Ceylon Archaeologia

Anuradhapura Excavations: The Citadel (1989-94)*

Directors: Professor Robin Conningham, University of Durham; Dr Raymond Allchin, University of Cambridge

The UNESCO world heritage-site of Anuradhapura is one of Sri Lanka's most celebrated religious places. The historical and archaeological importance of Anuradhapura centre on its role as a royal capital between the early centuries BCE and the eleventh century CE after which time it was largely abandoned.

Engraved seal from Anuradhapura,
early centuries CE. Courtesy of the British Museum

In contrast to the concentration of projects which have examined the development of urbanisation in the north and northwest of the South Asian subcontinent, there have been few excavations in Sri Lanka examining the earliest phases of its history, the general assumption being that the island’s cities grew through contact with the Mauryan empire from circa 250 BCE. In order to test this assumption and to provide a structural and archaeological sequence, trench Anuradhapura Salgaha Watta 2 was excavated between 1989 and 1994. Measuring 10 metres by 10 metres and 10 metres deep, the Anuradhapura team recorded 1,887 contexts, 118 stratigraphic phases, 515 postholes, 77 pits, 42 walls, 38 slots, 17 ovens, 3 wells, 30 structural phases and 11 structural periods. Our sequence has provided a unique section through the site's development from an Iron Age village to a Mediaeval metropolis, allowing a re-evaluation of Anuradhapura’s growth as a city. Significantly, growth occurred before 250 BCE as the city’s trade and exchange networks expanded beyond its own hinterland to the island's coast to link with trading communities as far as Vietnam and Egypt.

Anuradhapura. Ruined stupa, late nineteenth century photograph


  • The Sri Lankan Archaeology Department
  • The Society for South Asian Studies
  • The British Academy
  • The Ancient India and Iran Trust
  • The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge

Project Members and Affiliates

  • Dr Cathy Batt, Department of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford
  • Dr Osmund Bopearachchi, CNRS, Paris
  • Dr Daniella Burroni, Department of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford
  • Dr Shelia Canby, The British Museum
  • Mr Steven Cheshire, School of Design and Technology, North Warwickshire & Hinckley College
  • Dr Paul Cheetham, School of Conservation Science, University of Bournemouth
  • Dr Randy Donahue, Department of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford
  • Dr Louise Ford, Department of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford
  • Dr Chris Knusel, Department of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford
  • Dr Gerry McDonnell, Department of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford
  • Mr Kalum Nalinda, Sri Lankan Wildlife Trust
  • Mr Jude Perera, Sri Lankan Archaeology Department
  • Dr Ruth Young, School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester


We are most grateful to the three Directors-General of Archaeology, Dr Roland Silva, Mr M. Sirisoma and Dr Siran Deraniyagala, who held office during the first phase of fieldwork at Anuradhapura between 1989 and 1994. Together, and singularly, they provide excellent support and collaboration for the team. We are also extremely grateful to Dr Roland Silva for his continued assistance as Director-General of the Cultural Triangle. Special thanks is reserved for Dr Siran Deraniyagala, first as Director of the Anuradhapura Citadel Archaeological Project, and later as Director-General of Archaeology. The pioneer of scientific investigation at the Citadel of Anuradhapura, he acted as a mentor to the field team and was an exceptional source of knowledge about the archaeology of the citadel and the island itself.

Thanks must also go to the Directors, officers and staff of the Cultural Triangle Jetavana and Abhayagiri projects in Anuradhapura, especially Dr Hema Ratnayake and Professor Hetterachchi. Dr Bridget Allchin, Dr Raymond Allchin, Dr Janet Ambers, Mr Robert Janaway, the late President J.R. Jayewardene, Mr Rukshan Jayewardene, Dr N. Kemp, Mr Nimal Perera, Dr Martha Prickett, Dr Sudashan Seneviratne, Dr Colin Shell, Professor van Andel and Dr Wijepala also provided great assistance.

A great debt of gratitude is owed to the members of the field teams of officers, students and staff from the Archaeological Survey Department, the Cultural Triangle and the universities of Bradford, Cambridge, Keleniya, Peradeniya, the Post-Graduate Institute of Archaeological Research and Sri Jayewadenapura who worked at the site.

Whilst there are too many to name individually, in particular the Project directors would like to thank the following: Dr Bridget Allchin; Mr Kalum Nalinda Manamendra Arachchi; Claudia Beukmann, M.A.; Steve Cheshire, B.Sc.; Masaki Choya, B.A.; Paula Coningham, M.A.; Gary Dooney, M.A.; Luxman Chandra, M.A.; Antonia Douthewaite, M.A.; Rukshan Jayewardene, M.Phil.; Dr Carl Knappett; Mr Alfred de Mel; Mr. P.D. Mendis; Halawthage Jude Perera, B.A.; Mr P.R. Premachandre; Simon Weston, M.A.; and Sarah Wilde, B.A. The Anuradhapura Citadel Archaeological Project lab teams also provided an excellent back-up and support for which the team is very grateful. The project directors would also like to acknowledge the efforts of the lab teams and experts who have helped prepare the field data in the UK for publication.

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