US funds preservation of South Asia’s oldest shipwreck

COLOMBO – The US embassy in Sri Lanka on Tuesday (13) announced the grant of US$ 82,192 to Sri Lanka’s Central Cultural Fund to document and conserve the Godawaya shipwreck and its artefacts. The grant comes from the US Ambassadors’ Fund for Cultural Preservation.

US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Julie Chung, making the announcement at a plaque unveiling event at the Maritime Archaeological Museum at the Dutch Fort in Galle,  said that by documenting the important role Sri Lanka has played as a hub for the Indo-Pacific region’s travellers and traders from its earliest days, the United States hopes to help preserve and promote Sri Lanka’s magnificent cultural heritage.

The event was attended by Secretary to the Ministry of Buddhasasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs, Somaratne Vidanapathirana, Director General of Central Cultural Fund, Professor Gamini Ranasinghe, and Senior Archaeology Officer Rasika Muthucumarana.

The Godawaya, originally discovered by two Sri Lankan divers, is the oldest known shipwreck in the Asia-Pacific region and one of the oldest sunken vessels to be discovered in the world.  Located near the Hambantota port, it includes a mound of corroded metal bars and a scattering of other ancient cargo, including glass ingots and pottery.

The documentation and conservation funded through the grant will be undertaken by the Central Cultural Fund’s Maritime Archaeology Unit.

Documentation of the site and engagement with US experts on Indo-Pacific trade routes and shipwrecks will increase global understanding of trade in the Indo-Pacific,  and especially Sri Lanka’s role in this rich history.

The recording of the internationally recognized site and the preservation of objects already exposed on the seabed floor will be shared with Sri Lankan scholars as well as secondary and university-aged students by the Maritime Archaeology Unit’s Galle and Colombo lab.  Once the project has been completed, the artefacts will also be on display to the public in the Maritime Archaeological Museum in Galle.

Since 2001, the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation has funded 15 projects in Sri Lanka, totalling assistance amounting to US$1,387,294.  These include documentation of the Western monasteries at the World Heritage Site of Anuradhapura, the conservation of the Rajagala Buddhist forest monastery, the preservation of Buddhist, Hindu, and other collections in the Anuradhapura Archaeological Museum, the restoration of the Batticaloa Dutch Fort, the preservation of the ritual music and dance forms of the Adivasi, Tamil, and Buddhist communities and the conservation of a 17th century Kandyan Kings’ Palace in Kandy.

-ENCL/US Embassy SL

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