The history of a country is part and parcel of it’s cultures, traditions and identity. This underscores why the remnants of any history that trace us back to the past should be preserved.
The Daily Mirror received information of a large ancient boat left unprotected in Kurunegala. According to the description on a board relating to this ancient artefact, the boat referred to as a craft, is said to have been discovered on July 20, 2003. The craft was unearthed during excavation carried out in the ancient Kurunegala Lake. The craft is entirely carved of kumbuk, a pristine timber. It is 32 ft in length and 51/2 ft in width. The nature of the craft has led to the belief that it was used by kings belonging to the Kurunegala era. The Kurunegala era is dated from 1293 AD to 1333 AD. According to archaeologists, the craft is said to be 800-900 years old. So this craft is indeed a historically valuable artefact.
The ancient craft is located at an archaeological open-air museum within the grounds of the office of the Governor of the North Western Province. For its protection, it is encased in a tank-like construction made of glass and concrete. But according to visitors, who paid visits to the museum, the current situation of the tank, inside which the boat is placed, is in a decrepit state. A visitor complained that at first glance, it appeared as a garbage dump. The roof and glass of the construction are now broken, while the remaining glass has been covered with dirt and dust obstructing the view of visitors. He further mentioned that the Kumbuk wood of the boat was covered with lichen. The boat, submerged in water, was said to be rotting away. The visitor pointed out that it was a highly suitable site for breeding mosquitoes.
We will be removing the algae and cleaning the parts of the boat made of wood. We wanted to retain the boat in its natural form, so we will be submerging it in water
The Daily Mirror inquired into this issue by speaking to Upali Wathuge, Assistant Director of the Chemical Conservation Division, Department of Archaeology. He said he was aware of the issue. “We replaced the broken glass of the tank several times, but the glass kept cracking. Normally a historical artifact is preserved either naturally or by chemical means. Usually there are various methods of chemical preservation. This is done by the use of chemicals such as polyethylene glycol or highly concentrated alcohol. But chemical conservation is expensive with regard to the boat because it is a large one. The cost would amount to around rupees 50 lakhs.
This method would also be very time consuming. So we approached a natural method of conservation instead of chemical conservation,” he explained. The boat preserved by natural means is submerging in water in a tank made of glass. But the use of glass has proven to be ineffective. The glass has been reported to have broken on several occasions.
“The glass has cracked and broken from time to time. We kept replacing it. We have already started taking decisions regarding the conservation of the boat. So now we plan to replace the glass with concrete and seal it,” Wathuge said.
Use of Guppy
“It was discussed that the tank would be strengthened with concrete. The concretion will be performed by the Archaeological Department in the North Western Region. Soon after the concretion, we are to be notified. The Chemical Conservation Division will follow up with the preservation steps of the boat,” Wathuge stressed. “We will be removing the algae and cleaning the parts of the boat made of wood. We wanted to retain the boat in its natural form, so we will be submerging it in water. To prevent the breeding of mosquitoes in the water we will be using guppy fish. Even currently, guppy fish are present in the water in which the boat is submerged. We will be taking steps to ensure that the boat will be preserved for a long period of time. We will take over its conservation as soon as we are notified that the concretion is complete,” said the Assistant Director, further explaining the plans for preservation.
This isn’t the only ancient boat that is found in the island. “We uncovered many other boats of historical importance. We have placed them in various sites. These sites include Kalutara and the Trincomalee museum. We even placed one at the National Museum. That boat is 62-64 ft in length. We haven’t been able to conserve all of them yet, but we have conserved a few including the one at Trincomalee. We also unearthed an ancient boat at Kukuleganga which we have conserved. We are hoping to conserve the rest either using natural or chemical methods. Conservation procedures take time,” he concluded.
It was discussed that the tank would be strengthened with concrete. The concretion will be performed by the Archaeological Department in the North Western Region.
Contacting the Kelaniya Regional Office of the Archaeological Department, the Daily Mirror inquired about the progress it plans to concrete the tank in which the boat is placed. An official said that the reason for the tank to be in disrepair is due to the heavy branches of surrounding trees collapsing on the tank and causing damages. The concrete of the tank had cracked and glass left broken. The Daily Mirror was informed that the preparations of concretion are underway. The concretion will start soon. The concretion is to be guided under expert and specialist instructions.