Chemical Conservations

About Division

Application of chemical and physical treatment to ancient paintings, sculpture and artifacts in order to minimize their deterioration due to natural or other causes, is the major role of the Chemical Conservation Division of the Department of Archaeology. By such treatment, it is expected to prolong the lifespan of ancient paintings, sculpture and artifacts and preserve them for posterity.

Although the Department of Archaeology of Sri Lanka was established in 1890, it had no Chemical Conservation Division until 1940s. During the early part of 1940s, there was a risk of  the world famous Sigiriya cave paintings being discoloured and loosen its plastering. At that time, there was no expert in the island to take remedial measures. Hence Mr. Khan Bahadur Mohamed Sana Ulla, the chemist of the Indian Archaeological Department came to the island on 27th January 1943 and preserved Sigiriya cave paintings. He trained Mr. P. Don Ambrose in chemical conservation work and thus the Department of Archaeology gained ground for chemical conservation work.

After retirement from the Department of Archaeology in India Mr. Khan Bahadur Mohamed Sana Ulla came to Sri Lanka once again on 13th April 1947 and attended conservation of murals in the country, until August of that year. He played a major role in the conservation of Thivanka Pilima Geya in Polonnaruwa. He contributed immensely towards the conservation of mural paintings in the country taking special conservation measures at Lankathilaka Pilima Geya and Gal Vihara in Polonnaruwa in addition to other places such as Pulligoda and Hindagala.

The Department of Archaeology recruited a chemist for the first time on 1st of November, 1949 for carrying out conservation work. Mr. R.H. De Silva who has been recruited to the Conservation Division of the Department as an Apprentice Chemist received a training at Deradun in India under the Indian Archaeological Chemist.

In 1950, the plastering of Sigiriya cave paintings again got weakened and began to fall. Mr. Sarath Wattala, Draughtsman of the Department who had experience in working under Mr. Sana’ Ula was able to take remedial measures.

For the first time in 1953, a conservation laboratory was established in a building at the Music and Dancing Institute, Colombo. During the decades of 1950s and 1960s, the laboratory gradually advanced into high position and in addition to conservation of paintings, widened its activities into various spheres such as control of fungus and weeds in ancient monuments, strengthening of plastering, conservation of antiquities, conducting research and experiments for new conservation methods and manufacturing plastic replicas of inscriptions. The Conservation Laboratory was shifted to the modern laboratory building within the head office premises in Colombo in the early 1970s.

The night of 14th October 1967 was the most challenging night of the department history. That night, a vandal had destroyed the world famous Sigiriya painting by applying paint on them. This incident shocked the entire world. Restoration of the frescoes was a serious challenge to be taken over by the conservation Division of the Department. The conservation team headed by Dr. R.H.De Silva attended to the restoration work with great effort under the guidance of Italian expert Mr. Luciano Marency. Possibility of restoring and preserving the Sigiriya rock paintings for posterity was a triumphant victory of the Chemical Conservation division.


Dr. R.H. De Silva


Restored Sigiriya Frescoes


Mr. Luciano Marency


Restored Sigiriya Frescoes


Restoring the destroyed Sigiriya frescoes

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Department of Archaeology
Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha,
Colombo - 07,
Sri Lanka.
Phone : +94 11 2692840, +94 11 2692841
Fax : +94 11 2696250
Email :


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