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Uda-Ranchamadama Excavation

Introduction

Field Archaeology Unit (FAU) has launched an archaeological excavation at a location of the village Udaranchamadama of the Ranchamadama Grama Niladhari’s division of the Embilipitiya Divisional Secretariat in Ratnapura District. The excavation was conducted for a period of six weeks (with effect) from 18th August 2009. Excavation team consisted of 7 archaeology graduates from the University of Kelaniya and 2 final year students from the University of Peradeniya.

Objectives

Excavations in the year 2009 were based on two specific objectives i.e;

(a). To understand the material culture of the people who used the proto historic canoe burials at Ranchamadama school premises which was excavated and dated in the year 2007 (Somadeva et al 2007).

(b). To provide a chronology to the origin and the development of the proto historic culture in the Udawalava ‘climatic corridor’  related to the evidence  initially unearthed at the Ranchamadama canoe burial site.

Rationale

This season of excavations was considered as an extension of the series of field surveys conducted by the PGIAR since 2006 with an objective of investigating the Proto historic cultural developments in the upper Walave river basin. The first intensive field survey was carried out at Valamkatuyaya mound (Somadeva et al 2008) and it has provided influential insights which are useful to proceed further to meet the research objectives of the project. The results produced from the Galpaya survey had highlighted the necessity of a formulation of a broad hypothesis upon the development of late prehistory in the area.

In 2007, fieldwork of the project was expanded further north and (it was selected) the canoe burial site (CBS) situated in the Ranchamadama government school premises was selected for scrutinized observations. 6 burial canoes and two pit-burials were unearthed during a period of 6 weeks. Fragments of more than 40 earthenware vessels, which contained human corporeal remains (ash) together with finely made quartz implements that were interned in the funerary urns, were excavated. The artifacts association revealed was extremely suggestive that the local hunter-gatherers and the early farmers played a vital participatory role in the mid second millennium BCE. A need of the identification of the location of the settlement site of the people who used the cemetery was achieved through the fieldwork of the year 2007. The low height mountains situated in the surrounding area of the cemetery, which was the only possible terrain for human occupation in the past, had been thoroughly investigated during the same year. Two important locations were identified as (a). an ancient grain processing locale (at the summit of the low height mountain called tala kanda) and (b). an ancient village settlement (in the village Uda Ranchamadama).

In the year 2008, the attention was refocused upon the Valamkatuyaya mound in Galpaya in order to verify the artifact association between CBS and Galpaya. A high ground (later identified as site 15) situated about 200 meters away from Kuda Oya on its  left bank had yielded similar quartz stone implements as revealed from the CBS. Beside the stone implements, site 15 had provided a piece of painted pot (red painted on white/buff ware) as a surface find. It is worthwhile to note that an assemblage of similar sherds was recovered form the excavations at Uda Ranchamadama which was initiated (in) this year. Objective of the 2008 field season in Galpaya was to reaffirm geographical expansion of the culture that was shown by the artifacts recovered from the CBS. But the site 15 at Galpaya was disturbed by the local inhabitants of the area through their farming activities.

Both the materials collected and excavated from Galpaya and CBS was a compulsion to search for a settlement site, unlike the disturbed one at Galpaya, in the surrounding area of the CBS in order to investigate the developmental phases and the chrono-stratigraphy of such a development. On the basis of this requirement, a location identified as an ancient settlement site in the village Uda Ranchamadama in the year 2007 was selected for a trails excavation in the year 2009.

The site

The location selected for the excavation (N 6 23 05.5, E 80 46 00) is situated in the village Uda Rancamadama.. It is on the summit of a low height mountain about 2000 feet above the surrounding plain of Uda Walave. Uda Ranchamadama alias Udahagoda as the it is known to the villagers, was the only location that is situated at such a high elevation in the area that had a hamlet in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. A dense scattering of ancient potsherds even including the BRW suggest that the history of the settlements on the summit of this hillock was not a recent occurrence but it could be extended to at least far back  as the early first millennium CE.

Local topography of the immediate surrounding of the excavated location has a slope gradient of approximately 10 degrees from north to south. This slope gradient was formed through continuous erosion of the high elevation further north of the terrain. Removal of the top soil at the location has shown the previous flattened surface of the original earth of the terrain.

Two recent man made features visible at the site are (a). a Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa) planted in the year 1928 and (b). a semi permanent shelter of Sri Jayabodharama viharaya,- a Buddhist monastery- that has been constructed in 2008. It was noted that the construction activities of the latter had disturbed the archaeological content of the sub-surface of the site to a certain extent.

Layout Methodology & Stratigraphy

A trench measuring 9.60 x 6.80 meters was excavated to a maximum depth of  0.70 meters down to the bedrock. Two soil layers (context 1 and context 2) were unearthed. Open total method was used as the excavation method and the context-matrix system was applied for recording.

Layer 1 is a dusty deposit (7.5 YR 4/4, loose compaction, sand (42%) /silt (58%) composition) that has been formed as a result of erosion. Maximum thickness of this layer is 0.32 meters at the thickest point of the excavated area. The surface interface of this layer has a slope of 10 degrees and the bedding direction from north to south. The cultural materials present (ancient potsherds, fragments of 19th century porcelain) in this layer have an allocathonus origin. Especially the ancient potsherds which appeared in this layer were derived from the subsurface as a result of digging shallow pits by the village farmers for Banana cultivation.

Layer 2 is an undisturbed deposit which was overlaid on the bedrock. It has a hard compaction (10 YR 4/4 (brown) and a clay (77.27%)/silt (22.72%) composition. The rich content of artifacts in this layer suggest that the original occupational level of the site was associated with this level. Prominent artifacts recovered are ancient potsherds including BRW, several specimens of stone implements (quartz and chert) and clay beads. The ancient house floor (context 12) which was the major manmade feature excavated in this year is situated on this layer.

House floor

An ancient house was unearthed from the eastern sector of the excavation trench. It consists of a thick rubble pavement overlaid on the bedrock. The dimension of this rubble pavement is 10.20 x 6.80 meters. Four post-holes (30cm diameter) are situated about 1 meter away from the rubble foundation at the back would have been the remnants of the wooden pillars that held the roof of the kitchen. Rubble pavement was not extended up to that area.

A rubble foundation that was used to divide the interior space of the house is still intact. Excavation of the house floor has yielded a set of different utility artifacts including stone knifes, several pieces of iron knifes, a fair quantity of animal bones

Artifacts

The (t) assemblage of artifacts excavated could be placed in three categories of medium i.e. 1.Stone 2. Clay and 3. Metal.

Stone artifacts revealed are stone implements. Greater number of stone implements found is quartz microlithic blades. They were finely made and bear signs of usage. Several Chert (green and yellow) implements found are crude specimens that have a single cutting edge. Other than the utility implements, the other variety of artifacts of the stone medium found are a single specimen of a petroglyph and three grind stones with their pestles. Petroglyph is a pebble that carries two lines on one of its flattened surfaces.

Clay objects recovered are (a) 95 kilograms of earthenware shreds (b) 5 clay beads (cylindrical) (c) a part of a clay figurine (unidentified) and (d) a collection of painted potsherds (red painted on white surface, buff ware).

Metal objects reported are only confined to a few pieces of iron objects and a Kohl stick made out of Bronze. The pieces of iron recovered are highly corroded. Most probably they are the remnants of several iron knifes used by the inhabitants of the house excavated.

Dating

Wood charcoal samples collected from the hearth of the kitchen in the backyard has been dated to 1125 ± 104yrs BCE (S-3984, BS 3138, sample number URMD/2010/1).

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