Archaeologists to resume Srikshetra dig

Excavations at Mound 37 (above) and Mound 44 (middle) in the ancient Pyu city of Sriskshetra, near modern-day Pyay. Below : Artifacts dug up at Mound 37. Pics: Supplied

Myanmar Times, By Cherry Thein
October 4 – 10, 2010

A TEAM of officials and students from the state-run Field School of Archaeology (Pyay) will resume seasonal excavations early this month of the palace complex in the ancient Pyu city of Srikshetra in northern Bago Region.

The principal of the school, U Thein Lwin, said the aim of the dig will be to “uncover the centre of the palace grounds”.

“Based on archaeological and historical evidence, we hope to be able to determine the chronology of events at the palace, the stratigraphy of the site and the history of the structure,” he said.

Srikshetra – located in Hmaw Zar village, about 8 kilometres (5 miles) southeast of present-day Pyay – flourished as a major Pyu settlement from the fourth to ninth centuries AD, pre-dating the rise of Bagan in the 11th century.

U Thein Lwin said the excavation will provide practical experience for diploma students currently enrolled at the field school.

“The exploration work will take place in the post-monsoon season and will last for about four months,” he said. “Anything we uncover will be taken to the Srikshetra Museum for study and classification before it’s moved to the National Museum in Yangon.”

U Thein Lwin said the Ministry of Culture, which runs the field school, granted permission in 2008 for long-dormant excavations to resume at Srikshetra, with the goal of learning more about the culture, civilisation and customs of the Pyu people, as well as about the architecture of the ancient city.

He added that the ministry, which is dedicated to preserving and safeguarding Myanmar’s cultural heritage, provides a grant of US$5000 for each excavation project.

“Myanmar has about 12 archaeological and historical sites that should be maintained as the country’s national heritage, but we need to determine the best way to protect these sites and we need to educate young people to cherish their heritage,” he said.

Archaeological excavation of Srikshetra dates back to 1907, when stone inscription scholar U Taw Sein Kho and Frenchman Leon Debeylie began exploring the area. Occasional digs continued during the following years until they were disrupted by World War II.

Archaeologist U Sein Maung Oo resumed work at the ancient city in 1962-1963. In 1968, archaeologist U Than Swe uncovered sections of the palace wall and housing complex, before exploration of the area again ground to a halt.

The Ministry of Culture granted permission to restart work in 2008, resulting in an excavation project during the 2008-2009 winter season that unearthed a prominent section of the city wall.

U Thein Lwin said that in an effort to catalogue the work being done at Srikshetra, archaeologists have numbered the areas where excavations have taken place over the years, naming 43 sites, or mounds, through to the end of 2009.

Last year, an excavation team picked up work where U Than Swe had dug in 1968, naming the sites the number 44 and 45 mounds. It was here that the palace grounds were located and where excavations will resume this month.

In his 1972 book Historical Sites in Burma, U Aung Thaw described Srikshetra as being “roughly circular in shape” and “encompassed by a high fort wall of large baked bricks, the circumference being 8.5 miles”, or about 13.5km. The total area is about 14.25 square kilometres, bigger than other Pyu-era cities, such as Hanlin near Shwebo in Sagaing Region and Beikthano in Magwe Region’s Taungdwingyi township.

Folktales about the city abound, including stories that attribute its founding to King Duttabaung as early as 2400 years ago.
“Local chronicles relate the legend that the city was built for Duttabaung by Sakra, Lord of the devas, with the help of Gavampati, Rishi, Naga, Garuda, Candi and Parameswar,” U Aung Thaw wrote.

Daw Baby, the assistant director of the Pyay office of the Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library, said evidence from the excavations could help clear the air about all the legends surrounding Srikshetra.

“Most people in Myanmar know the legends and myths about the city, and these accounts and characters make very interesting stories, but they also serve to cloud history,” she said.

“These legends can obscure important facts, but evidence from terracotta objects, for example, indicate that Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism and other forms of worship existed in the Pyu cities even before the establishment of Bagan,” she said.

However, Daw Baby said excavations in Srikshetra have not yet uncovered stone inscriptions of the sort commonly found in Bagan, which often indicate the exact years that structures were built and donations were made.

“We have found many structures, Buddha images, terracotta objects, bricks and earthenware from our exploration at Srikshetra, all of which indicate that the city is more ancient than Bagan, but we need to conduct more research to determine a more precise timeline,” she said.

She also said that some legends about Srikshetra might be based on true events.

She cited the story of Princess Panhtwar, who was said to have prevented King Duttabaung’s army from invading Beikthano by beating a magical drum, thereby summoning floods that swept the soldiers away.

“It’s possible that the people of Beikthano defended themselves by opening a dam on the nearby Yanpae River while people in the city played drums,” she said. “But over the years the story transformed into a more fanciful legend.”

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