Mass grave in Mannar: Carbon dating reports to Mannar Magistrate on Wednesday | Sunday Observer

Mass grave in Mannar: Carbon dating reports to Mannar Magistrate on Wednesday

The carbon dating reports of five of the six samples of skeletal remains of the largest mass grave in Sri Lanka, arrived on Friday,” Chief Investigator and Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) Mannar Dr. Saminda Rajapaksha said.

“The result of the other sample is expected in a few days. The result would be presented to the Mannar Magistrate’s Courts on Wednesday,” he said.

However, he declined to comment on the result.

“As the Chief Investigator, I was the only one who was given online access. The report would come through the post or courier to me with a copy to the Mannar courts,” Dr. Rajapaksha said.

“This is to eliminate any possible tampering with the results.

The Beta Analytic Laboratory in Florida, USA, takes “14 work days for the tests,” he said.

Dr. Rajapaksha and three independent observers; Mirak Raheem, a Commissioner of the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) and two lawyers representing the families of the missing persons in Mannar, Attorneys-at-Law S. Niranjan and R. Grnanarajah handed over six skeletal samples to Beta Analytic Laboratory, for radio-carbon dating on January 25.

The excavation and sample taking was conducted, preserving the integrity and transparency of the process on December 18, on the guidelines provided by the laboratory, in the presence of the Mannar Magistrate and his team of observers, Dr. Rajapaksha said.

Judicial Medical Officer, Mannar, Dr. Rajapaksha, consultant JMOs, Forensic Archaeologists led by Prof. Raj Somadewa, Government Analyst’s Department officials and Police Officers comprise the investigators. The six samples represented three different levels of excavation and horizontally located skeletons at the site, he said.

When the Sunday Observer visited the mass grave site in Mannar last Wednesday, the Northern border adjoining the main Medawachiya-Thalaimannar A14 road and the North-Western border adjoining a byroad had expanded. The digging goes under the main road, stopping just one metre from the main pipe-line distributing water to the city. It had also reached half-way under the byroad. Both sides had been reinforced with wooden planks. The investigators opted to expand the area of the pit to establish its extent.

“With the permission of the Magistrate, we used backhoes and expanded it early January.” However, according to the Chief Investigator, the margins of the grave had not been established. They planned to continue with the expansion even though the carbon dating result had arrived.

“We will continue with the expansion and decide on the future steps,” Dr. Rajapaksha said. “The eastern side, disturbed previously by people and machines which took away sand, had not been investigated. The area needs to be examined for a complete picture,” he said.

As of last Friday, the 146th day of the investigation, 323 skeletons had been identified and 314, including 28 paediatric skeletal remains taken from the site’s undisturbed area about three metres northwards from the torndown Sathosa building. The area had the informal burial site. The investigators were digging in an area two metres below the top soil, at the mean sea level, and the bottom margin was below the sea level.

Water is around the skeletons as the digging is below the sea level and due to rainwater in the soil from the North-East monsoon which had been drenching the area for the past few weeks, Dr. Rajapaksha said. Though the water and the soil structure affect decomposition of the bodies, it would not affect the carbon dating. “To establish dating, they calculate the half-life of the carbon isotope C14 in human bones,” he said.

Though carbon dating will not provide a specific date, it would provide a time within 10 years from the date of the death of a person.

The mass grave at the Sathosa premises at the Grand Bazaar, Mannar, was found in March last year. After site inspections by the Mannar Magistrate and the JMO and the Police, excavations began in the undisturbed area on May 28, 2018.