Moonstone advertised for auction at the Bonhams auction in London, United Kingdom – The study report


The study report was done by the Mr. Wijerathne Bohingamuwa, DPhil/PhD Research Student School of Archaeology, University of Oxford. Some extracts from the report is given below and you can download the report from following link.

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archaeology.lk like to take this opportunity thank Mr. Wijerathne Bohingamuwa for his time and commitment for prepare this report.

Front Cover -  The Moonstone for sale at the Bonham Auction in London - The Study Report

Front Cover – The Moonstone for sale at the Bonham Auction in London – The Study Report

Some extracts are given below.

1. Back ground

Publication of a web advertisement by the London based antiquity auctioneers Bonhams on January 10th 2013 under the title of “Rare Buddhist Anuradhapura period (377 BC – 1017 AD) Indian carved stone temple step discovered by Bonhams in a Devon garden will be sold in London” created a considerable public and media interest in Sri Lanka. Not surprisingly so as the artefact claimed to have originated from the Buddhist heritage of the island. The general demand by the public, media and even some reputed scholars of archaeology and art history was to take measures for the return of the artefact to Sri Lanka. The Archaeological Survey of Sri Lanka, rightfully, decided to verify the authenticity and if possible to establish the provenance of the artefact by physical examination and research as a prerequisite for initiating the necessary course of action. Hence the author was formally appointed to undertake this task on behalf of the Director General of Archaeology, Sri Lanka. Here is the resultant study report.

Moonstone advertised for auction at the Bonhams auction in London, United Kingdom

Moonstone advertised for auction at the Bonhams auction in London, United Kingdom

Moonstone - Sadakada Pahana - Anuradhapura- Near Thuparamaya

Moonstone – Sadakada Pahana – Anuradhapura- Near Thuparamaya

Moonstone - Sadakada Pahana - Anuradhapura- Near Thuparamaya - 02 Moonstone - Sadakada Pahana - Anuradhapura- Near Thuparamaya - 03 Moonstone - Sadakada Pahana - Anuradhapura- Near Thuparamaya - 04 Moonstone - Sadakada Pahana - Anuradhapura- Near Thuparamaya - 05

Comparison of moonstones in Anuradhapura and London

Comparison of moonstones in Anuradhapura and London

3.1 Description of the moonstone

The MBAL measures 146 cm (along the straight edge of the half lotus side) X 123 cm (at the longest point from the half lotus end to the semi-circular edge). Thickness of the moonstone varies from 14 cm in the semi-circular end to 18 cm in the centre of the half lotus end of the moonstone. The author could not, obviously, weigh the object and it is reported to weigh three quarters of a ton5. The artefact is perfectly preserved (discussed below) except for the slight damage to the tusk of the last elephant in the southern most end of the animal procession panel. Effects of fungi growth, however, is clearly visible on the carved surface where as the opposite side is rather fresh.

4. Possible conclusions

Establishing the provenance and authenticity of artefacts detached from their contexts without any record is a challenging task. This is particularly true for artefacts in antiquity market as the auctioneers purposely mask the provenance and true history of the artefact. Moonstone in Bonhams auction in London (MBAL) is no exception. If Bonhams’ account is accepted, MBAL is a genuine piece of art and it belongs to the Anuradhapura period of Sri Lankan history. However its history cannot be traced beyond 1950. Though some scholars have traced the genesis of Sri Lankan moonstone to India, developed forms of moonstone as seen in the island are a unique creative work of Sri Lankan Art and Architecture. The MBAL artistically and thematically resembles late Anurdhapura period moonstones, specifically the moonstone number 10 (in Anuradhapura) of Godakumbure’s publication 1967 (MNG10). While there are number of similarities between MBAL and MNG10, there are more important marked differences as well. In short, MNG10 and other known moonstones in Anuradhapura are of very fine quality and details of the carvings are superior. Craftsmen have given more consideration to finer details of carvings since they had a message to convey and less attention to getting fine edges. The thickness of the stone slabs of Anuradhapura genuine moonstones seems much thinner than that of MBAL. The MBAL shows some evidence of weathering. However considering the antiquity assigned to the artefact and the distance it is claimed to have travelled it may be expected to have born more evidence of wear and tear. Perfect preservation of artefacts under favourable circumstances is possible. However when an artefact weighing three quarters of a ton
travels over thousands of miles and moves over six times from place to place, it would be expected to witness the evidence of such journey. Such evidence is meagre in the MBAL. Under these circumstances the antiquity and the authenticity assigned to the artefact, naturally, comes under the radar of suspicion. The absence sufficient data – statistical, descriptive and photographic details as well as scientific evidence of material/rock types
used for making moonstones- of moonstones in the Island and that of the one in London makes it difficult come to a definite conclusion about the authenticity of MBAL. However the likelihood of MBAL being a replica of a genuine moonstone of Anuradhapura period is quite high. Nevertheless this does not mean to completely reject the claim that the MBAL is an original Sri Lankan moonstone.

Local geologists, archaeologists with scientific background and geo-archaeologists tend to conclude that the material used for this artefact is granitic gneiss (high-grade metamorphic rock) commonly found in the North Central Province in Sri Lanka. Does this support the authenticity of the moonstone or the possibility of the replica, if it is the case, was made in Sri Lanka itself? Further research is needed, in my view, to answer these issues.

5. Some recommendations

1. While our preliminary investigations seem to suggest a high possibility of the moonstone in London (MBAL) being a replica of a genuine Anuradhapura period moonstone, probably of the number 10 moonstone in Godakumbure’s 1967 publication (MNG 10) or a similar one, it is exceedingly advisable to undertake further research, inclusive of the scientific analysis of the material, on the moonstones of Sri Lanka and that of MBAL before reaching a final decision. Present study should be considered as a preliminary investigation upon which further research should be based. Data collected by such research may be evaluated by a national committee of experts for reaching at a final decision.

2. Unavailability of sufficient data on moonstones in Sri Lanka is a serious hindrance in this regard. It is highly desirable and timely that concerted efforts be made to collect all possible data including scientific evidence on the material used for moonstones and such data should be compared with that of MBAL.

3. Our consultation to determine the material/rock type used for the MBAL lead to two different views: local experts concluding it to be granitic gneiss while Oxford expert deciding it to be granite or micro granite. This issue may be resolved by petrological studies of the rock sample or examination of the moonstone by a geologists/geo-archaeologist. It is desirable to compare such data with those of the moonstones in Sri Lanka, particularly from

Anuradhapura region.

4. In dealing with the antiquity market not only the national and international laws and conventions such as 1970 “UNESCO convention on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property” to which both Sri Lanka and United Kingdom are signatories should be considered, but also the professional ethics largely agreed by professional and academic bodies of Archaeology and Museums should be given due consideration.

5. The officials in the Division dealing with the (illegal) export of artefacts and related matters at the Department of Archaeology should be enlightened in (the local antiquity laws which they are obviously conversant with) all international conventions on heritage to which Sri Lanka is signatory. More over it is necessary to know the antiquity laws and international conventions signed by countries with which they will have to deal in relation to heritage issues and antiquity markets. Knowledge of the professional ethics generally agreed by the archaeological bodies and museums is extremely handy in such efforts.

6. Sri Lankan missions in overseas should be

updated with the information discussed in number 5. Such information helps them in taking prompt and efficient actions with regards to Sri Lankan heritage objects in the country they are stationed.

6. Beyond viagra femele the issue of moonstone in London 

1. It is highly enviable to take this opportunity to reflect on Sri Lanka’s antiquity laws, the national policies and priorities concerning the heritage in the island. As it is clear from the issue of the moonstone, the island lacks a satisfactory inventory of archaeological sites, monuments and artefacts. This is particularly true for the areas recently liberated. Limited resources available to the Department Archaeology make this task extremely difficult.

However strenuous and collective efforts should be made to survey the island and inventorying sites, monuments and artefacts, by mobilizing resources available in other relevant institutions particularly those in the archaeology departments in universities and the large number of graduates graduating from these universities annually. Considering the rapid development projects that are underway in Sri Lanka after the war, making such an inventory and a national data base a prime importance.

2. Decisions on national heritage issues such as the moonstone in London advertised for auction should be firmly based only on the antiquity laws of the island and international conventions to which Sri Lanka is signatory and professional principles and ethics universally agreed.

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14 thoughts on “Moonstone advertised for auction at the Bonhams auction in London, United Kingdom – The study report

  • wijerathene Bohingamuwa

    BBC Sinhala Service has written to me that after my report Bonhams have re-affirmed the genuineness of the Moonstone. This is what I wrote to the BBC Sinhala Service: It is good if Bonhams say this is a genuine one. Then they should establish the provenance and authenticity which we all want to do. As historians and Archaeologists we all want to establish the true history. I have written to Bonhams expressing my desire to send them a copy of the report. And waiting for a reply.

  • Hiranya

    “The MBAL measures 146 cm (along the straight edge of the half lotus side) X 123 cm (at the longest point from the half lotus end to the semi-circular edge).”

    I am quite confused by the above measurement. As a layman I don’t know if it’s a standard way of measuring an artifact of this shape, but what I understood is, if we roughly assume this as a semi-circle then 146×123 are the measurements for d x r where d is diameter and r is the radius. But then how can 146×123 form anything close to a semi-circle? Please clarify this through a diagram or a clearer description if possible.

  • Somasiri Devendra

    Notes on Dr. Bohingamuwa’s report on the Moonstone up for sale in England, since the writer asks for feedback. It is based on the basis that it is an expert’s report.

    “Establishing the provenance and authenticity of artefacts detached from their contexts without any record is a challenging task”. True. Hence comparison of ONE in London with ONE in Sri Lanka is unacceptable: comparison with all known Anuradhapura moonstones must be made to establish that there was a standard Anuradhapura type. This is not difficult: but it has not been done.

    The Sri Lankan moonstone is special because of the commonality of decoration, though small variations are known. For example, that outside the main entrance to the Dalada Maligawa is not hemispherical: it is more like two-thirds of a circle with the central lotus being shown as a complete circle. Although the ornamentation is basically common, the hemispherical step at the lower end of a flight of step is named in Sinhala and English for is shape only. I have seen many Indian, unornamented, steps of hemispherical shape.
    “Though some scholars have traced the genesis of Sri Lankan moonstone to India, developed forms of moonstone as seen in the island are a unique creative work of Sri Lankan Art and Architecture.” This is precisely why the writer must explain on what sources he drew upon in his report. He seems to have – from the way the report is written – to only have read Godakumbure. Dr. Paranavitarna, Pundit Gunapala Senadheera (in his doctoral thesis “Buddhist Symbols of Wish Fulfilment” and my father, D.T.Devendra (in ‘Artibus Asiae’ and in Sandakadapahana saha venath lipi) – among others – have written on the moonstone. The writer cannot, in his role as an expert, make ex cathedra without a deep knowledge of the genre he is commenting on.

    To the credit of the writer it must be noted that he has made some attempt to bring the discipline of geology into his study, although very slightly. He says: “Local geologists, archaeologists with scientific background and geo-archaeologists tend to conclude that the material used for this artefact is granitic gneiss (high-grade metamorphic rock) commonly found in the North Central Province in Sri Lanka. Does this support the authenticity of the moonstone or the possibility of the replica, if it is the case, was made in Sri Lanka itself? Further research is needed, in my view, to answer these issues”. Who has said this? Why “tend to”? No names and/or sources are mentioned. Granitic gneiss is, by the way, the commonest type of rock used for monuments in the Anuradhapura era. I have forwarded this Report to a Professor of Sedimentary Geology – who worked with us maritime archaeologists in analysing rocks in a shipwreck context in Galle and the report has been published by the Archaeological Department – for his input. (NOTE: in that study petrological studies, including study of microspopic thin section slides were done) The statement that “Our consultation to determine the material/rock type used for the MBAL lead to two different views: local experts concluding it to be granitic gneiss while Oxford expert deciding it to be granite or micro granite. This issue may be resolved by petrological studies of the rock sample or examination of the moonstone by a geologists/geo-archaeologist. It is desirable to compare such data with those of the moonstones in Sri Lanka, particularly from Anuradhapura region” is particularly important, as no source or report by “Oxford expert” is given.

  • wijerathene Bohingamuwa

    Author’s comments on Mr. Somasiri Devendra’s feed back

    1. Thank you very much sir! Your comments are welcome and I really appreciate you for
    taking time to comment on this matter. I really hope that other scholars contribute to the debate as this is a national issue and we need to debate and come to a consensus-with regards to what to do with this artefact. I was rather disappointed that there was no real interest on this matter among the mainstream archaeologists! May I comment on some of the issues you have raised in your comments?

    2. I do agree with Mr. Somasiri Devendra that a thorough study of all moonstones in Anuradhapura should be conducted to establish ‘the Anuradhapura standard type’ before making comparisons. I clearly stated this in my report:
    “Ideally the author would have liked to study all Anuradhapura period moonstones and publications on Sri Lankan moonstones to compare and identify similar counterparts to that of the London one. Since he is in UK, physical examination of Anuradhapura moonstone was impossible and hence opted to study published material and see as many photographs of moonstones as possible. However the author admits that he did not have access to all publications on moonstones.”
    I requested DG/ Department of Archaeology to provide me details including recent high resolution photographs of all Anuradhapura moonstones for the very purpose Mr. Devendra has rightly highlighted. After repeated requests over the phone – as e-mails do not seem to mean anything- I am still awaiting those details! However he kept asking me for the report as there was pressure from the media on him. In the absence of required information coming from the Dept. of archaeology and pressurized for the submission of the report, I had to turn to my colleagues in Colombo, acknowledged in the report, for help. I had no option other than to satisfy with whatever material I could get hold of for writing the report. To my understanding the Dept. of Archaeology did not even expect a report as such, they just wanted an opinion. I am a doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford (researching on a totally different topic) and extremely constrained by time. However I am very well aware of the importance of doing a serious study before concluding on an issue of this nature- well on any topic of research. Since I am aware of the limitations of my study- stated in the report itself- I very clearly recorded in my report that:
    “, it is exceedingly advisable to undertake further research, inclusive of the scientific analysis of the material, on the moonstones of Sri Lanka and that of MBAL before reaching a final decision. Present study should be considered as a preliminary investigation upon which further research should be based. Data collected by such research may be evaluated by a national committee of experts for reaching at a final decision.”

    3. I am well aware of the literature/ studies on the moonstone in Sri Lanka, though I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject. My present report was not meant to study the moonstone per se but to attempt to establish the provenance and authenticity of the moonstone in London. Since it was found that the moonstone in London had close similarities with MNG 10, of Godakumbure’s publication, MBAL was compared with it. I have done my study- which is by no means complete- and given details of the MBAL, that was not available to local experts such as Mr. Devendra. Now local experts on the subject are welcome to debate and come to a consensus on this national issue. This is what I really want to happen.

    3. With regards to the geological studies on the material, all the names who studied the photos and lab analysis are clearly given in the report. Please read my report carefully. Since all these discussions were done on e-mails, they were not produced in the report. In the absence any financial assistance what so ever for this study, no further scientific analysis is possible. Note that I am a doctoral student living on very limited funding! Department of archaeology by no means expected do any scientific analysis of the material. Taking a very tiny sample out of an artefact on sale by an auctioneer, in itself was an achievement to me. I thank Bonhams for that matter.

    4. Giving due considerations to all comments I am preparing to revise the substance of the report and publish it. I will include all these details in that publication.

    - Wijerathne Bohingamuwa

  • wijerathene Bohingamuwa

    On Hiranya’s comment:
    I am sorry if I was not clear in giving measurements. To make it simple could you kindly look at the MBAL photos.

    Well, calling this moonstone a semi circular one was a rough estimate and perhaps influenced by the etymology of the term.

    - Wijerathne Bohingamuwa

  • anuradha Post author

    Reply emailed to archaeology.lk by Somasiri Devendra.

    Thank you for your come-back. As your report was presented as an expert’s report, I treated it as such: but I am well aware that you had no access to essential sources. I wish, though, that you had included a preliminary para explaining the limitations under which you are making the report – that would help protect your personal reputation.

    Don’t expect replies from the Dept. Paricularly emails. They don’t read them.

    While I was exposed to our heritage from childhood, I took up studies in maritime history, maritime archaeology, vernacular boat ethnology, etc. etc. after I had worked 30 years and retired on medical grounds. I never took a cent from the Dept. or CCF for my pioneering work. I worked purely for my satisfaction. Now, 14 years after open-heart surgery, I am physically limited and do not travel. In the last few years I have turned down several invitations to international conferences: the latest being to the Society of Historical Archaeology’s Annual sesssions at the University of Leicester last month. I declined and sent two people from my old team. I was never funded by anyone here, but have travelled round the world on funding from several foreign institutions – including that of Oxford where I presented a paper at a Conference on “Ships and the Development of Maritime Technology across the Indian Ocean” at St. Anthony’s College. It is published by RoutledgeCurzon, edited by David Parkin and Ruth Barnes. Lovely place, where we experienced a formal academin dinner!

    My personal view is that the moonstone is definitely Sri Lankan and in very good condition. You could compare the physiognomy of the four beasts, as they are quite revealing.

    Let us keep in touch.

    Somasiri Devendra

  • Keerthi Wijayatunga

    The photograph of one at Anuradhapura clearly shows it was done under the guidance of an Arahath (probabbly Ven. Mahinda) while original Buddhism was in existence. The original Buddhism disappeared by around 01st century BC. Therefore, one at Anuradhapura should be more than 2,000 years old.

    The moon stone is a good example of what left behind by Arhaths of original Buddhism. If one knows original teaching only one can read the hidden message in the monument. Therefore, the Arhaths have left behind signals to the future so that once the original teaching makes a come back those who know it would find themselves following the long lost correct path discovered by The Buddha.

    In a moon stone built before 01st century BC the outer three layers symbolizes the 03 planes of minds attachment (Bhoomis) of the lay being (Putujjana). The outermost layer depicts the Kama Bhoomi and symbolized by fire. The second layer depicts the Rupa Bhoomi (04 properties of matter called solid-patavi, liquid- apo, gas-wayo and energy-tejo) and was symbolized by elephant(patavi), bull(apo), horse(vayo) and lion(tejo). The third bhoomi is Vinnana or Arupa bhoomi and is shown as a vine.

    When you enter the noble eight-fold path (NEP) you become Sangha and is depicted by the layer of swans. Travel in NEP takes you to Prajna (Nirvana) which was symbolized by the lotus at the center.

    If the construction was done under the supervision of an Arhath (before 01st century BC) you would find the following as well.

    1. Number of steps should be 04 with the 05th one as landing or 08 steps with 09th as landing etc.

    2. The Guard stones should be with 07 headed cobra behind the guard and in his hand there should be a sword (or some weapon) and in the other there should be a pot. The guard must be standing on 06 elephants.

    3. There should be a 07 headed cobra on 04 or 06 windings (or an elephant) near a water body such as a lake or a pond.

    I think the above would be useful for archaeologists.

  • Prasad Samarajiva

    Mr. Bohingamuwa,

    “BBC Sinhala Service has written to me that after my report Bonhams have re-affirmed the genuineness of the Moonstone.”

    Obviously, Bonhams’ have their own monetary interests in re-affirming the genuineness of the Moonstone. I sincerely hope that they can provide a basis for their re-affirmation from an expert who has no monetary benefit from this auction.

    Please keep the readership updated about the latest developments with respect to this topic.

  • Dharmasiri Rajaguru

    Please contact Prof. Dayananda Amarasekera in the Dept. Of Archeaology, University of Kalaniya, who has done extensive research on Sandkadapahana for his MA thesis. I will give you some more reference, if you need.

  • wijerathene Bohingamuwa

    The British Museum agrees to My report’s Findings:
    Dr MICHAEL WILLIS /Department of Asia /British Museum/ London Moonstone

    a) The Bonhams piece is remarkabley close to the one near Thuparama, as noted in Bohin’s (Bohingamuwa) report. It is part-by-part directly related. All moonstones are of a type, it is true, especially the Anuradhapura group. This can be seen in the 1960s publication on Moonstones, a scan of which I was able to procure with Bohin’s help.

    c) The moonstones measured by Bohin’s (Bohingamuwa) colleagues in situ are all about 5-6 cm thick, while Bonham’s is 14-18 cm thick. Bohin proposed this was done so it would be safe when transported and I am inclined to agree with that conclusion.
    My conclusion? Probably a 19th century copy.

    Dr MICHAEL WILLIS
    Department of Asia
    British Museum
    London WC1B 3DG
    ————
    Research Fellow
    Cardiff University
    School of Architecture
    Cardiff CF10 3NB

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