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The Research Laboratory of the Central Cultural Fund is located at the Independence avenue, Colombo-07, and is responsible in carrying out scientific research and providing technical and scientific consultancy for the regional conservation laboratories. The Research Laboratory functions under 4 divisions, Microbiology, Geology, Chemistry and Civil Engineering. Presently, human resources are available only in Geology and Microbiology units.
Lichen control team on experiments
Lichen control experiments at Sigiriya
Treatment for a microbial growth
Lichen growing on the Mirror wall
Lichen growing on a stone pillar in Gadaladeniya
1. Microbiology unit

Microbiology unit focuses on identification of destructive micro-organisms (as well as insects) found on the surface of paintings and monuments. Further, the experiments of this unit extend towards controlling the growth of flora and fauna found within the materials such as surfaces of mural paintings and monuments including ancient stupa.

Microbiology unit provides biological solutions needed for the conservational work carried out in world heritage sites in Sri Lanka. Microorganisms play an important role in weathering of rocks and minerals. We have recorded many different types of lichens growing on cultural monuments made out of rocks and bricks, and also on plastered surfaces. A “Lichen” is a symbiotic association of a fungus and an algae which is well adopted to the nature therefore, difficult to remove. Lichens deteriorate the growth surface physically by penetration into the substrate with their hyphae and chemically by secreting lichenic acids which ultimately looses the carvings on the rock surfaces. Microbiology unit carries out a lichen control programme in order to eliminate and prevent the regrowth of lichens on the cultural monuments.

There are many historical temples with archaeologically valued mural paintings on rock and brick surfaces on which we identified the growth of microorganisms mainly bacteria, actinomycetes and fungi. These organisms grow and deteriorate the surfaces damaging the paintings. Bacteria mainly attack the surface by chemical action with a potential to decolourize the pigments in some species. In addition, the recorded actinomycetes form a layer on the painting reducing its visibility. Fungi are found commonly on monuments such as Buddha statues in shrine rooms of the historical temples. These fungi damage the monuments through penetration of hyphae and also cause staining on and within stone and mural paintings. The Microbiology unit investigates such microbiological issues and provide necessary instructions for conservational work.

We have faced many incidents where we wanted to confirm the identification of micro-organisms through molecular biological evidence to prove the existence of destructive species (such as decolourising of mural paintings), which were closely matched according to the micro-organisms' morphological, biological and behavioural data. Revolution of such data might play a critical role in prolonging the life span of cultural monuments.

Consequently, this unit is planning to expand with the molecular biology applications towards the archaeogenetics, which will enable the unit to investigate the ancient human and animal DNA where it could provide evidence to make links with geo-archaeology and human establishment. Presently, the Microbiology unit collaborates with the Department of Microbiology at the University of Kelaniya for some projects.


2. Geology Unit

Geology unit mainly focuses on application of geo-scientific techniques in archaeological research (Geoarchaeology), investigative research on conservation of tangible cultural heritage (Case studies) and improving and introducing proper scientific conservation techniques and methods suitable to Sri Lankan environment.

Geoarchaeological research at CCF deals with archaeological explorations by the application of geophysical and remote sensing techniques, archaeological excavations by characterization of archaeological earth materials such as cultural soils, stones, minerals and materials made up of earth resources, studying site formation process and geochronological studies of cultural materials such as dating of soils, pottery and bricks.

Though research the laboratory has established the only dating unit in Sri Lanka with TL dating equipment nearly twenty years ago. Presently geochronological research which is essential in archaeological excavations has been delayed due to malfunction of old equipment. One of the main ideas of improving geology unit of the research laboratory is to re-establish the Geochronological research in Sri Lanka.

The geophysical techniques in archaeological explorations are rarely applied in archaeological context and very few cases were noted in the history. Popularizing the different geophysical techniques among the archaeologists of the country is important and it will reduce the cost of manual explorations and excavations. 

CCF maintains and monitors five world heritage sites of the country (sacred cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Kandy and Galle). Conservation of monuments in those sites is a highly prioritized activity of CCF and varieties of materials are subjected to and engaged in conservation process. Hence different techniques and methods are to be applied and suitability of the techniques has to be considered in each and every aspect of conservation since most of the monumental pieces are rare, iconic and in some cases those are in danger of deterioration.

Therefore science based research on problem identification in deterioration of tangible cultural heritage, selection of available suitable conservation techniques and/or finding most suitable technique by researching are the most important activities to be performed. Presently conservation activities are being improved and new conservation laboratories are established due to increase of the number of pieces or sites to be conserved.

Presently a range of geo scientific techniques are applied though the unit possess while some of the requirements for research are fulfilled by collaborative work with the other research institutes and universities of the country.


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