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The dry tank: development and disuse of water management infrastructure in the Anuradhapura hinterland, Sri Lanka

Gilliland, K., Simpson, I.A., Adderley, W.P., Burbidge, C.I., Cresswell, A.J., Sanderson, D.C.W., Coningham, R.A.E., Manuel, M., Strickland, K., Gunawardhana, P., Adikari, G.
Journal of archaeological science 2013 v.40 no.2 pp. 1012-1028
archaeology, environmental impact, hinterland, infrastructure, landscapes, luminescence, semiarid zones, water management, water storage, Sri Lanka
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.