Bodies found in Mannar mass grave date back to the 1400s
by Melani Manel Perera

Archeologists believe the remains belong to people who lived at the time of Portuguese rule. Previously it was thought that the skeletons belonged to people who went missing during the country’s civil war. A local magistrate has ordered the temporary suspension of the dig.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Bones found in Sri Lanka’s largest mass grave in Mannar date back some 500 years, based on 25 samples sent to Beta Analytics in Miami, United States, for analysis.

Carbon dating indicates that the human remains found at the site belong to people who lived between 1400 and 1650.

This method, also called carbon-14 dating, is used to determine the age of organic matter that can go back to prehistoric times. It is based on the analysis of materials such as bones, wood, cloth, seeds, and is widely used in archeology.

Given the proximity of the Mannar site to areas affected by Sri Lanka’s civil war, which pitted Sri Lanka’s regular army against Tamil Tiger rebels, the finding led many to believe that the skeletons might belong to people who went missing during the conflict.

This rekindled hope in many families who, for years, have been calling on the government to provide information about the whereabouts of their missing relatives.

A magistrate in Mannar ordered the temporary suspension of the dig, which had begun last August under the direction of Prof Raj Somadeva, forensic archaeologist at the University of Kelaniya (near Colombo).

A construction company had accidentally uncovered the remains as it laid the foundations of a new building. In addition to humans (more than 300 skeletons), archaeologists have unearthed fragments of crockery, pottery, metal objects and jewelry worn by the people buried.

According to Prof Somadeva, considering the age of the bones, the "samples might date back to the era of the Portuguese.”

However, the news about the age of bones has not discouraged the relatives of the missing, who continue to demand the government provide answers about those who surrendered in the last stages of the war and were captured by the military.

According to activists, at least 20,000 people went missing in 2009 in the last phases of a conflict that tore the country apart for decades and caused the death of about 100,000 people.