundings area of the location is congested by several buildings that supply

5

N

edge of the terrace

304.94

Building no 2 (kitchen)

Burial trench
304.24

306.87

Water tank

306.47

305.64

Gate

Building no 1
A temporary hut

fence

fence

Plan. 1 The plan shows the gevaral setting of the site.

services to the hospital (see, plan 1 & fig. 1’). Periodic soil erosion would have occurred in this
sloping area and it has been controlled by filling soil into the eroded surface. It is understood
that soil that has been used in filling was originated from the foundation trenches of the
buildings in the vicinity. Two garbage pits unearthed at the southern edge of the excavation
trench and the south eastern corner of the burial ditch suggest that at a certain time, this area
had been considered as peripheral to the core area of the hospital.
The southern boundary of the site is demarcated by a wire-fence. The distance between the
position of the southernmost skeleton in the ditch and the fence is 8.2 meters. There is a
permanent gate to the site at a location 163o degrees to the north. A minor road lies along
Plan 1. the plan showing the genaral setting of the site.

the fence and it is connected to a public road which is draining-off from the Kandy - Matale
highway. The northern boundary is defined by a sharp edge of the terrain formed by a ditch
excavated for the construction of a building for the hospital.

6

Fig. 1 A photograph shows the untidy surrounding of the burial site.

2.2. Site formation
The general topography of the location where the burial ditch is situated slopes in the
northeastern direction. Local stratigraphy suggests that the ground surface had been flattened
and leveled in recent times. Excluding the layer of recent origin and the area covered by
the two garbage pits mentioned above, the rest of the soil layers seem to have remained
undisturbed until the time when the present burial ditch was dug out.
When the location was first observed the stratigraphic matrix of the trench where the human
skeletons lay buried was in a highly disturbed state due to the mixing up of separate layers
of soil that was the result of speedy and uncontrolled digging by the use of heavy earthmoving machinery. Besides it appeared that the diggings carried out after the recovery of the
skeleton were more concentrated on the skeletons themselves and therefore the immediate
surroundings of those had transformed into a chaotic accumulation of several heaps of soil.
Both activities have collectively made a synthetically formed series of irregular levels at the
bottom of the trench.
Irrespective of the disturbances caused by the present exhumation, it can be concluded that
the matrix of the skeletons remained intact. The main observation to be made in arriving
at this conclusion is that the phalanges of the arms and feet are to be found. Phalanges of
7

most of the complete skeletons were intact in the present case and it suggests that there was
no external influence which caused any deformation of the physique of the skeletons after
they were buried.
The varying degrees of digenesis of bones visible could be a result of natural transformation
(N-transformation) that has occurred. An analysis was conducted to check the anomalies
related to the soil chemistry of the burial soils. Such chemical reactions would have acted as
one of the agents of the decay of the metallic objects found at the burial ditch as well.
The distribution of the roots of trees in the burial ditch is another crucial taphanomic agent
that has negatively affected the skeletons. For instance, a root that has penetrated into the
skull of skeleton number 95 has produced an extremely fragile condition in the area around
the hole where it penetrated. Roots secreted acids and it produces be etchings on the bones
due to direct contact with the roots (Schiffer 1987).
2.3. Method of Recording
A major focus of the recording was the documentation of the distribution pattern of the
skeletons and their physical correlation with each other (fig. 2). Information related to the

reconstruction of the burial ditch was another concern. The formation of the vertical soil
Fig. 2 A photograph shows the souther sector of the burial ditch.

8

N

82

81

88
80

83

84

93

86

85

90

87

92

94

91

95

89

47

96

98
99

97
138

100

139
140

137
141
103
115
142
110
111

101

114
143

104 105

102

113
112

120

129

127

9

145

16

130

119
116
144

121
33

121

117

118

133

14

122
123
125

124

126

131
128

146
17

132
134

Plan. 2 The plan shows the distribution of 154 human skeletons. (dot represents the location and line shows the
orientation of the skeletons.) ( source: Regional Survey Genaral’s Depatment, Matale)

profile has been finely recorded in order to understand the pedogenesis at the location that
may influence the degradation process of the skeletons as well as the major physical indicator
of the earth modification activities that had occurred there.
The following steps were taken to record (a) the horizontal distribution of the skeletons and
the artifacts (plan. 3) (b) the vertical accumulation of soil layers and (c). the reconstruction
of the burial ditch.
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i. the position and the general appearance of each skeleton has been drawn manually in
1:10cm scale on a A1 size metric scale graph sheet. Subsequently it was scanned on the
computer for the preparation of the final illustration.
ii. Adopting the levels to the skeletons and their matrix was conducted using the height of
the mean sea level (MSL) calculated using the Baro meter (model- Sunho Altimeter).
iii.MSL values of two points (the bottom of the skull (parietal bone) and the lower edge
of the foot) of each skeleton were recorded. MSL values were corroborated using manual
dumpy level (model – Topcon Green label- ATG6)
iv. The required distances were measured using a hand-held digital distance meter (modelSpectra HD 50).

C1

C2
C3
C4

20
Plan. 3. The plan shows the stratigraphy of the burial ditch.

10

0

40 cm

v. Artifacts recovered in association with the skeletons were drawn in 1:1 scale for presentation.
The dimensions of the artifacts were taken using a digital caliper (model 0-100 mm
BILTEMA).

vi. Vertical soil profile of the ditch was cleared at a location in the southern wall of the trench
(plan 3) in order to distinguish the stratigraphy. Layer interfaces were drawn manually using
the spirit level.

2.4. Stratigraphy
There are four soil layers in the stratigraphy from the surface down to the level where the
corpses were buried (figs.3 & plan 3). Physical characteristics of each layer are as follows;

Layer 1- Compaction: coarse grained sediment

Composition: coarse sand

Inclusions: none

Thickness: 56cm (maximum); 42cm (minimum)

Color: 2.5YR 4/6 (reddish brown)

Soil reaction: 7.46pH
Layer 2 - Compaction: fine grained sediment (compact)

Composition: medium sand

Inclusions: none

Thickness: 34cm (maximum); 28cm (minimum)

Color: 5YR 4/4 (dull reddish brown)

Soil reaction: 7.49pH
Layer 3- Compaction: fine grained sediment

Composition: sandy clay

Inclusions: human skeletons

Thickness: 54cm (maximum); 19cm (minimum)

Color: 7.5YR 4/6 (brown)

Soil reaction: 7.66pH

Layer 4 - Compaction: coarse grained sediment (weakly cemented)

Composition: medium sand

Inclusions : none

Thickness: This layer was not fully excavated

Color: 2.5YR 4/6 (reddish brown)

Acidity: not measured
2.4.1 Other physical characteristics – Four physical characteristics including (i). acidity

11

Fig. 3 layer interfaces and the stratipraphy of the burial.

(ii). electric conductivity (iii) salinity and (iv). temperature of each soil layer have been
measured. All the 3 layers depict are slightly saline condition. Electric conductivity is
more pronounced in layer 3 in which the skeletons are lying than in the other two layers.
Layer
1
2
3

Electric conductivity (ms)
98. 7
98
112.4

Salinity (ppt)
0.0
0.0
0.1

Temperature (C0)
27
27.4
27. 7

Table 2.1 Some physical characteristics of the soil layers in the stratigraphy
(courtesy of the Department of Geography, University of Colombo).

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Fig 4. The photograph of the button recoverd at a location close to skeleton no 39.

2.5 Artifacts
The artifacts remaining with the skeletons are confining to 24 metal objects (finger-rings) a
single plastic button of a cloth, two pieces of plastic fragments and a noose made out of a
metal wire. A detailed description of each object will be presented in this section.

2.5.1 Button (fig. 4)

Object ID – MT/MG/2012/B1

Provenance – Hip area of skeleton no. 39
Dimensions – Diameter 17mm (maximum); 15mm (minimum); Thickness 5mm;
Diameter of the attachment 5mm.
Color – pale white
It was found 10 cm west of skeleton number 39 at a depth of 0.6 meters below the
ground surface. It has a metallic shank. This metallic shank even covers the edge
of the button. The surface of the button was discolored but perhaps it appeared in
slightly pale white in its original state. Absorption of soil particles into the surface
has transformed its color in to a slight darkness.
This button could be identified as an example of a celluloid ivoroid button of Retro plastic
group of 6 L672 that was made in China (fig. 6). A proto-type of this button style was made
in Italy during the 1960’s. But the celluloid button similar to our example was popular in
the local market during the 1980’s. I have made a painstaking effort to find a specimen that
analogous to this button in the present market. Finally I was fortunate to find a single button
of the genre of this style from one of the leading button shops in Maharagama town (fig.5).
It was in one of the boxes among the other old style buttons. I asked the dealer for several

13

Fig 5. A button found at one of the button shops in Maharagama. It shows a close stylistic similarity with
the one found from the burial ditch and belongs to a single genre.

Fig 6. Some of the Retro-plastic celluloid buttons manufactured in China during the 1980’s.

buttons of that type but he said it was not possible because that style is now outdated and
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only single button remains because it is damaged and therefore it had not been sold. He
further emphasized that button styles used by females are changing rapidly and the type of

Fig 7. A cluster of metal rings recoverd from location close to skeleton no 72.

the present button had disappeared in the early 1990’s.
After the discussion with the button dealer, I am convinced that the history of the use of
the present button style may not go beyond at least 2 or 3 decades. If it is goes further, there
is no possibility for it to remain it in an old button collection of a dealer. On the stylistic
ground the button recovered from the present burial ditch can be identified as a part of a
female-attire.

Fig 8. Two metal rings found in association
with skeleton no 20.

2.5.2. Rings – The total number of finger-rings found is 19. Except 4 specimens, the others
remain as 5 individual clusters. This cluster formation was due to the sticking of individual
rings during their deterioration. The details of those objects are indicated below.

15

2.5.3 Object ID – MT/MG/2012/R1 (figs. 7)
Provenance – fingers of the left hand of skeleton no. 72
Dimensions- 25mm (maximum); 15mm (minimum); Thickness – 13.5mm

There are 7 individual rings sticking together in this cluster. It clearly suggests that
the person who represents this skeleton was wearing a multiple set of rings at the
time of death. Surface of those is considerably deteriorated.

Fig 9. Four metal rings recoverd from
skeleton no. 47.

2.5.4 Object ID – MT/MG/2012/R2 (figs.8)
Provenance – from skeleton no. 20
Dimensions – Diameter 20mm (maximum); 15mm (minimum); Thickness 2.5mm

2.5.5 Object ID – MT/MG/2012/R2a (figs. 8)
Provenance – from skeleton no. 20
Dimensions – Diameter 21mm (maximum); 17mm (minimum); Thickness 4.5mm
There are two identical rings sticking together. Object ID no. MT/MG/2012/R2 is
also found from the same location and it is clear that those 3 rings were worn by the
person who represents skeletal no. 20 at the time of death. The surface of those rings is
considerably deteriorated.

2.5.6 Object ID – MT/MG/2012/R3 (figs. 9)
Provenance – from skeleton no. 41
Dimensions – Diameter 17mm (maximum); 13mm (minimum); Thickness 1mm

16

Fig 10. Two metal rings
recoverd form the skeleton
no. 41.

2.5.7 Object ID – MT/MG/2012/R3a (figs. 9)
Provenance – from skeleton no. 41
Dimensions – Diameter 16mm (maximum); 13mm (minimum); Thickness 1.5mm
Close observations show that there is a pattern of etchings on the surface of this ring.

Fig 11. Several metal fragment recoverd form a location close to skeleton no. 59.

2.5.8 Object ID – MT/MG/2012/R3b (figs. 9)
Provenance – from skeleton no. 41
Dimensions – Diameter 17.5mm (maximum); 15mm (minimum); Thickness 1.5mm

Fig 12. Several pieces of broken iorn rings reoverd from skeleton no. 60.

A similar pattern of etchings as on the surface of object no. MT/MG/2012/R3b can be
seen on this ring.

2.5.9 Object ID – MT/MG/2012/R3c (fig. 10)
Provenance – from skeleton no. 41

Dimensions – Diameter 16mm (maximum); 13mm (minimum); Thickness 1.5mm

17

Fig 13. Three iron nails recoved from skeleton no. 6B.

3 individual rings are sticking together. The etchings on the surface suggest that these 3
rings are representing an identical style of the object numbers R3a and R3b.

2.5.10 Object ID – MT/MG/2012/R4 (fig. 10)
Provenance – from the edge of right leg of skeleton no. 70
Dimensions – Diameter 20mm (maximum); 5.5mm (minimum); Thickness 3mm
Two individual rings are sticking together.

Fig 14. Two pieces of a metal object
(probably a path of a paper knife cutting)

2.5.11 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/Mo1 (fig. 11)
Provenance – from a place close to a foot of skeleton no. 59
Dimensions –Diameter 12mm (maximum); Thickness 33mm (maximum); length 21mm
This metal (iron) object seems a part of a metal chain. Another two similar objects were
recovered from the same location but are in a fragmentary state (figs. xxx).
2.5.12 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/Mo 2 (fig.12)
Provenance – recovered from a place close to skeleton no. 60
Dimensions - Diameter (inner) 19mm (approximate); 38mm (outer); Thickness; 8mm.

18

Fig 15. Four iron nails reocverd from skeleton no. 6.

There are two such metal (iron) rings recovered. All of them are in a fragmentary
condition.

Fig. 16. A metel rings recoverd form skeleton no. 2.

2.5.13 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/N1 (fig. 13)
Provenance – recovered from a location close to the right side tibia of skeleton no. 6B
Dimensions – Length 40cm; diameter of the nail head 6mm
Three iron nails recovered together.
2.5.14 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/Mo3 (fig. 13)
Provenance – recovered together with the nails described under MT/MG/2012/N1
Dimensions – Length 23mm (maximum); width 12mm; Thickness 1mm

Fig 17. A nail (metal) recoverd from skeleton no.6

19

Fig 18. A metal rings recoverd from skeleton no. 79.

This is a piece of a metal object. The thickness and the tapering forehead suggests that
it could be a piece of a paper cutter.
2.5.15 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/N2 (fig. 15)
Provenance – recovered at a point close to the phalanges of the right arm of skeleton
no. 6
Dimensions – 3 nails are of equal size. Length 43mm; Diameter of the nail head 7mm

Fig 19. A metal rings recoverd from skeleton no. 79.

2.5.16 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/N2b (fig. 15)
Provenance – recovered together with the assemblage MT/MG/2012/N2
Dimensions – Length 32mm; Diameter of the nail head 5mm
2.5.17 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/Mo4 (fig. 16)
Provenance – recovered from underneath the skull of skeleton no. 2
Dimensions – Diameter 12mm (inner); 23mm (outer); Thickness 10mm (maximum)
2.5.18 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/N3 (fig. 17)
Provenance – recovered from a point close to the phalanges of the right arm of skeleton
no.6
20

Fig 20. Two metal rings recoverd form skeleton no. 80.

Dimensions – Length 42mm; Diameter of the head of the nail 6mm
This nail has two pieces of bone attached at either side of its stem.
2.5.19 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/R5a (fig. 18)
Provenance – recovered from a point close to the left hand of skeleton no. 79
Dimensions – Diameter 16mm (inner); 23mm (outer); Thickness 3.5mm

Fig. 21 anuther metal ring recovered from skeleton no. 80

2.5.20 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/R5b (fig. 19)
Provenance – recovered together with MT/MG/2012/R5a
Dimensions – Diameter 15mm (inner); 24mm (outer); Thickness 5mm

21

Fig. 22 Acluster of metal rings recouerad from skeleton no. 91

2.5.21 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/R6a (fig. 20)
Provenance – recovered from phalanges of the right arm of skeleton no.80
Dimensions – Diameter 15mm (inner); 23mm (outer); Thickness 3.5mm
2.5.22 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/R6b (fig. 20)
Provenance – recovered from phalanges of the right arm of skeleton no.80
Dimensions – Diameter 16mm (inner); 17mm (outer); Thickness 2.5mm

Fig. 23 A metal ring recoverd from skeleton no . 103.

2.5.23 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/R6c (fig. 21)
Provenance – recovered from phalanges of the right arm of skeleton no.80
Dimensions - Diameter 15mm (inner); 17mm (outer); Thickness 3mm
2.5.24 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/R6d (fig.22)
Provenance – recovered from phalanges of the right arm of skeleton no. 91
Dimensions – Diameter 14mm (inner); 21mm (outer); Thickness 6mm
2.5.25 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/R6e
(Provenance – recovered from phalanges of the right arm of skeleton no. 91
Dimensions – Diameter 14mm (inner); 21mm (outer); Thickness 3mm

22

Fig. 24 A cluster of metal rings recovered from skeleton no. 15

2.5.26 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/R6f
Provenance – recovered from phalanges of the right arm of skeleton no. 91
Dimensions – Diameter 14mm (inner); 21mm (outer); Thickness 3mm.
The three rings (R6d, R6e, R6f) are bonding together.
2.5.27 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/R7 (fig. 23)
Provenance – recovered from a point close to the left hand of skeleton no. 103.
Dimensions – Diameter 12mm (inner); 25mm (outer); Thickness 2mm
This is a metal ring with a small protuberance attached to it to render a stone. The hole
remained without the stone when it was found. The surface of that projected part is
circular and has a diameter of 4mm.

Fig. 25 A cluster of metal rings recovered from skeleton no. 15.

2.5.28 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/R8a (fig. 24)
Provenance – recovered from a point close to the phalanges on the hands of skeleton
no. 15.
Dimensions – Diameter 17mm (inner); 21mm (outer); Thickness 2mm

23

Fig. 26 A metal ring recovered from skeleton no. 33

Fig. 26a A metal ring recovered from skeleton no. 17
Fig. 27. A bended metal rod recovered from
skeleton no. 17.

2.5.29 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/R8b
Provenance – recovered from a point close to the phalanges on the hands of skeleton
no. 15
Dimensions – Diameter 16mm (inner); 20mm (outer); Thickness 3mm
2.5.30 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/R8c (fig. 25)
Provenance – recovered from a point close to the phalanges on the hands of skeleton
no. 15
Dimensions – Diameter 16mm (inner); 18mm (outer); Thickness 1.5mm

24

2.5.31 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/R8d (fig. 25a)
Provenance – recovered from a point below the skull of skeleton no.133
Dimensions – Diameter 12.5mm (inner); 14.5mm (outer); Thickness 1.5mm
2.5.32 Object ID - MT/MG/2012/R8e (fig. 26)
Provenance – recovered from a point close to the skull of skeleton no. 17
Dimensions – Diameter 45mm (inner); 42mm (outer); Thickness 5mm
This is a bent metal rod. Probably a half of a metal ring.

(A)

Fig. 28 The metal noose recoverd from
skeleton no. 77. (A) the noose
(B) Detail of the Knot (C) an example
of hangmen’s Kaot

(B)

(C)

25

Fig. 29 Orange - Red color earthan wine bottle found from garbage pit 2. This bottle has manufactured by
Bourne Denby Company ----- in United Kingdom

2.5.33 The metal noose (fig. 28)- This is a metal noose prepared using a metal wire.
Thickness of the wire is 2mm. It was found 24 cms below the knee joint of the left leg of
skeleton no. 77 (fig.40) The left leg was trapped in this noose at the ime it was found. The
noose had been prepared as an adjustable device when fixing an interlock. This noose
shows identical characteristics in the style of a hangman’s noose (fig. 28c). The neatness
of the appearance suggests that this is product of a skilled hand. The locking devise may
suggest that this noose had been made for a purpose of repeated use.
2.5.34 The bottle (fig. 29)- This is a stone ware (orange-red) bottle manufactured by
J. Bourne and Sons Company in London (height 224mm; Diameter (bottom) 88mm;
26

Diameter (mouth) 18mm). The insignia of the
company could be seen even at the lower end of the
bottle (see, fig. 29). It contains eleven English letters
allowing the two words viz. ‘BOURNE DENBY’ to
be deciphered. Two places at the mouth of the bottle
were damaged which would have been the reason for
it to be discarded.
Production of salt-glazed pottery was started at
Denbyshire in 1809 by William Bourne and it has
continued up to the late 20th century. The stoneware
bottles made by Denby Company have been utilized by
medical practitioners and pharmacists to store certain
liquid medicines that required prolonged preservation.
The other related utilities were the storage of ink and
ginger beer.
The present bottle belongs to the orange-red autumn
gold type of stoneware bottles made by the Denby
Company. According to the production records of the
company, manufacture of this particular type of bottles was launched by the company in
early 1988 and the production declined in 1989 (see table 9.1 below).

Fig. 30 An Original speciman of Orange Red earthan bottle

This bottle was found at a location in the southwestern sector of the burial trench that
has been identified as a garbage pit. The other objects recovered from this garbage pit
include three discarded metal bed-pans (white in color) probably used in the hospital
(figs.30).

Fig. 31 The bed - pan recovered from pit no. 2

27

Name
Amethyst
Applemouse
Arabesque
Autumn Gold
Avignon
Azure
Bakewell

Key Features
Purple and Grey, Geometric
Blue / Pink (Children’s set)
Brown, Circular geometric pattern
Orange-Red
Floral
Turquoise
Brown

2010
1985
1964
1988
1975
2006
1980

Discontinued?
No
Yes (1985)
Yes (1984)
Yes (1989)
Yes (19??)
No
Yes (1987)

Baroque

Indigo

1992

Yes (2000)

Biarritz

White and Light Blue

1970

Yes (19??)

Table 9.2 A table showing some of the earthenware products of the Denby Company and of manufacture years
(source: Denbysire public record office online catalogue, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denby_Pottery_company).

The level of the bed-pan found is a point 127cm below the ground surface. Lack of any
material evidence below that level suggests that this level was the bottom of the pit.
The above bed-pan had fallen in to the pit in an up side down position. After its removal
from its original location, it was observed that a part of a human hip-bone was trapped
inside the pan.
The other important observation made is that there was a part of a human long-bone
(probably a tibia) visible in the soil profile about 26cm above the bottom level of the bedpan (fig. 32). The source of origin of the piece of the human long-bone together with the

Fig. 32 A piece of a lone ( probably a part of an illum) traped
with soil in the bedpan. A sharp
cut mark is visible on the bone,

part of the human hip-bone was the present mass-burial ditch and no other alternative
can be suggested.

28

2.5.35 A fragment of a plastic
object (fig. 34): This is a part of
a green colored plastic object. It
was found beneath the skull of
skeleton number 137. The word
‘GYPSONA 77 D’ is printed on
it. Gypsona is a famous brand of
medical products manufactured
by Smith and Nephew, a
multinational company based
in Kingston upon Hill in Great
Britain. This company was founded
by Thomas Smith, a dispensing

Fig. 33 Thee setting of the bedpan in the soil profile of pit no. 2

chemist in 1856. In 1896 Smith
was joined by his nephew, Nelson
Smith and then the business came
to be known as Smith & Nephew
Company Plc.In 1928, the company
launched a project to manufacture
wound management Elastoplast.
But it declined after the accession
of the company in 1977by Watson

Marlow Pump Company, an engineering firm.
The company was purchased by Richards Medical Company, a United States specialist in
Orthopaedic products in 1986. One of their major productwas the POP bandages called
Smith and Nephew Gypsona Plaster of Paris Bandages (see, fig. 34a). The company used
the green color for its labels and packings of the products as the color insignia of the
company.
This fragment of plastic object could be identified as the stem of a six inch wide Gypsona
POP bandage roll. It would have been imported to Sri Lanka in late 1986 or sometime
after that1. The POP bandages of the roll to which the present plastic stem belonged
might have been used by orthopeadic surgeons in the Matale General Hospital after
1.I asked a retired pharmacist of the Matale hospital, Mr. Tharmalingam Kanagaraja who has joined the
hospital in 1980 and retired in 2000, about the POP bandages used by the orthopeadic surgeons at the
Matale hospital in his time. He responded and said that he could remember the trade name of Gypsona but
he did not use that trade name to register those plasters in the hospital documents as the usual practice of
documentation in the government hospitals in Sri Lanka.

29

Fig. 34 Two pieces of a plastic object recoverd below the skull of skeleton no. 137

Fig. 34a A photograpy showing the original pack of a Gypsona POP bandage.

1986. The provenance of this plastic object suggests that it is terminus ante quem to the
skeleton with which it was associated with.
2.6. Taphonomy
Taphanomy is an important process that directly affects the degree of the preservation of
bones. There are a number of factors that determine the rate of taphanomy on buried
human skeletons. Factors which determine bone preservation are both intrinsic and extrinsic
to the individual and may act dependent upon or independent of each other. Intrinsic factors
30

include the chemistry, size, shape, structure, and density of bone, along with pathological
changes of the bone structure. Extrinsic factors include ground water, soil type, temperature
and air, along with the nature of local flora and fauna, method of burial, and human activity
(Henderson 1987; Galloway et al 1989; Gill-King 1997). Of all the intrinsic factors, bone
mineral density is considered the most significant (Galloway 1997). Soil chemistry is believed
to be the most influential extrinsic factor in bone diagenesis, once all the soft tissue has been
lost (Garland and Janaway 1989).
The rate of preservation of the bones of the present skeletons is not in a fairly satisfactory
state. The rate of diagenesis of the bones would have resulted from several causes viz.
(i). The acidity of the soils in which the skeletons are lying (ii). the unprotected nature of
burying the cadavers (see below) (iii). fluctuations in soil temperature and (iv). the degree of
the relative humidity in the soil.
As the pH values of the three individual soil layers in the local stratigraphy of the present site
shows they are predominantly alkaline. Alkalinity is much favorable to the bone preservation
(Gordon & Buikstra 1981). The pH value in layer 3 where the skeletons are lying is 7.6 and
this alkaline nature promotes low solubility of hydroxiapatitie (Ca5 (PO4)3 (OH) (White and
Hannus 1983) in the bone. But the rapid diagenesis of the present skeletons shows that there
is another factor influential to that. However the low concentration of phosphate (PO4) and
Calcium (Ca) ions in the soil has enhanced demineralization in the bone. Two of those ions
within the hydroxyapatite near the surface of the bone that are also in the soil are Ca and PO4
and are thus in equilibrium. The ratio of these ions within the bone can change depending

Fig. 35 Some part of skeleton no. 146 attacked by Trmites.

31

N

Skeleton no.
“K”

Skeleton no.
“J”

Skeleton no.
“H”

Skeleton no.
53
Skeleton no.
51

Skeleton no.
50

Skeleton nos.
Skeleton nos. Skeleton nos. Skeleton nos.37, 38
42, 43
39, 40, 41
44, 45, 46,
Skeleton nos.
47, 48, 49
36

Skeleton no.
“C”
Skeleton no.
“B”

Skeleton no.
“E”

Skeleton no.
Skeleton no. “G”
“D”
Skeleton no.
“F”

Skeleton nos.
19, 34, 35
Skeleton no.
20

Skeleton nos.
149,150,151

Skeleton no.
“A”

Skeleton no.
152
10

0

20 cm

Plan. 4 The map showing the distribution of some of the skeletons in the burial ditch.

on how much of each ion is within the soil. If there are more or less of one ion, then the
amount within the bone will change for it and the soil to be in equilibrium (ibid.).
In the present case the digenesis of bone may relate to two inter-connected factors, being
the first is the diffusion of the bone minerals outwards due the poor concentration of Ca
and PO4 in the burial soil. This mineral diffusion has caused a high degree of bone decay
and enhanced the porosity of the bones. The second factor of digenesis was the termite
attacks (see fig. 35). Termites cannot attack the mineralized structure of the bone due to its
hardness but in the present case termites have been highly active on the bones. It suggests
that bones were subjected to an accelerated process of decay before termites reached in the
bones. The high concentration of organic matters was resulted by the disturbance caused in
garbage pit 1 during the digging of the burial ditch. The mixing of garbage soil with the soils
in the burial ditch is one possible reason for the presence of termites at the level at which
the skeletons was deposited.

32

Increasing soil temperature is one of the other factors that enhances the bone diagenesis
(Gill-King 1997; Mann, et al., 1990). Average daily temperature above 20º Celsius increases
the degree of chemical reactions as well as the microbial activity in the soils. Between 29º
Celsius and 40º Celsius is the optimum temperature for the diagenesis of the bone.
The temperature of 27. 7º Celsius in the third layer of the present burial ditch where the
skeletons are laid is not much favorable to the preservation of the skeletons. Temperature
is a time dependent decay factor on bone proteins. The differences in the mean annual
temperature in buried bones can have a substantial effect on the decay rates of bone protein
(Ortner et al 1972). This fact should be considered together with the texture of the soil. The
soil texture affects the water content of soils, as fine textured soils retain moisture better than
sandy or silty soils (Krogman and Iscan 1986).The sandy clayish texture of the burial soil
suggests a weak air circulation that creates an anaerobic environment as well as the ability
of capturing moisture. Oxygen dissolved in such water particles is itself another source of
decomposition reaction (Dent et al. 2004). Relatively high temperature and the fine-grained
texture of the soil in the third layer could be the other alternative factors that enhance the
digenesis process which is visible on the skeletons.
2.7. Skeletons
Out of 154 skeletons found in the ditch, there are 38 that would help to reconstruct their
burying posture. Due to the absence of any post-depositional disturbance that occur; most
of the bones of the majority of the skeletons have remained intact. This nature has provides
good visibility of the lying postures of the corpses. That aspect has been carefully studied to
resolve the problems related to the socio-cultural characteristics of the burial. The following
observations could be made in this regard.
1. None of the skeletons provide an articulated position. They have been
laid down in a free position.
2. The skulls of different individual skeletons are positioning in an odd
pattern.
3. The existing distribution pattern of a the tibias of a number of skeletons
shows a radiating pattern outward from the body. It suggests that the free
position of the legs of the corpses remained at the time of burial.
4. There are several skulls that remain devoid of their skeletons. It may
indicate that such skulls had loosened from their body parts before
burial.

33

N

Skeleton no.
“K”

Skeleton no.
“J”

Skeleton no.
“H”

Skeleton no.
53
Skeleton no.
51

Skeleton no.
50

Skeleton nos.
Skeleton nos. Skeleton nos. Skeleton nos.37, 38
42, 43
39, 40, 41
44, 45, 46,
Skeleton nos.
47, 48, 49
36

Skeleton no.
“C”
Skeleton no.
“B”

Skeleton nos.
19, 34, 35
Skeleton no.
20

Skeleton nos.
149,150,151

Skeleton no.
“E”

Skeleton no.
Skeleton no. “G”
Skeleton no. “D”
“F”

Skeleton no.
“A”

Skeleton no.
152
10

0

20 cm

Plan. 5 The plan showing two disffent layers of skeletons in the burial ditch.

These four observations urge one to think that there has been no formal mortuary ritual
performed during the burial event. It specifically signifies that the intension of offering due
respect to the diseased has not been considered so important.

Fig. 36 A scene of the burial ditch ( a view from north).

2.8. Observations
Observations that have been made during the fieldwork, the post-processing of artifacts and
the synthesizing of all the data available are presented in three headings viz.

34

(i). The behavioral characteristics noticed
in the pattern of the scattering of the
skeletons
(ii). The nature of the digging carried out
before the inhumation and
(iii). The physical characteristics noticed
both in the skeletons and the local
stratigraphy at the location.
2.8 The number of individual skeletons
observed is 154 and they are scattered
within an area of 97.75 square meters. They
were lying horizontally on the bottom of a
ditch.

Fig. 37 The mass- burial found at St. Mary Spital
London, possibly representing evidence of a catastrophic event such as an epidemic. The lying posture of the
skeletons are different from the present case in Matale.
(source : www.nymuseumoflondon.org.uk)

2.8 Close observations show that there are two layers of skeletons which have been laid
consecutively upon each other during the inhumation. The lowest layer is 46 cms below the
upper layer. The existence of this minor level difference strongly suggests that those two
layers of skeletons are not a reflection of the activities of two dissimilar time periods but are
a manifestation of a singular event. It can be argued that the entire event has been carried
out in four consecutive steps, viz;

(i). laying the first layer of corpses in the ditch
(ii). covering them with a shallow soil layer
(iii). then laying the second layer of corpses over the previous layer and
(iv) refilling the ditch.
2.8.3 The free lying postures of the individuals and the preservation of the stature of the
full anatomy of the complete skeletons advocate the fact that they were intact throughout
the period of postmortem interval. The linear arrangement of the skeletons (plan 6) has
explicitly shown the intentional pursuit of the inhumation and therefore there is no occassion
to accommodate the idea that this burial is the result of a natural disaster.
9.4 In terms of the morphology of the skeletons, the presence of the spotty discoloration
and an overall soapy texture may suggest that only a few decades had elapsed since the

35

death. (for the postmortem taphanomy
vide, Hunter and Cox 2005).

N
S-5 1

S-J

W

2.8.4 The arrangement of the skeletons
has proposed the idea that the author(s)
of the inhumation intended to line up
the skeletons in a certain order when they
were placed in the ditch (fig. 34). The
orientation of the individual skeletons has
not followed any particular direction. The
orientation of some of the well preserved
skeletons is indicated in table 1.1 below. In
common with the formal burying practice
of the dead in Sri Lanka, the western

E

S- K

S-A
S-37/38

S-G

S-50
S-46/47/48/49
S-42/43
S-40/41
S-19/34/35
S-36
S-20
S-E
S-39
S-45

S

Fig. 38 A chart showing the orientation of the each
skeleton in the burial ditch.

orientation of the corpse has not been considered an important factor.
Skeleton no. Orientation (from north)
Skull direction
20
180
south
19
280
north-west
37
186
south-west
38
196
south-west
39
174
south-east
40
185
south-west
42
170
south-east
43
170
south-east
45
189
south-west
46
159
south-east
47
159
south-east
48
159
south-east
49
159
south-east
50
158
south-east
Table 9.3. Table showing the orientation of some of the well-preserved
skeletons in the ditch (source; field work 2012).
B
A

Existing ground level

Reconstructed Surface
1.45 m

C

Skelton no. 27 (302.42m MSL)

Direction of the digging of the
riginal trench

B

Skelton no. 20 (301.08m MSL)
C

Skelton no. A (301.68m MSL)
Skelton no. (301.50m MSL).

Skull no. I (301.59m MSL)

A

Skelton no. H (301.48m MSL)
Skelton no. E (301.42m MSL)

Skelton no. F (301.39m MSL)

Skeltons in the lowerst level no: 72/74 (301.37m MSL)
20

0

40 cm

Fig. 39 A computer simulation of the cross-section of the burial ditch. This simiulation was created on the distribution of levels of the skeletons are deposited.

36

Slope

Slope

The burial ditch

Possible pathway of approaching to
the location of the ditch.

Excavated soil heap

Fig. 40 an artistic reconvtraetion of the original burial ditch and its surrounding that based on empirical
observations.

Fig. 41 The photograph showing the skull that had loosen its upper part.

37

Fig. 42 One of the skulls that had loosen its skeleton. The open mouth of the skulls may suggests that tha corpse
was in the state of rigor motis when it was buried. Perhaps this observation may help to reconstruct the post-morten
interval between the time of the death and the time of the burial.

Fig. 42a The line drawing of figure
no. 39 above.

2.8.5 It is noteworthy to mention here that none of
the skeletons are oriented towards the north-east. It
could be inferred that the reason for this arrangement
may be that the people who were responsible for this
inhumation would have entered the trench from that
direction. The computer simulation of the original
burial trench has also suggested that the digging was
started from the north-east and placing of the corpses
was also carried out starting from that direction (see

fig.38)

38

Fig. 43 The photograph showing a
metal noose that has been trapped in
the left side leg of skeleton no.77

2.8.6 An analysis of the
distance
between
each
individual skeleton shows an
irregular series of
intervals (see table xxx). The
person(s) responsible for this
inhumation had an instinctive
stimulus to lay them in a row
but maintaining the symmetry
of the line was not considered
as important. However it
seems that the existing linear
pattern may be related to an
intension such as counting the
number of corpses after they
were laid in the ditch

Fig. 43a Line drawing of figrua 40.

Space between the skeletons nos.

20-19 (19 was bundled with skeleton nos. 34 and 35)
19-36
36-37 (37 was bundled with skeleton no. 38)
36-38
38-39 (39 was bundled with skeleton nos. 40 and 41)
39-42 (42 was bundled with skeleton nos. 43)
42-45 (45 was bundled with skeleton nos. 46,47,48 and 49)
45-50
50-51

Distance
65cm
30cm
24cm
24cm
55cm
45cm
45cm
33cm
50cm

Table 9.4. Table shows distance between each adjacent skeletons (source, filed work)

2.8.7 The absence of evidence of any clothes that covered the bodies of those who were
meant by corpses at the time of the inhumation is somewhat questionable. The only artifact
that remained in relation to the attire is a plastic button (see below section 6). that had been
recovered at a location 10cm cms northwest of skeleton number 39. Those two characteristics
viz. (a). the absence of any evidence of clothe and (b). the finding of a single button at a
place close to a skeleton may lead to the inference that those corpses would have been buried
without their clothing and the cloths would have been removed merely before burial. I guess
that the button that remained is an accidentally fallen object during the quick
39

Fig. 44 an artistic recontruction of the systemic setting of the iron nails found in asocition with the phalanges of
skeleton no.6

removal of clothing form one of the corpses. One could argue that this button is the result
of a secondary depositional process that had occurred at the location. If so there would be
other allocathonus material that would remain with the button or in association with it. But
the absence of such insists to think that the button is autochthones and reflects a direct
relationship with the systemic context of the burial viz. the event of the inhumation.
2.8.8 The existence of a double layer setting of laying the corpses is also vital information to
help reconstructing the background of the burial event. There is no doubt that the authors
of this inhumation have piled up the corpses for some reason. Such an action might be
guided by two possible motivations viz. (a). to manage the inadequacy of the space of the
ditch and /or (b). being in a rush to refill the ditch for some reason.
2.8.9 The upper part of the skull of skeletal number 76 including its parietal and frontal
bones has been removed by cutting it using a sharp tool (fig.41) This was not a result of the
autopsy examination on the corpse (Jayasena pres. com). If so, the corpse would have loosened
its upper part of the skull before it was bury. The parts of the human skull could naturally be
dismantled along the sutures due an externally generated pressure but this is not such a case.
The sharp cut-mark remained has strongly suggest that it is a result of a conscious human
action probably the result of an action similar to decapitation.
2.8.10 Some of the skulls that remained at the site have lost their full skeletons (eg. no
I/G/E/F53/51). No evidence exists to show that this was due to any post-burial disturbance
such as the interference by scavenging animals like cadaver-dogs or a result of some
40

Event no 3
(garbage pit)

C1

1990/1991

C2

Event no 1
(Disturbed garbage pit)
C3

1986/1987
Event no 2
(Inhumation)

C4

Plan. 6 A schematic representation showing the metrix of different events occurred at the environs of the burial
ditch.

anthropogenic disordering. Absence of evidence suggesting post-depositional disturbances
urges to infer that the upper part of some of the corpses have been separated before they
were buried.

2.8.11 There are two peculiar artifact occurrences that have been noticed.
(a). The association between a noose made out of a metal wire and the leg-bone of
skeleton number 77 is unusual. This leg-bone was trapped in the metal noose when
it was found. It suggests that this noose was attached to the leg of an individual who
represented this skeleton when it was buried. In a comparative sense this metal noose
stands for neither jewelry nor any ritualistic amulet within the cultural context in Sri
Lanka.
(b). There are 5 iron nails found in association with skeleton number 6 . Those
iron nail were in association with the phalanges of the hands. A single nail of the
assemblage consists of two fragments of bones appended on either sides. This
suggests that this particular nail had penetrated the bony structure of the palm
of the hand which those nails are spatially associated with. The function of this
particular nail perhaps proposes a function similar to those of the other nails in the
assemblage as well.
Several iron nails are also reported from a place close to skeleton number 06-B. 3
nails were found fallen on the ground on either side of the right leg of that skeleton.
Appending metal hooks and sometimes nails on the human body is a ritualistic

41

Fig. 45 The insitu position of the fragment of the plastic object. It was penetrated in to the skull. This penetration
suggests that the skull had loosen its part ( probably a part of the occipital and perietal bones and the temporal bone)
before it was buried.

act on the part of Hindu performs by way of self-modification during the annual
religious possession dedicated to God Skanda. But burying a human body with such
attachments is quite an unusual occurrence.
It could be concluded that the above two cases reflect an ‘irrational artifactual
association’ with human skeletons with which they are structurally coupled with.
This irrationality urges to cognize that there existed a certain performance in relation
to those skeletons beyond the horizons of the accepted cultural norms.
2.8.12 Two particular artifacts recovered from the burial ditch (the Orange-red Denby bottle
and the piece of green colored plastic object) provide a relative time-frame to events occurred
at the site. The garbage pits dug-out near the burial ditch could be post dated to 1986 CE.
However the discarded Denby bottle may help to sharpen the chronological resolution of
the garbage pit further and suggest that it was thrown into the pit sometimes after 1988, the
year such type of bottles were manufactured.
Existence of a fragment of a human hip-bone underneath the bed-pan in one of the garbage
pits has strongly suggested that the garbage pit is terminus post quem to the burials, i.e the
42

garbage pit was dug-out sometime after the inhumation. Therefore the bottle would have
also fallen into the pit in more or less contemporary time as the bed-pan. It is reasonable to
argue that the Denby bottle was imported to Sri Lanka in 1988 and it would have been in-use
at least during the year 1989 and it was possible to discard it in early 1990’s at the earliest.
The green color plastic fragment was reported from a point below the skull of skeleton
number 137. According to the law of superposition (refxxxxx), this provenance of the plastic
fragment suggests that it has been deposited there before the inhumation.
2.8.13 There are no records in the hospital or at any other location that indicates the details
pertaining to this burial (Jayasena pers. com). It suggests that this burial has no legal background
and therefore its legitimacy is questionable.
2.8.14 The distribution of the finger rings found is in a clear pattern. This pattern is reflected
by a regular association of more than one finger ring with a single skeleton. Three such rings
are frequently found together. 41/30/91/15/72 skeletons have indicated this association. It
is 45.45% of the whole.
This regularity shows a certain practice of wearing rings that prevailed among the group of
people of which some of the dead in this burial ditch were part of. Prevalence of such a
practice is not recorded ethnographically in Sri Lanka but could be an idiomatic behavioral
facet that was followed by a certain group who had organized with a definite goal. Wearing
more than one ring together would have been considered a tattoo of a group identity or an
insignia of identification among themselves.
Five rings (Samples 1,2,3,4 & 5) collected from the burial ditch with two modern rings
(as control samples; a large ring + a small ring) that are stylistically similar to them have
undergone the X-Ray Florescence (XRF) analysis for metallic finger-print detection. XRF
analysis was conducted at the Atomic Energy Authority in Colombo. The objective of this
analysis was to determine the morphological characteristics (eg. technology, compositional
diversity etc.) that may help in understanding the source of origin of the samples that were
subjected to the analysis.

43

Elements
Control sample (small ring)
Control sample (large ring)
Sample 1
Sample 2
Sample 3
Sample 4
Sample 5

Fe
Ni
Cu
Zn
Pb
6857 323044 533102
371
81011 343630 16702
13018
783
244998 121240 22614
34726
620
334600 143074 30493
4977 20268 564065 74584 1898
26615 9162 1732413 575692 18206
10968
0
603201 42623 21727

Table. 9.5 The table shows the composition of five different
elements in the samples analyzed.

The analysis results show the following characteristics;


(a). The element Copper (Cu) is present in all samples
(b). All the samples have a Ferrous (Fe) content
(c). Except the control samples the other samples have a Lead (Pb) content

(d). Except one control sample (small ring), all the other samples have a Zinc (Zn)
content

(e). Except sample number 5, all the other samples have a Nickel (Ni) content
These five points could be assimilated with the following inferences viz;

(a). All the analyzed samples including the control samples could be ascribed to
a single genre of technology and it is shown by the presence of Copper (Cu)
as on common element of the all the samples. But the technology of the control
samples is slightly advanced. This fact is suggested by the absence of Lead (Pb)
in the control samples.

(b). The distribution of ratios (table 9.6) among the elements suggests (except
the control samples) that the analyzed rings have different sources of
origin. This fact may passively indicate the fact that the persons to whom those
rings belonged could not geographically be assigned to a single
region.

Elements
Fe
Ni
Cu
Sample 1 0.0531 0.0032 1.0000
Sample 2 0.1038 0.0019 1.0000
Sample 3 0.0088 0.0359 1.0000
Sample 4 0.0154 0.0053 1.0000
Sample 5 0.0182 0.0000 1.0000
Table 9.6The table showing different ratios of
Copper (Cu) taken as the reference element.

Zn
Pb
0.4949 0.0923
0.4276 0.0911
0.1322 0.0034
0.3323 0.0105
0.0707 0.0360
elements in five samples analyzed.

2.8.15 Two garbage pits found are the most crucial discovery that served as a guid to provide
a relative date to the burial event. Those garbage pits are recent but have two different timedepths. The garbage pit uncovered in the south eastern sector of the burial ditch (Pit 1) is
44

older than the one found in the south western sector (Pit 2). The dispersal pattern of some
artifacts advocates that garbage pit 1 was disturbed during the digging of the burial ditch. For
instance, the corpse of skeleton no. 137 was laid on a fragment of a plastic object that was
drawn from the disturbed garbage pit i.e pit 1.
2.9. Dating the skeletons
One of the crucial factors that remains with the interpretation of those burials is the
determination of postmortem interval viz. the time since the death. Several measuring
techniques have been developed for this purpose in forensic anthropology during the last
50 years (eg. Cook and Heizer 1952; Berg and Specht 1958; Knight 1968; Knight and Lauder
1969; Yoshino et al. 1991; Taylor et al. 1989; Ubelakar 2001; Tuniz, Zoppi and Hotchkis 2004).
When traversing different methods and techniques discussed and presented during that
period by the forensic community, four major categories could be outlined.

(i). morphological methods

(ii). chemical methods

(iii). immunological methods and

(iv). radioisotopic methods
(Forbes and Nugent 2009)
Except radioisotopic methods, the other approaches are prone to results concluding in
different degrees of errors. One of the notable pitfalls is the lesser concentration focused on
the anomalies that caused on the hard tissues of the forensic materials by different natural
agents under local environmental conditions.
Several case studies (Ajie and Kaplan 1990; Grun e al. 2005; Pike, Hedges and Van Calsteren
2002; Van Calsteren and Thomas 2006) have proved that the radiometric methods are the
most reliable way of calibrating the forensic materials. For instance, lipids from the bone and
the bone marrow have been shown to provide a more reliable estimate of the time of death
for recent bone samples using 14C measurement (Wild et al. 1998, 2000).
Determination of the postmortem interval(s) of our present skeletons is a vital factor.
Radiometric assaying of the skeletons will further strengthen the conditional time periods of
the inhumation proposed by other morphological observations such as postmortem staining
that emerges on the bone surface of skeletons.

45

I hereby recommend to obtaining several bone samples from well preserved skeleton for
radiometric assaying through Radiocarbon Bomb-pulse Method (RBM) (Papworth and
Vennart 1984; Maclaughlin-Black et al. 1992; Neis et al. 1999) which needs a small sample
and has a high degree of reliability to date the forensic materials especially that has a recent
origin.
Living things absorb radiocarbon from the atmosphere during their life-time. At any given
time, the radiocarbon levels of living things and the atmosphere are ideally similar. The
proliferation of atmospheric thermo-nuclear testing in the early 1950s until 1963 addeded
vast amount of artificial radiocarbon called ‘bomb carbon’ in to the atmosphere, increasing
the global radiocarbon levels by almost 100% compared to the level that prevailed before
1950.
By signing the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) by the United States, United Kingdom, and
the Soviet Union in 1963 CE, it was agreed that the testing of nuclear weapons would no
longer be performed above the ground surface. Since then, the global radiocarbon level of
the atmosphere has decreased through the uptake in the oceans and the biological systems e.g. the 1970s had higher radiocarbon levels in the air than the 1990s.
Sample sizes of the forensic materials required for RBM is as follows;

(a). Bone (non-cremated)
2 – 10 grams

(b). Bone (cremated)
4 – 40 grams
(c). Teeth 1- 2 nos.
Recommended container
Ziplock polythene bag
Contact details of the laboratory coordinator in South Asian Region;
Beta Analytic Inc.
4th Floor, Rectangle 1
Commercial Complex D4
Saket, New Delhi 110017
India
Contact: Mr. Andrew Pal
Tel: +(91) 90-13-020788
Fax: +(91) 11 40514052
Email: info@radiocarbon.in
2.10 Conclusion
In the above discussion, an attempt has been made to synthesis empirical data collected
from a study of the burial ditch and its surroundings to present a possible interpretation of
46

the time and the space of the inhumation. The nature of the burial event is straightforward
as suggested by the forensic investigations in both the anthropological and archaeological
perspectives. The relative time periods that have been proposed were accorded stylistic
comparison with the artifacts as well as the data pertaining to their depositional microenvironments.
As suggested by the dates of the manufacture of artifacts, this inhumation has been carried
out at a time not earlier than the year 1986 and not later than the year 1990. Here I have used
the concept of ‘chronological sandwich’ (Renfrew et al 1991) to frame the burial event within
two temporal polar ends viz. the earliest date of manufacture of the artifacts found and the
latest possible date of their abandonment.
It has to be mentioned here that the artifacts used in this case to assume the relative age
of the inhumation have been recovered mainly from the two garbage pits that are spatially
associated with the burial ditch.

Apart from outlining this time bracket, it is difficult to make any further resolution to assign
that event to any particular year within this range and to fulfill such a requirement; it is
necessary to obtain a couple of absolute dates to the samples collected from the burial as
indicated in section 10 above.
The modus operendi of the entire burial shown by the arrangement of individual skeletons
suggests that it is not compatible with the accepted cultural norms of treating the dead by
any ethnic or religious group living in the country. Some of the physical deformations visible
on the skeletons (see Jayasena 2013) advocate that such were results of neither a natural
disaster nor an epidemic. They were forcibly induced and non-reflexive.
Finally, I would say that there is no physical evidence that remains in the burial ditch I have
investigated to formulate a complete narrative about the agency and the motives of the
inhumation. But, thinking beyond my professional horizons, I am personally inclined to feel
that, in this case, by whom so ever for whatever reason there has been an infringement of the
fundamental right of 154 individuals to demise themselves on their freedom of will.
Acknowledgements – I owe very much to Professor Jagath Weerasinghe, Director of the Postgraduate
Institute to provide me facilities to reach the site. Thanks must also goes to Dr. Ajith Jayasena for
his kindness to help in the field. Number of officers of the Police Department and the Criminal
Investigation Department has helped me in different ways. I owe them very much.Dr. Ranjana
Piyadasa in the Department of Geography in Colombo University and Mr. V.A. Waduge in the
Atomic Energy Authority have made their best to provide me the analysis. I indebted them all.

47

Finally I greatly appreciate the work done by Ms. Anusha Wanninayake and Mr. Dinesh Devage in the
field and the time when this report was processed.

Index of the skeletons found

Skeleton no. 20
Skeletons no. 19, 34, 35

48

Skeleton no. 36

Skeletons no. 37, 38

49

Skeletons no. 42, 43

Skeletons no. 39, 40, 41

50

Skeletons no. 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49

Skeleton no. 50

Skeleton no. 51

51

Skeleton no. 53

Skeleton no. 52

Skeletons no. 27, 28,
29, 30

52

Skeleton no. 153

Skeleton no. 72

53

Skeleton no. 152

Skeleton no. D

54

Skeleton no. G

Skeleton no. 74

Skeleton no. F

55

Skeleton no. J

Skeleton no. K

56

Skeleton no. E

Skeleton no. H

57

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