Apprehension of Treasure Hunters and Preservation of Archaeological Sites in Sri Lanka

Lakshman Indranath Keerthisinghe | Published on December 27, 2011 at 12:49 pm

My object all sublime, I shall achieve in time, to let the punishment fit the crime-The punishment fit the crime – Sir William Schwenck Gilbert-The Mikado.

This column dedicated to the notion of making Sri Lanka the Wonder of Asia, turns its spotlight today on the prevention of the desecration of archaeological heritage sites in our land as Sri Lankan society aspires to preserve such sites for the benefit of future generations in our land.

Treasure hunting in Polonnaruwa

As Sir William.S.Gilbert said and quoted at the beginning of this column the punishment must fit the crime. The punishment meted out under our law seems to be totally inadequate to deter treasure hunters to desist from

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such anti national crimes.It was reported in the media that nine persons including the Assistant Superintendent of Police of Vakarai were arrested by police when they were fleeing after attempting treasure hunting in Polonnaruwa. The group had been treasure hunting in a place close to Siripura temple of Polonnaruwa. The villagers that came to know about the crime, sounded the bell of the temple and summoned people. They kept the group surrounded and informed the police. The suspects that were armed with a revolver threatened the villagers and fled in a van. Police apprehended the van with the group later. Tools used in the treasure hunting were also seized. The arrested suspects included seven police officers including the ASP and two civilians. A week ago, police produced a Buddhist monk before Matale magistrate for attempted treasure hunting on a historical site. Police said that the Buddhist monk and his accomplice, a businessman, had blasted a rock using dynamite.. The land in which treasure hunting took place is a fortress that belonged to a colonial period.

It is known as Fort Macdowell and belongs to Matale Sambuddha Jayanthi Sangamaya. The Buddhist monk was released on personal bail of Rs. 100,000.Treasure hunting is often reported around the country and people who want to become instantly rich believe that the ancient kings have hidden unbelievable amounts of wealth in unbelievable places such as the interiors of the rocks. A spokesman of the Archeological Department said that this belief was erroneous and it had led to vandalism and destruction of valuable historical and cultural property. It seems that the majority of these treasure hunting cultural vandals are in some way the custodians of the historical and cultural sites.

Appeasing demons

Treasure hunting also involves making human sacrifices to appease the demons, who are believed to guard such treasures. Thus abduction and murder of school children has been reported in many instances of hunting for treasures. During the olden days, rumours spread all over Sri Lanka that several virgin maidens had been sacrificed to unearth treasures, which included a golden bed on which an ancient King slept .

On August 11th 2009 the Lanka Polity web site reported that on August 09, 2009,’ an unknown group of treasure hunters exploded a stone bed in ‘Mihindu Guhava’ caves in historic Mihintale archeological site in Sri Lanka. Buddhists believe this bed was used by Arahat Mahinda Thero, the monk who introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka in 3rd century BC. The treasure hunters damaged three of the four circular carvings at the four corners of the stone bed, site sources say. The officials of the Archaeological Department point out that there are not sufficient watchers to guard this site. An entire Army will not be sufficient to guard the archaeological sites that are scattered all over Sri Lanka including forests.’ Many ancient treasures appear to have been unearthed from various archaeological sites in Sri Lanka and sold to foreigners for large sums of money, which is a

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crime against the Sri Lankan people. These treasures and sites have to be preserved for the observation of future generations who should be made aware of the past glory of our land.

The legal provisions stipulating punishment for such offences have to be made heavier in order to deter treasure hunters from vandalizing valuable archaeological sites of our land.Our people appear to be well aware of the value of these sites as indicated by the manner in which they surrounded the vandals at the Siripura Temple in Polonnaruwa and assisted the Police in apprehending the vandals one of whom was a senior police officer. The State must provide better security measures in order to safeguard the sites.

As usual, let me conclude with a humorous anecdote:

A young lawyer defending a treasure hunter, involved in a money recovery action filed by a person who had lent money to the treasure hunter to engage in treasure hunting, feared that the evidence was against his client. So he asked the senior partner of the law firm whether it would be appropriate to send the judge in the case a box of expensive cigars. The partner was appalled by the suggestion and said: “The judge is an honourable man, and I can guarantee that if you do that you will lose the case.”

Six weeks later the judge ruled in favour of the young lawyer’s client. Congratulating his junior lawyer, the senior partner asked: “Aren’t you glad that you didn’t send those cigars to the judge?”

The junior replied:” But, I did send them, I just enclosed the plaintiff’s lawyer’s business card.”

Modified version from the Joke Book (2005) edited by Dave Phillips (Page 173).

The writer is and Attorney-at-Law


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Apprehension of Treasure Hunters and Preservation of Archaeological Sites in Sri Lanka

My object all sublime, I shall achieve in time, to let the punishment fit the crime-The punishment fit the crime – Sir William Schwenck Gilbert-The Mikado. This column ...