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  • Anuradhapura: The British-Sri Lankan Excavations at Anuradhapura Salgaha Watta 2, vol. 1: The Site
  • Shinu A. Abraham
Anuradhapura: The British–Sri Lankan Excavations at Anuradhapura Salgaha Watta 2, vol. 1: The Site. Robin Coningham. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2001. xxx + 209 pp., bibliography. £45.00. ISBN 1841710 369.

Despite the many years of research on the early historic archaeology of South Asia, few reports of systematic excavations exist, and this deficiency has affected theoretical and material interpretations of South Asian urbanism. It is therefore with great anticipation that South Asian archaeologists and historians receive this first of two volumes of the long-awaited report of six seasons of excavations at the site of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, a joint Sri Lankan–British project carried out between 1989 and 1994. As one of the most significant sites in South Asia, systematic fieldwork at Anuradhapura represents an opportunity to address several key concerns: a refinement of the chronological and artifactual sequences for the southern portion of South Asia; a reevaluation of early historic urbanization processes in South Asia; and a better understanding of Anuradhapura's position as a pivotal player in Indian Ocean trade. This first volume focuses on the excavation results of a single trench—Anuradhapura Salgaha Watta 2 (ASW2); the second volume will examine the artifacts from the excavations.

Chapter 1 briefly introduces the reader to the site of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka's north-central province and presents the project's aim to investigate the ancient urban core of the complex. Chapter 2, co-written by Coningham and Paul Haggerty, describes the physical environment of the site, including a presentation of the geology, climate, drainage and relief, flora, fauna, and soils of the greater Anuradhapura region. Chapter 3 presents a detailed description of the entire city of Anuradhapura. Coningham adopts Seneviratna's fourfold division of the complex, which depicts the site as a series of concentric circles: at the center is the fortified citadel or inner city, which is surrounded by a zone of monastic establishments. A village/ tank zone in turn surrounds the monastic zone, and the outermost zone is that of forest and hermitages. The chapter begins with a history of archaeological research of the site and then describes each zone in detail. Chapter 4, co-written by Coningham and Paul Cheetham, presents further background information on the excavations in the form of a detailed description of the fortifications of the citadel. Again, a brief history of previous archaeological work on the citadel's defenses is presented, followed by a description of the British–Sri Lankan team's two field seasons of survey on the fortifications.

Chapters 5 and 6 present and evaluate the core data from the excavations. Chapter 5 describes Trench ASW2, its location, excavation techniques, and the subsequent structural sequence that was developed. The trench covered an area of 100 sq m, designed to be large enough to recover both a structural sequence for the site and a large enough corpus of artifacts for the development of a periodized catalogue. Its location was determined by previous sondage work by Deraniyagala at the highest point of the site, which suggested a possible 10-m sequence going back to the initial Iron Age occupation of the site. In all, the excavations resulted in the development of a sequence of 30 structural phases, occurring within 11 structural periods. Chapter 6, co-written by Coningham and Kathy Batt, focuses on the chronological evaluation of the results of Trench ASW2. Through the use of a combination of relative and absolute dating techniques, the researchers attempt to construct a periodized sequence of the excavated structural units. Structural phases were evaluated [End Page 389] based on the presence or absence of chronological diagnostic artifacts, and on 29 radiocarbon measurements that were carried out on charcoal samples from 11 structural phases.

Both chapters begin with Structural Period K, the earliest context within the trench, and end with Structural Period A, the most recent context. Detailed diagrams of key structural phases and other relevant elements accompany the descriptions. Structural Period K was characterized by several phases of possible temporary round or circular shelters, and yielded radiocarbon dates suggesting an occupation between c...