22 October, 2017

Matale Mass Grave: Skeletons In Closets As Well?

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

 Darshanie Ratnawalli

Darshanie Ratnawalli

The Matale mass grave has had its 15 minutes of fame. From the time when it was first uncovered in November 2012, throughout the judicial inquiry by the Matale Magistrate and right up to the appointment of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, the media fluttered around it moth like. Recently the mass grave got a definitive date. The news failed to grip.

Wrong news

The only news site to report it, adaderana.lk got it wrong. They reported on 18 November 2014 that the Police informed the Matale Magistrate’s Court that day that the skeletons of the mass grave belong to the early 1950s. In reality the early 1950s don’t come into the picture at all. I reproduce the report below;

“Report on Radiocarbon Analysis of Samples, Matale Case No. B.1810/12, Sri Lanka Douglas H. Ubelaker, PhD Smithsonian Institution Washington, D.C. USA October 30, 2014

This report is in reference to samples submitted to Beta Analytic Inc. for radiocarbon analysis. According to the report from Beta Analytic Inc., these samples originate from skeletons number 27, 50, 81 and 136. For all samples, values of PMC are less than 100 and values of fraction modern are less than 1.0. These values indicate that the samples were formed prior to the modern period (defined as post AD 1950 with the entrance of excess radiocarbon in the atmosphere due to thermonuclear weapons testing). Details of the analysis procedures and specific results are cited in the report by Beta Analytic Inc..”

Pre 1950 mass graves?

The problem with this date is that the forensic evidence on the skeletons; signs of being nailed, buried without clothes, noosed and chained, of decapitation, nonconformity with cultural norms associated with respect to the dead do not match what we know of the pre-1950 socio-political climate of Sri Lanka. How to explain an extra legal mass grave in pre 1950 Sri Lanka? The most plausible hypothesis, a World War 2 death camp maintained by the Allies in the colony of Ceylon, is not borne out by recorded history or legend.

They had a decent burial- The lying posture of the skeletons from the mass- burial at St. Mary Spital London are different from Matale

They had a decent burial- The lying posture of the skeletons from the mass- burial at St. Mary Spital London are different from Matale

Forensic Archaeology

Bone fragments were first discovered on 24 November 2012 during earth moving operations in the Matale Hospital premises. The judicial inquiry by the Matale Magistrate started on 26th November. In a letter dated 10th December 2012, Consultant Judicial Medical Officer Dr. Ajith Jayasena asked the Post Graduate Institute of Archaeology to send Professor Raj Somadeva to the mass grave site, which had become a crime scene. The professor went, saw and prepared a forensic archaeological report (full text) on the 154 individual skeletons that were scattered within 97.75 square meters. It was a piled up burial. Two layers.

Anti-cultural burial

It was not what’s known as a ‘decent burial’. The Matale burial postures, we are shown, contrast with the neat coffin postures seen on the skeletons found in the mass- burial at the St. Mary Spital London, probably the legacy of some natural catastrophe such as an epidemic. There are several skulls that remain devoid of their skeletons. It may indicate that such skulls, that is to say heads, had loosened from their body parts before burial. Distilling, the report states: “These four observations urge one to think that there has been no formal mortuary ritual performed during the burial event. It specifically signifies that the intention of offering due respect to the diseased has not been considered so important.”– (p34)

They did not have a decent burial- Free burial postures of Matale corpses

They did not have a decent burial- Free burial postures of Matale corpses

Naked corpses

According to the report “The absence of evidence of any clothes that covered the bodies of those who were meant by corpses at the time of the inhumation is somewhat questionable.”– (p39). The only sign of clothing that can be associated with the skeletons is a button, which Raj Somadeva thinks, on stylistic grounds, was part of female attire. The professor is led to “the inference that those corpses would have been buried without their clothing and the cloths would have been removed merely before burial. I guess that the button that remained is an accidentally fallen object during the quick removal of clothing form one of the corpses.”

Decapitated bodies

Meet Skeleton no. 76- They cut off the upper part his head with a sharp tool

Meet Skeleton no. 76- They cut off the upper part his head with a sharp tool

Detailing an extra gruesome aspect of the mass grave, the report states; “The upper part of the skull of skeleton number 76 including its parietal and frontal bones has been removed by cutting it using a sharp tool (fig.41). This was not a result of the autopsy examination on the corpse (Jayasena pres. com)… The sharp cut-mark remained has strongly suggested that it is a result of a conscious human action probably the result of an action similar to decapitation.” Another awful observation is that “some of the skulls that remained at the site have lost their full skeletons (eg. no I/G/E/F53/51). No evidence exists to show that this was due to any post-burial disturbance such as the interference by scavenging animals like cadaver-dogs or a result of some anthropogenic disordering. Absence of evidence suggesting post-depositional disturbances urges to infer that the upper part of some of the corpses have been separated before they were buried.”– (p40-41)

Is that a scream? They removed his head from the trunk before the burial

Is that a scream? They removed his head from the trunk before the burial

Noosed legs

The report describes ‘two peculiar artefact occurrences’ associated with the Matale skeletons that suggest torture. “The association between a noose made out of a metal wire and the leg-bone of skeleton number 77 is unusual. This leg-bone was trapped in the metal noose when it was found. It suggests that this noose was attached to the leg of an individual who represented this skeleton when it was buried. In a comparative sense this metal noose stands for neither jewellery nor any ritualistic amulet within the cultural context in Sri Lanka.”– (p41).

No chance of escape- Left leg of skeleton no.77 was trapped in a metal noose.

No chance of escape- Left leg of skeleton no.77 was trapped in a metal noose.

Chained feet

From a place close to the foot of skeleton no.59, six rusted objects that seem to be links of a metal chain were found. They are listed as පැ 06 in the case record of the Magistrate Court and as Object ID – MT/MG/2012/Mo1 (fig. 11) in the Somadeva report. (p17, 18)

Nailed hands

Five iron nails were found associated with the finger bones of skeleton no.6. One of the nails had bone fragments attached at either end suggesting it had penetrated the bones of the palm. Skeleton no. 06-B meanwhile had three iron nails fallen on the ground on either side of its right leg.-(p41)

Pre-1950 or 1986-1990?

When the Presidential Commission of Inquiry was appointed into the mass graves, it was eager to take the investigation forward along channels opened by the judicial enquiry. On 3rd February 2014, M. A. Cyril, Secretary to the Commission wrote to the Inspector General of Police: “It appears to the Commission that the Magistrate Matale has not been able to bring the inquest into the above deaths to a conclusion due to the nonavailability of scientific evidence in order to establish the time period during which these deaths have occurred.”

Did that hurt? An artistic reconstruction of the systemic setting of iron nails into the finger bones of skeleton no.6

Did that hurt? An artistic reconstruction of the systemic setting of iron nails into the finger bones of skeleton no.6

Nevertheless, in the forensic archaeological report, a time period had been established: As suggested by the dates of the manufacture of artifacts, this inhumation has been carried out at a time not earlier than the year 1986 and not later than the year 1990.”- (p47).

Eagerness for radiometry

It’s important to understand that in arriving at this time bracket, the skeletons have been dated relative to the objects found above and below them. The skeletons in the middle have been automatically dated by an archaeologist who was satisfied that it was an undisturbed stratigraphy. Hence an eagerness was expressed by all parties to cross check this relative date through radiocarbon dating. In page 46 of his report professor Somadeva recommended “Radiocarbon Bomb-pulse Method (RBM)… which needs a small sample and has a high degree of reliability to date the forensic materials especially that has a recent origin.”

Drama in Commission

When the radiocarbon test results arrived contradicting the relative time bracket, there was restrained drama in the Commission on 19 November 2014:

Mr. Kitulgoda: …you were not absolutely sure about the opinion you expressed. That is why you requested the Magistrate to have a proper investigation done at Beta analytics USA. Now, today you have received the report of the radiocarbon dating test. Are you inclined to agree with this?

Prof Somadeva: Actually there is no problem because this is an independent report by the Smithsonian Laboratory. It’s a scientific report, so we must accept it. But record this very carefully. Who send the samples and what sort of samples. I clearly stated to the Head of the CID before sending these samples, to be careful because the mass grave was twice submerged by rain water. So, definitely the samples have been contaminated. So, before sending the samples you have to get the advice from a Medical Practitioner that these samples are not contaminated by any exogenic chemical property.

Jayasena vs Somadeva

When I called Dr. Ajith Jayasena to get his take on this contamination issue, he told me that at the time the pit was submerged by rains, the majority of the skeletons were still underground. When I checked this with Raj Somadeva, he agreed. This means that the professor has no grounds for his rather sweeping statement: “So, definitely the samples have been contaminated” What he probably meant in front of the Commission was that since there were some skeletons amongst the 154 that had been exposed to rain water, someone could have collected a contaminated sample if they didn’t know which was which.

Professor’s gripe

In his testimony before the Commission on 19 November, Raj Somadeva’s main gripe (if one may use that term for his professional displeasure) is that the collecting and handling the samples were not done under his supervision. Listen to him;

“So you have to be careful. Samples should be collected by trained people… It has to be done by an Archaeologist. …At least Dr. Ajith Jayasena should collect the samples under the observation of an Archaeologist …Actually, Sir, I advised the officials before sending those samples that you have to get the confirmation of the rate of contamination. Without that the scientific results will be changed. It will come upwards or downwards…You cannot pick a long bone from a skeleton, put to a bag and send to the Beta Analytics …If someone ask me how to handle the sampling procedure as an archaeologist, I will help them how to collect this, what is the procedures and everything. Nobody asked me about that.”

No paper trail

When I asked Dr. Ajith Jayasena what he thought of this stand, he retorted; “Have you read his report? Is any of this mentioned there?” I think that is a fair question. The recommendation to send bone samples for radiocarbon dating came from the professor. He specified to the Matale Magistrate the name of the test, name of the lab, contact details, price range, required sample size and number, even what type of container to use. Any recommendation that samples should be collected and preserved under the supervision of an archaeologist or that contamination levels should be tested is missing from the written record. As an outsider, it seems to me vital in a multi-party investigation to leave a paper trail of your concerns and recommendations because verbal instructions can get lost in the translation or fall by the wayside.

Radiocarbon virgins

“Yes he mentioned that samples may be contaminated. But why is everything verbal?” said Dr. Ajith Jayasena to me over the phone. This question had also occurred to the Commission when they had the professor before them on 19 November.

Prof Somadeva– …It totally depends on chemistry. It should be tested by a chemist and confirm it. So I clearly stated that fact, before sending those samples to the chief of the CID.

Mr. Kitulgoda: Have you stated that in your report?

Prof Somadeva: No, why should I state that in the report? No. I do not want to. I am not involved in doing scientific testing.

I find the professor’s attitude here totally puzzling. Why shouldn’t he state that in the report? Why didn’t he want to? I called him up to ask. “These things are common sense” was his answer. They may be common-sense to a radiocarbon dating veteran like him but apparently the rest of the mass grave team were radiocarbon virgins. “This is the first time we have sent a bone sample for radiocarbon testing”, Dr. Jayasena told me. I asked why he did not get the bones tested for contamination before sending. “We are forensic people. I don’t have the expertise to do that type of test. And such a test wasn’t specified by the lab” said Dr. Jayasena adding that he even asked a reputed forensic scientist about what information to send. “Just the weight of the samples and which anatomical area they came from” were all he was advised to specify. “No, no. There is a separate column in the Beta Analytic Inc. form, asking if the samples have been contaminated en route, etc. They ask this because if there has been contamination they can refine the sample” clarified Prof. Somadeva when I called for the third time. I asked him if he is sure of this as Dr. Jayasena had insisted that the lab did not ask for contamination levels. “Of course I am sure. I filled about six forms to send samples to Beta Analytic just now. Dr. Jayasena wouldn’t have filled the form anyway. It would be done by the CID”. “Did the CID ask you about how to fill the form?” I ask. “No. nobody asked me” says Raj Somadeva.

The Presidential commission of Inquiry into the Matale mass grave has had its final sitting. We await the outing of their report to see what they have made of all this.

*@ http://ratnawalli.com / and rathnawalli@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 1
    6

    I suppose I have to say I am completely confused now . but what does this mean

    cheers

    Abhaya

    • 2
      0

      Sorry for delayed disclaimer…
      “Disclaimer. Thanking the positive commentors, yet emphasizing that comments and the commentors on this site are not connected with me in any way. All the comments are entirely a reflection on the democracy and the discretion of this site. I haven’t solicited those comments in any way, nor am I part of any “circle” consisting of these commentors. They are completely unknown to me and I haven’t submitted my article to them. This disclaimer is to establish the widest distance from and renounce all responsibility for the levels of comprehension of those outside my intended target audience. In other words, this is not my group. Although there are sites out there that are maintained to facilitate discussion within a group, this is not to my knowledge such a group-site”

    • 10
      2

      Ken Robert

      Here is your favorite child historian exploring Mass Matale grave,
      trespassing into many disciplines such as

      archaeology,
      forensic science,
      bit of old style investigative journalism,
      bit of my dear Watson,
      protocols and standard operating procedures investigating mass graves, dental archaeology,
      Pali dictionary,
      etymology of Sinhala Gama (Vasgoda) ….
      Aryan myth pool,
      old codger’s historical rewriting …….
      jam,
      glass darkly,
      take a dig at established non conformist historians,
      Naga’s nationalism in year 3000 BC,
      ….

      Is this an exercise to exonerate the Mass Killer of Matale?

      If the diggers dug further into the ditch they would have seen a park bench carved in Prakrit old Sinhala Pali language in Brahmi Epigraphy stating “We were here- Yakka and Yakshini (3,500 BC)”.

      What they meant was they were going to produce a Aryan Sinhala/Buddhists race by 1900 AD.

      • 5
        2

        NV,

        reading her article,
        this on her part is not just being nosey but interfering in another profession like chinas party men at each and every department hospital organisation where employees have to ask `how to do` at every step etc etc.
        When the chinese come to the west on training programmes folk get baffled at the number of questions they ask- its their system of one society – antisocial in a way for outsiders and the link is ultimately money the root cause of all good.

        Our education does not entail us to be like the Chinese set-up. Being a Lanka university built on british bearings it is appalling to say the least.

        When she says others are virgins- it is very amusing to note the level of education-

        Most of us select the multi-disciplinary courses(not UK) in the west to be professionals

      • 2
        7

        NV

        what is your problem . have you you lost your marbles again ?

        Cheers

        Abhaya

        • 3
          1

          Buru Cucu,

          are you into erotic art `her_story/hi_story?

      • 3
        1

        Vedda

        Where is her usual disclaimer?

        The problem is most of the commenters here on CT do not bother to read her articles. The moment they see her photo (taken 10 years ago), they start commenting but however she has a very huge imaginary ‘target audience’.

        If you see the comments in her previous articles on CT, anyone arguing against her opinion (those very few who read her articles) will be asked first to play with rubric cube and jig-saw puzzles followed by adult/sex toys and then have erotic wet dreams. That is what she had been doing to get this kind of knowledge and intelligence. A new kind of education system that she has discovered to become clever like her.

        Vedda, we know that you are thick but at least teach your children to throw away those twigs, leaves, animal bones, etc and start playing with what she has recommended if you want to improve their IQ.

        • 2
          0

          Silva

          What exactly do you want me to do?

      • 0
        0

        no remorse or sympathy for the people who underwent torture but seeking an opportunity to take a cheap shot at the writer because the writer doesnt agree with your ‘history’………..

        these are the very ppl talking about human rights ne…

    • 0
      0

      It means an important findings of the victims of a massacre has been lost due to negligence or ignorance or deliberate tampering of evidence by officials in CID.

  • 3
    0

    MR will be remembered by his famous quote “I have the files”. When archeologist enter the Temple Trees and dig a little bit in the ground there, they will find hundreds and hundreds of investigation reports – remember that MR’s most used phrase in 9 years has been “I will launch an investigation”.

    To name one: last year staff from the Census Department (or something like that) came by my house and asked if we were affected by the civil war. When did the results of that investigation become public?

  • 0
    1

    Whatever happened to Dhashanee Ratnawalli and What’s wrong with her ? !

  • 0
    1

    Whatever happened to Dharshanee Ratnawalli and is she alright ?

  • 5
    2

    As the tide is changing DR too is attempting to change, DR has with great difficulty ditched the Yakshaya, Dr. Who and Nagas have attempted to do something different. we should commend her for the effort.

    This is the effect of new hope and ripples passing across the nation. We are all waiting for a new beginning, it’s not over yet. Still there is substantial majority community vote for MR. Maybe those people are still under the impression that they should let him be the king for one more time for ending the Terrorism. This is because their lack of political acumen. This is a age old problem can’t do much about it. However with collective minority vote added MY3 should become President.

    Everyone deserve a second chance, as soon as I did not see the usual disclaimer I knew this is a changed person. I welcome DR to MY3 camp.

    (I did not read the article as usual but I am sure there is a hidden message)

  • 3
    2

    This leaves us with the question – where are Gota’s victims of the JVP uprising buried?

    Have they been burned like the victims after the end of the LTTE war in 2009?

    Looks like Gota has left no tracks of his atrocities against his victims that might lead to him being punished. The clever rascal.

    • 5
      2

      Piranha

      “Looks like Gota has left no tracks of his atrocities against his victims that might lead to him being punished. The clever rascal.”

      He can hide behind his brother, rhetoric, finger waging, threat, his fellow war criminals, … Sinhala/Buddhist nationalism but he should know there no such thing as perfect crime.

      He will have to face the music one day.

  • 0
    2

    Dear friends;

    Please do not take me account into those Murders.

    I have Nothing to do with those Mass Graves. Historic, 1950s to 1990s or Present days.
    because they are in up country, at Matale area.
    Not our jurisdiction area of Down South.

    In down south we had a little touch-up.
    Those days, I was busy with my bosses Jarapassa clan at Boose, Sooriya kanda and Tangalle area.

    BUT PLESES DO NOT ever think to COME TO DOWN SOUTH TO UNEARTH ANY MASS GRAVES,
    YOU MAY HAVE A TATAR TO HANDLE OKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!.
    Do not say that WE DID NOT TELL YOU.

    • 1
      1

      JULAMPITIYE AMARAYA

      Where did you bury your partner?

  • 0
    1

    I was just thinking of this girl the other day, I thought she had been eaten up by the Yakshaya or Naga since she went all quiet.

    By the way, wonder what her mentor Michael Roberts thinks of the election !

  • 1
    6

    Handy work of Cameron’s ancestors, before handing back our Motherland to the Elite, Anglicans and the Vellalas.

  • 1
    0

    The writer’s article has many details about forensic medicine and the conduct of so called experts, which in turn becomes difficult for normal folks like us to understand what the writer is trying to say.

    However, judging from the contents of the paragraph captioned “Pre-1950 mass graves?” the writer is trying to convey that the scientific opinion expressed does not match with known facts in that era. The question is we assume that everything was nice and fine under the white man. Was it? Just as much as the conduct of those responsible in the present day is made questionable, the same can be said of the yester-year, after all they are nothing but humans. In my opinion those responsible in the yesteryear knew how to cover things very well.

    Do not misunderstand, I keep an open mind regarding the time of burial of these bodies.

  • 2
    0

    Delightful Darshanie (and others) will be kept very busy indeed as more unmarked burial sites are unearthed up and down the country. From KKS to Dondra Head, from Oluvil to Duwa, our blessed land holds more than its fair share of secrets. Many a whiskery old local has been heard to tell the children to stay clear of a particular piece of land as ‘bad’ things happened there long ago. Of course, some of the skeletons were washed down rivers to the sea, though occasionally stray bones may be found on river banks and by the sea.

    Many live on harbouring secrets, their lips sealed by a deathly fear for the consequences of revelation.

    May the souls of OUR unfortunate citizenry Rest in Peace.

    • 3
      0

      Spring Koha

      When did you decide to call this child delightful rather than fragrant? And Why? Do I smell something fishy?

  • 0
    1

    Darshani, run for your life before white van arrives!!!!

    It looks God’s mill started to grind slowly!!!!

  • 0
    0

    Rathnavalli,

    Thanks for the report..I am expecting your next article on the subject.

    regards
    Ishanka

    • 1
      0

      Ishanka/Sach

      “I am expecting your next article on the subject”
      Next article is on Muthur mid summer murders, how terrorists killed students
      story; created by MR (not mara) and narrated by DR
      regards
      ken

      Native.
      I read the story in Nation.lk few days ago. This is certainly off her usual target of Sinhala (sorry sihala), Buddhist, indoaryan isolated brammological nagadeepa attack of clowns on professors ideology.

      Forensic medicine is a complex medical speciality. I defer my comments in respect of the honourable teachers on FM at MFC.

      • 3
        0

        Ken Robert

        “I defer my comments in respect of the honourable teachers on FM at MFC.”

        Thanks.

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