This series ‘Kotte Heritage’ would explore the archaeological and heritage sites of the Kotte Kingdom. Kotte, before becoming the Capital in the 15th century was first developed as a fortress in the late 14th century by Nissanka Alakesvara to serve as a base for his attacks on the Arya Cakravarti of Jaffna. In 1415 with the ascension of Parakramabahu VI as King, Kotte was selected as the Capital due to its superb fortifications and expanded into a beautiful city with further fortifications. Kotte served as the Capital of the kingdom till 1565 when the Portuguese who were defending the Kingdom on behalf of King Dharmapala decided to relocate the city to Colombo due to the continuous attacks from the Seethavaka Kingdom under Rajasinghe I. It is stated that they demolished all the buildings and used the material to expand Colombo.
What remains of the city at present and commonly known are the Veherakanda ruins, Alakesvara’s palace, some ruins at Parakumba Pirivena, the tunnel at Ananda Sastralaya, the Inner and outer moats and sections of the rampart. There are traces of other ruins within Ethul Kotte and Pita Kotte which belong to the fortress but which are not quite known and not conserved. This series will explore all known and unknown historic sites and the legends surrounding them.
The Inner-city and Outer-city
In order to get a proper understanding of the purpose of the tunnel systems it is important to know the city limits. As stated above the city of Kotte developed as a fortress and grew into a fortified city. The historic development of the fortifications of the city of Kotte could be seen in two stages, the first stage by Nissanka Alakeshvara and the second by King Parakramabahu VI. Throughout these two stages of development, various defense systems were constructed such as ramparts, bastions, moats, and various others (this series would explore each of these features in the future). During this development stage a network of tunnels was constructed for the security of the fort.
The fortified city was divided into two sections, as the inner-city and the outer-city, this is still known at present as Ethul Kotte and Pita Kotte; and access to the city was through 7 passes with the only land pass being at Pita Kotte which was about 200 feet wide and was heavily fortified by Alakeshvara and later by the Portuguese as well.
The area of the inner-city at present comprises of the land, from the north at the entrance to Ethul Kotte road from Parliament road to the south near the Salvation Army church on Ethul Kotte road and from the east, from Nippon Avenue to the area bordering the Kolonnawa Canal in the west. The inner-city gate was found in the area where the Salvation Army Church is, which is less than 100m to the south from the Kotte Archaeological Museum. The area of the outer-city comprises the area between the inner-city gate up to the Sirikotha which is about 80m before the Pita Kotte junction. This was the main land pass to the city. With this context, we could now look into the tunnel network with a clearer mind of the surroundings.
The Inner-City tunnel
Tunnels are an important feature of a fortification which serves as an escape for the occupants under a siege and also to attack the enemy by surprise. The fortress of Kotte was equipped with such a tunnel system. The fortified city of Kotte was equipped with two tunnel systems, one for the inner city and outer city.
The inner city tunnel was said to have been built by King Parakramabahu VI. It functioned as an escape route with its entrance inside the city and exit leading to the lake where people could easily take boats to the other side. It is rumored that the entrance to the tunnel was through a well inside the city. The exit of this tunnel network was to be found until recently in the premises of the Christian Mission College down Mission road now known as Sri Jayawardenapura Maha Vidyalaya.
The writer on the 4th February 2017 visited the College premises with Mr. Saliya De Silva, Council member of the Kotte Heritage Foundation, a resident of Kotte and old boy of the College. Mr. De Silva knew the location of the exit of the tunnel which was accessible during his school days. Walking towards the Primary section of the school near the lake which was a considerable drop in elevation, he pointed towards a stone wall and explained that the exit was found here. He states that the opening was about 5 feet in diameter and ran several meters inwards. This was visible in the 1960s during their school days but was subsequently sealed off as it posed a danger to students who might venture in. Judging from the surroundings, it was an ideal place for an exit of a tunnel as the terrain formed a ditch-like feature giving cover to the escapees. And its close proximity to the lake about 20 feet from the opening was ideal for an escape over the lake as the surrounding higher elevation and trees would made it hard to escapees to be seen.
Climbing the higher ground and heading towards the school Mr. De Silva pointed to a location and explained that there used to be a Tennis Court during his school days were in the corner a certain section of the tunnel was revealed. This has been mentioned in the Administrative Report for 1968-70 of the Department of Archaeology. As at present, no visible location of the Inner-city tunnel exists.
Apart from this, there are few sites within the school of notable historic significance.
The Lambrick Hall
This massive Hall was constructed in 1822 by the Rev. Samuel Lambrick when he established the ‘Cotta-Institute’ providing Christian missionary education by the Church Missionary Society. In time this came to be known as the Christian Missionary College and now Sri Jayawardenapura Maha Vidyalaya. This is perhaps the oldest School in Sri Lanka still in existence. This hall is built of typical Bristish-Ceylonese style architecture with massive columns and corridors and characterised by a large single roof. The roof has been renovated in recent times but the columns and the wooden doors and frames bears witness to the beautiful architecture of the 19th century. This is protected by the Department of Archaeology.
The ancient Na-tree (ironwood tree)
Adjoining the hall is an old Na tree said to be over 1000 years old. Legend states that the Ven. Sri Rahula wrote the Salelihini Sandesaya under this tree; no historical or archaeological evidence is found to support this claim but it is believed that this land in the which the present school is, was known as ‘Erabath-Tota’ during the recent past. It is also believed that during the days of Kotte kingdom it was the seat of ancient learning known as the Dharma Rajika Pirivena. Since a Buddhist temple can be situated 500 dunu (bow) lengths away from the inner-city according to the Vinaya pitaka, there can be some truth in this legend. [The distance to the school premises from the inner-city gate is about 500 metres.]
Mr Douglas Ranasinghe has shown in his map a Kotavehera by the side of Mission Road existed during mid-20th century. Kotavehera type dagabas are presumed to be tombs build for important persons. It is possible that this was built at the place where one of the air inlets of the tunnel existed.
Monument to the Son of Veera Keppatipola
Legend states that the son of Veera Keppatipola after his execution in 1818 was taken under British Missionaries and educated at this school where he lived in the hostel and had died due to a fever and was cremated within the school premises. In recent times a monument has been built to mark the spot where he is rumoured to have been cremated. This is right next to the old Na tree. There are no written records to prove this stated Mr. De Silva.
The writer would wish to thank the Principal Mr. D. A. D. Vanaguru for granting permission to document the historic sites within the school and is happy to note that he is keen in preserving these ancient monuments; and also to Mr. Saliya De Silva for the guided explanation of the monuments.
The Outer City Tunnels
There were two tunnels leading from the outer-city built by Alakeshvara for defensive purposes. One being a small tunnel only sufficient for people to walk through and the other tunnel is said to be large enough for a horse to ride. Both these tunnels appears to have started in the outer-city behind the outer moat and fortifications and opened up at a tunnel junction in Pita Kotte with the small tunnel leading further south and opening at the ditch passed the Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya.
The smaller tunnel which had two sections began from the west of the main land pass and the first section opening up at the tunnel junction and the second section opening up further south. The Portuguese historian De Couto mentions an incident where during one of the sieges of Kotte by Rajasinghe of Seethawaka, that a Portuguese foraging expedition had discovered the forces of Rajasinghe hiding in the jungles outside the land pass and had used a tunnel to attack the rear of Rajasinghe’s army which caused much damage due to the surprised attack. This shows that the small tunnel was in existence during the times of the Portuguese. The larger tunnel is said to have begun from the eastern corner of the outer rampart and opened up at the tunnel junction.
The Tunnel Junction
Interestingly this tunnel junction could still be found in the premises of the Kotte Ananda Sastralaya and is one of the most unique archaeological remains of Kotte. The Kotte Ananda Sastralaya is one of the most prominent schools in Kotte and could be arrived at by taking the small road to the left of the Gal Ambalama in Pita Kotte junction. The ruins are found within the school premises.
There are two large structures which are cut out of living cabook rock or laterite and what is most interesting is that these are found below the ground level. Once entered from the main gate of the school one could find to the right an area demarcated by a fence and within that gaze in amazement at the two massive structures in the ground. The entire area is about 10×5 meters and about 2 meters below the ground level. There are about 12 steps to get to the base level. The first structure is cut in the shape of a stupa and the second is a tall rectangular shaped structure with a decorated entrance portico extending outwards. The entrance portico is carved with a Makara Thorana and one could enter from here and exit from another opening in the rear. No tunnel could be found at present inside the structure which is a circular cavity with a pillar in the centre for support and one could barely stand inside. This structure is decorated right round with impressions of pillars and other designs.
The archaeological reports date this site to the 16th century and state that the crown of the Sinhala Kings was believed to have been engraved on top of the entrance portico. This site was known to exist well into the 20th century as it and archaeological reports of 2011 states that this was covered by mud, exposing only a small section. Proper excavations were conducted in 2014 which revealed the real magnitude of this site. Although the excavations conducted here revealed no tunnel, a scan using Ground Penetrating Radar had revealed anomalies in the earth which could be the tunnel. Although no archaeological evidence can be found to prove this as the tunnel junction, its location being below the ground level and surrounded by trees makes it an ideal tunnel exit which would have given perfect cover for escapees.
The exit of the smaller tunnel is said to be through a ditch south of the Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya but no visible location is found today.
Fonseka Prasad, KOTTE: THE FORTRESS, 2015.
De Silva, L.M.V., ‘We are Many Centuries Old’, Sri Jayawardenapura Maha Vidyalaya 168th Anniversary Celebration, 1990.
There are only few places that have had human associations from the prehistoric times and throughout all the ages up to the present. Pilikkuththuwa is one such place which has been a part of the human history of the island from prehistoric times to the present. This enchanting place is situated in about 200 acres of forest and contains 99 caves along with the present Viharaya known as the Pilikkuththuwa Rajamaha Viharaya. Entwined in nature and history, this beautiful site is a must visit site for Sri Lankans.
Pilikkuththuwa Rajamaha Viharaya is located in the Mahara Divisional Secretariat of the Gampaha District and is surrounded by Buthpitiya, Yongamulla, Koskandawala, Ambhagaspitiya, Maligathanna and Kandumulla areas and is within a boulder stud forest reserve. This can be reached by two ways, one by traveling to Miriswatta junction along the Kandy road from Colombo and turning right on the Wathurugama road and traveling 4km down, from the Pilikkuththuwa junction turn left on a small road and proceed 1km. The second route is from Yakkala junction coming from Colombo turning right on to the Radawana road and coming about 3km down this road take the right turn from the Batagolla junction and proceed about 1.5km to the site.
There are several legends as to how this place got its name, one Pilikkuththuwa is believed to have derived from Pilikothuwa which is the combination of the five Pili kotuwa, Arachchi kotuwa, Mal kotuwa, Harlpan kotuwa, and Bileegaha kotuwa. Further it is thought to be from the village that supplied Pili to the Kings and also that of the village that hid King Valagamba’s Queen’s jewelry.
This unique location, once a prehistoric site, was used as a monastery for meditating Monks during the Anuradhapura period all the way up to the Kandyan period. The present Vihara complex dates to the Kandyan period but the presence of drip ledges on most of the caves suggest this site dates back to a much earlier period and the discovery of Brahmi inscriptions on some of the caves dates back to the 2nd century BC confirming that this site was used by the Sangha from the early Anuradhapura period also coins found from the Thoppigala cave dating to the Polonnaruwa and Dambadeniya periods indicates that this site was used even after the Anuradhapura era.
It is known that in 1747 a disciple of Weliwita Sri Saranagkara Thera, Paranathala Sonuththara Thera arrived here and established the present Len Viharaya and also constructed the small stupa found in the premises. The buildings of the present Viharaya were established at various stages after its first establishment.
Speaking to the officer at the Archaeological Department Office within the premises, she explained that 4 rock inscriptions have been discovered so far and belong to the early Brahmi script; three of them are found within the premises and one in a private land. This place is littered with massive rock formations and natural caves, and these inscriptions are found on the top ledge of three caves.
The first inscription is found in a cave situated on the left of the Len Viharaya and is the cave which houses the small Archaeological Department Office as well. The four letter word can be found just below the drip ledge and reads ‘මනොරමෙ’ or in modern Sinhalese ‘මනෝරම්ය’ meaning delightful thus indicating the name of the cave. Even to this day this word is used to describe houses. This inscription is dated to the 1st century BC and the letters are 8 inches in height.
The second inscription is the most important and the longest. This inscription is found on a cave on the left after about 100m when entering the forest behind the Viharaya. It reads ‘අනිකටශ බතු නො අගිබුති නො දිනේ අගත අනගත වතුදිශ ශගශ’ meaning ‘Donation of Agibuthi, brother of the Cavalry Officer. Offered to the Sangha of the four quarters present and absent’. The special feature of this inscription is that the first line is read right to left and the second line in read left to right. This inscription which is dated between the 3rd to 1st centuries BC further proves that this site was hermitage for Monks and also gives indication of an organized military.
The third inscription can be found in the cave known as the Dakkina Lena and reads ‘දකිණි ලෙණේ’ meaning the cave to the right, thus giving the name of this cave. This is small in size and dated the 1st century BC.
The sources referred to states that there are 99 caves within the Vihara complex and the Pilikkuththuwa forest reserve and the majority of these contains drip ledges which are gutters cut along the top edge of the caves in order to prevent rain water from dripping into the cave.
This is a feature of the early historical period and is one of the main factors pointing the sites occupation as far as the early Anuradhapura period. Much of the caves within the Vihara complex have been used as Len Viharas and it is noted that buildings were constructed in different periods. Out of the forest caves, two prominent caves could be noted, them being the Thoppigala cave and the Dakkina cave. The Thoppigala cave could be found close to the Buthapitiya village boundary on a hillock. This cave was excavated in 1995 by digging a 5’-6’ deep pit and beads and red painted pottery fragments were found dating them to the early historic period and further coins belonging to the Polonnaruwa and Dambadeniya eras were found from this cave. The Dakkina cave with the inscription of the same name is small in size and from this cave too, through excavations, prehistoric lithic implements or stone tools along with animal bones were found, thus clearly dating the site to the prehistoric times.
Out of the notable monuments found here, the image house and its paintings, the small stupa, the ancient pond, the Dharmashalawa, the wooden bridge takes prominence. Arriving at Pilikkuththuwa one is greeted by the beautifully designed Dharmashalawa which is said to have been built in 1910. The center pillars are made of granite and the roof is designed into a 3 sections making it look like a three storied building. Taking the path to the right from here one would pass the present Awasage of the Monks which too is a beautiful old building and a compound of many old Awasa Len, some of which date from the Dutch period.
The large pond could be found to the east of the Dharmashalawa, this pond, said to be from the Anuradhapura period is supplied with water from underground springs from the surrounding forests and boulders. This pond is 21 feet in length and 20.8 feet in breath and is 8 feet deep with two identifiable levels. This pond is made from a large number of kalugal or granite and the entrance to the pond is from the eastern side by a flight of steps.
Going eastwards one would pass the pond and come across the old Bho tree which is claimed by residents to be an ancient tree but no archaeological evidence has been found to prove this. Continuing eastwards and passing the Bo tree one would come across the cave with the image house. The image house contains one sleeping figure of the Buddha, two seated statutes and statutes of Vishnu and Natha and Avalokitheiswara. The image house contains various other floral designs and Jataka stories. Most interesting of these paintings are those of two guardian figures painted on either side of the inner doorway, drawn in a European outfit, to which some sources claim them to be Portuguese soldiers and another source to English soldiers. These drawings were repainted in 1894 by an artist named ‘Mangali Heriye Siriya’.
To the right of the image house can be found the small stupa dating back to the Kandyan times under a large rock. From the base of the cave to the drip ledge is about 40 feet in height and touches the boulder of the cave with the image house at about 60 feet above the ground. This small stupa was protected by a decorative roof but was removed in recent times.
Going south passing the present Awasageya and the old Len Awasas, one would come across the small beautiful wooden bridge. This is said to have been built during the Kandyan times or even older and is made across a small stream. The length of the bridge is about 14 feet and 4 feet wide. The roof and railings are made of wood and the planks for the foundation are said to belong to a much older period. This is one of the most interesting monuments at the site.
A little beyond this is found the Pilikkuththuwa wawe which is said to be fed by the springs generated from the high forests above and which pass through the ancient pond to the north. The Pilikkuththuwa Rajamaha Viharaya also contains an antique Palanquin or Dolawa which is said to have carried Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera to preach Bana at this temple, this Dolawa was conserved in 2011 by the Department of Archaeology. Unfortunately the writer was unable to photograph this unique artifact.
Apart from its historical aspects, the surrounding forests of the monastic complex contain a wide variety of flora such as Jack, Waldel, Kaju, Kithul, Heen bovitiya, and Kanduru. There is also found an ancient Pusswela or creeper which is said to be over 400 years old and the circumference of the bark at a certain point is about 6 feet. This could be found when entering the forest with the caves from the left of the Manorame cave and traveling about 50m up that path. There is a board indicating it but to see the massive bark of the Pusswela, one must climb the nearby boulder to witness this marvel of nature rising between a gap in the rocks like the fabled bean stock of the famous children’s story.
For a true exploration of this place with all its caves, even two days would not be sufficient. This enchanting place where nature, prehistory and history entwine is a fascinating paradise to both the lover of history and nature. Pilikkuththuwa was gazetted as an archaeologically protected monument in 2002 and is constantly looked after by the Department of Archaeology with major conservation projects carried out in 2011 and 2012.
Pilikkuththuwa Sangwardana Salasuma, Department of Archaeology, 2011.
Pilikkuththuwa Sangwardana Salasuma, Department of Archaeology, 2012.
Aithihasika Pilikkuththuwa Puravidya Stana, Department of Archaeology
Damayanthi, M. A. M., Pilikkuththuwa Charikawa,
Senevirathna, S., ‘The Pilikkuththuwa Rajamaha Viharaya, Gampaha District’, Kelaniya Area Archaeological Research Project Vol. 4,
Department of Archaeology & Heritage Management, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka, Mihintale.
Translated by. Chryshane Mendis
When looking at the history of prehistoric research in Sri Lanka, the last stage could be considered as the modern period which began from 1969. When going through the prehistoric explorations conducted during this period and their findings, it could be stated as the golden age of prehistoric research in Sri Lanka. The archaeological excavations and analysis methods was revolutionized by Dr. Siran Deraniyagala in 1969 with the excavations of the near Image house (Gedige) of the Citadel area of Anuradhapura, which could be seen as the inaugural step into this modern period. The contributions made by the scholars who came through the free education system in the country could be seen during this period, and the most important resource person being Dr. Siran Upendra Deraniyagala. At the beginning of the modern period, all research on the prehistory of the country was done through the Department of Archaeology under the leadership of Dr. Siran Deraniyagala. Also during this period could be observed the contributions of foreign scholars invited by the Department or in collaboration with them. From the 1990s prehistoric research was being centered on the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology (PGIAR) of the University of Kaleniya.
In studying the contributions of the scholars of prehistory during this period, the works of Dr. Siran Deraniyagala takes much importance and from here on would follow the activities carried out into the prehistory of Sri Lanka by Dr. Deraniyagala.
The son of Dr. P. E. P. Deraniyagala (discussed in the previous article) and Prini Molamure, he was born on the 1st of March 1942 and received his primary and secondary education at St. Thomas College Mount Lavinia. He received his Bachelors of Arts in the subjects of Architecture, Sanskrit and Latin from the University of London in 1963 and his Masters in 1966 from the same University. He completed his Postgraduate Diploma in Archaeology from the University of London and also received the ‘V. Gorden Childe’ award for the best archaeology student of the year. Between the years 1964 to 1976 he was trained in practical and theoretical aspects of prehistory under leading archaeologists of England, France and India. In 1968 he arrived in the island and joined the Department of Archaeology as an Assistant Director of excavations and explorations. For more information see the eJournal Dinithi-Sri Lanka Archaeology authored by the author and a team including Dr. Deraniyagala.
Siran Deraniyagala, began his entry into the prehistoric study by reexamining the snail shells and bones of previous excavations. From the 1969 Citadel excavations at Anuradhapura to conducting various prehistoric, proto historic and early historic excavations and gaining further theoretical knowledge, through his father’s guidance; he received his PhD from the Harvard University in USA and produced one of the most excellent prehistoric thesis from all Asia titled ‘Prehistory of Sri Lanka: An Ecological Perspective’ (this has been published in two parts in the Archaeological Department’s memorial thesis series and has been the handbook for Prehistoric research in Sri Lanka).
From 1969 Dr. Siran Deraniyagala focused on a more organizational study using modern techniques and methods. Accordingly the first step taken at the Citadel excavations at Anuradhapura was the gathering of all known scientific data under the topics a. logical elements, b. chronology, c. technology, d. subsistence, e. settlements, f. arts, g. practices and duties, h. social organization, i. physical anthropology and j. palaeo environment to which he investigated and analyzed them under a new foundation thus creating a new path in research methodology.
The Iranamadu formation and cave deposits first identified and studied by the early scholars such as E. J. Weyland and P. E. P. Deraniyagala were used for the initial surveys and excavations. These excavations were focused on the soil layer found on the island. This initiative could be stated as a foremost initiative in world archaeological excavations. In these excavations taking example from matrix chart method, various excavations were carried out in which the digs were conducted in such a way that every single artifact could be retrieved. According to this method, there were 3 excavations conducted in the study of prehistory:
A. Bundala-Wellegangoda 8m deep static gravel terrace of red latosol of decayed prehistoric sand dunes
B. Pathirajawela 15m deep gravel terrace covered by red latosol of sand dunes.
C. Bundala-Lewagangoda 25m deep gravel ground covered by red latosol.
The Archaeological Stratification method in excavations was first introduced by Dr. Siran Deraniyagala in the inner city excavations of Anuradhapura in 1969 and also at the Mesolithic settlement of Bellanbandi pallessa in 1970.
Examining prehistoric facts in respect to environmental and geological factors of the island was conducted during this period with much focus on the geological changes during the Quaternary period. Siran Deraniyagala is responsible for steering the study of the prehistory of Sri Lanka in a new path with a broad inter-disciplinary perspective. Focusing on the developments in the United States and Europe, Dr. Siran Deraniyagala strived to acquire those technology and knowledge for archaeological excavations in Sri Lanka and collaborated with many foreign scholars such as the famous physical anthropologist Keneth A. R. Kenndey. Dr. Siran Deraniyagala also initiated research collaborations with other Asian countries such as India, Java and Sumatra and also Australia. Accordingly studies were conducted comparing the red soil found from the Terri Sites in South India and the red soil from the Iranamadu formation in Sri Lanka which revealed valuable information. Further important research was conducted on the Mesolithic man of Sri Lanka in comparison with foreign primitive human tribes such as the Kadar, Malapandam, and the Venchu. During this period it could be observed that studies were conducted in the coastal areas, the central hill and Horton Plains and also parts of the wet zone.
For these programmes Dr. Deraniyagala created a surveying and excavation team grooming the officers under him into resource persons in the fields of lithic analysis, soil stratification, and chronological dating. This grooming of a future research team could not be seen from the previous periods of prehistoric exploration. Some of the excellent scholars of this grooming are W. H. Wijepala, Nimal Perera and Alfred De Mel.
Much of the problems of the Paleolithic period were answered under the studies conducted by Dr. Siran Deraniyagala and through the archaeological excavations of the Iranamadu formation (IFm), and Minihagalkanda in the Yala National Park, he showed that there was a definitive Paleolithic period in the island and this was dated to be 125,000/250,000 years ago. He was also able to gather information of the environment and human cultures during the Pleistocene epoch as identified by P. E. P. Deraniyagala.
Out of all these the most important being the painting of the complete picture of Sri Lanka’s Mesolithic period which was until then a vague drawing, based on excavations conducted in the wet zone (eco zone D) such as the Beli Lena in Kithulgala, Batadomba Lena of Kuruwita, Bulathsinghala Fa-hian Lena, Aththanagoda Alulena, Horton Plains, Bellanbandipellassa in Embilipitiya, and Ravana cave. Details on the physical anthropology of the Mesolithic man, his food habits, lifestyle, technology, his rituals, the environmental conditions in which he lived and various other aspects was revealed through these excavations.
Dr. Siran Deraniyagala has been able to logically portray the island’s history from the prehistoric age through the proto historic to the historic age. The archaeological researches led by Dr. Siran Deraniyagala have been able to find some of the oldest evidences of modern man in all of Asia thus bringing Sri Lanka to the spot light in prehistoric research. Further these researches were able to prove with evidence the world’s first use of geometric microlithic technology (more than 32,000 years ago) from Sri Lanka. Similar evidence of these is only found in a handful of sites in the African continent and from one site in East Asia. Taking to account all these findings Dr. Siran Deraniyagala has been able to compose a chronological order of the prehistory of the island.
As a scholar of the island’s prehistory for a long period, he has made many classifications regarding this period with one of the most important classifications being that of the stone tools done by studying over 2 lakhs of stone implements found throughout the island. The magnitude of this classification can be seen when comparing the previous classifications of stone tools in the country. For this classification a stone tool is checked for 1. Provenance, a self explanatory contextual attribute, 2. trimming, 3. Plan-Form (blank contour), 4. Apparent Function, 5. Used Marks, 6. Raw material, 7. Cross-section and 8 Size. Through this classification the stone tools of Sri Lanka can be divided into 19 classes and these classes can be further divided into 115 types (await a complete description on stone tools in this series).
The most significant scholar of the modern period of prehistoric research in the island, Dr. Siran Deraniyagala has worked over 40 years on the study and investigations of prehistory and continue to assist in the study of prehistory as a consultant and resource person. Apart from prehistory he continues to conduct researches on the proto historic and early historic periods. As stated by the American Anthropologist Journal as the handbook of Sri Lankan prehistory his Prehistory of Sri Lanka: An Ecological Perspective and as long as the study of Sri Lanka’s prehistory survives, the revision of the works of Siran Upendra Deraniyagala is an inevitable fact.
W. H. Wijeyapala who was a former Assistant Director Excavations and the former Director General of the Archaeological Department under the guidance of Dr. Siran Deraniyagala excavated the Bulathsinghala Fa-hian lena, Aththanagoda Alulena, Kithulgala Beli lena, and Warakapola Dorawakakanda. In 1980 he put forward a classification of bone tools in the island which was based on the stone tools classification of Dr. Deraniyagala. Through the excavation of the Dorawaka kanda site in Warakapola, evidence was found on the little known Neolithic period of Sri Lankan prehistory. Information on the research done by Dr. Wijepala can be found in his unpublished theses which are Mesolithic Stone Technology of Sri Lanka, a study of the Stone Implements from Beli-lena (Kithulgala), a Dissertation submitted for the MA (Archaeology) Held by the University of Peradeniya and New Light on the Prehistory of Sri Lanka; In The Context Of Recent Investigations At Cave Sites, a thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of the University of Peradeniya (1997). These can be found in the main library of the Peradeniya University.
Dr. H. Nimal Perera, the former Deputy Director General of the Archaeology Department too under the tutelage of Dr. Siran Deraniyagala conducted many excavations with the most important ones being the Kuruwita Batadomba lena, Embilipitiya Bellanbandipalessa, and the Mini Ethiliya site close to Hungama, conducted in 2005. His research could be found in the book Prehistoric Sri Lanka: Late Pleistocene rockshelters and an open-air site published by the British Archaeological Report.
Prof. Gamini Adikari of the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology (PGIAR) of the Univeristy of Kaleniya too has made an important contribution to the exploration of the island’s prehistory in the recent past. Some of the notable excavations conducted under him are the excavations of the dry zone in sites such as Pothaana, Aligala, and Pidurangala which are close to Sigiriya and also sites of the wet zone such as Pilikkuththuwa, Warana, and Aththanagalla Alawwa Pothgul lena of the Gampaha District. The information and data collected from his excavations of the sites around Sigiriya could be found in his Postgraduate thesis which is in the library of the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology (PGIAR). Prof. Adikari has also explored the features at the end of the Mesolithic period known as the Post-mesolithic period.
Dr. T. Rathnasiri Prematilake a Paleo-botanist of the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology also has conducted several important explorations into the prehistory of the island. Conducting research into the Quaternary period environment; through research conducted in the Horton Plains he was able to show that cereal was cultivated there over 13,000 years through pollen evidence. Thus giving evidence on Neolithic activity in the island through the examination of paleobotanical evidence.
In the modern period of prehistoric research it could be seen that various new fields are opening up for research, once such field which is at a very developed level is that of Archaeozoology. The foundation for this field was laid by Dr. P. E. P. Deraniyagala who was originally a zoologist and was carried forward by the scientist P. B. Karunarathne. At present this unique field is headed by his student, zoologist Kalum Nalinda Manamendara-arachchi. Jude Perera of the Department of Archaeology who is a student of Kalum Manamendara-arachchi is also another scholar in this field. Under the guidance of Prof. Gamini Adikari and the supervision of Kalum Nalinda Manamendara-archchi, the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology has been able to establish an archaeozoology division within the institute. This field investigates the remains of different species of animals consumed by prehistoric men and those found in his environment for a scientific study and identification.
Geoarchaeology, another discipline that supplements prehistory could be seen developing through the support of foreign Geoarchaeologists and Sri Lankan professional and amature Geoarchaeologists.
Also different organizations such as the Central Cultural Fund and other foreign institutions have led prehistoric surveys and excavations in the island revealing further the life of the prehistoric man.
As mentioned above, the modern period of prehistoric archaeological explorations began in 1969 and continues to this day. Although this discipline has developed to a great extent, much obstacles could be identified which creates a hindrance to the growth of this field (for further information, read the analytical research paper by the author on Sri Lanka Prehistoric Archaeology; the past, present and future).
According to the last 3 article of this series it could be seen that the large knowledge base created at present created at is the result of many peoples mental and physical commitment and their utmost dedication
Halawathage Nimal Perera, born on the 23rd of December 1953 is a prominent prehistorian of Sri Lanka and was the former Director of Excavations and Acting Deputy Director-General of Archaeology; he is currently the Director of Sabaragamuwa Province of the Central Cultural Fund.
He received his BA in Archaeology from the University of Peradeniya in 1979 and went on to receive his Masters from the Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute of the University of Pune, India in 1992 and his PhD in Archaeology and Paleontology from the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia in 2007. His area of expertise is in the pre-proto and early historic archaeology of Sri Lanka and stressing on prehistoric human ecology and is the country’s expert on lithics analysis.
He joined the Department of Archaeology of the Government of Sri Lanka in 1982 as a Technical Assistant in Excavations and rose up the ranks to Director Excavations. He was trained intensively and supervised by Dr. Siran Deraniyagala, the then Director-General of Archaeology and also was trained by foreign scholars such as the late Prof. V.N. Misra of India in analysis of stone tools and Prof. Salle of France at the excavations of Mahasthan, Bangladesh. He has directed a number of excavations in the late Pleistocene, early Holocene rock shelters and open air sites such as Batadomba Lena and Bellan-bandi Palassa where he pioneered application of geo-archaeological and bio-archaeological methods.
Out of his many publications, what could be considered his magnum opus is his Prehistoric Sri Lanka in the British Archaeological Report series (Oxford) which was the most important research publication on Sri Lankan archaeology during the first decade of this century. His other notable works are ‘People of the ancient rainforest: anatomically modern late Pleistocene foragers at the Batadomba Lena rockshelter, Sri Lanka’ in the Journal of Human Evolution Vol. 61 (3) which ranks in the 10th position of the top twenty articles in the World which awarded him the National Research Council Merit Award for Scientific Publication 2011, ‘First technological comparison of African Howieson Poort and South Asian Microlith Industries: an exploration of inter-regional variability in microlith assemblage’ in the Quaternary International 2014 which he Co-authored, and ‘Bone technology in South Asia from late Pleistocene rockshelter Deposits in Sri Lanka’ in Osseous Projectile Weaponry: Towards an Understanding of Pleistocene Cultural Variability VERT series, New York.
Department of Archaeology & Heritage Management, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka, Mihintale.
Based on the qualitative features of the Prehistoric studies in Sri Lanka, it could be divided into three distinct periods. The previous article dealt with the beginning of Prehistoric research in the island, this article would discuss the intermediate period.
When going through the history of prehistoric research in the island, the intermediate period could be stated as starting from 1939 to 1969. The most important aspect of this period is the feature of transition in every aspect. When observing this period one could see the buildup of the theoretical features of the early period as well as the formation of a solid foundation for the modern period. The other most important aspect of this period is the emergence of local scholars in the forefront of prehistoric studies of the country unlike the early period where foreign scholars dominated the stage. This period saw systematic, organized expeditions taking place on a much larger scale than before; and also the involvement of Government institutes such as the Department of Museums in prehistoric research is a notable feature.
The most important personality during the period 1939 to 1963 was Dr.P.E.P Deraniyagala, Director of National Museums (Paule Edward Pieris Deraniyagala 1900-1976). The son of the illustrious historian and scholar Dr. Paul Edward Pieris, P.E.P. Deraniyagala showed excellence in many different fields. From Zoology to Anthropology to Prehistoric Archaeology, his contributions to the prehistory of Sri Lanka are immense. One could read the article on the eJournal “Dinithi-Sri Lanka Archaeology” by the archaeology.lk team on P.E.P. Deraniyagala written by Kalum Manamendra-arachchi (another great scholar of this century) on his life and scholarly work. When going through the publications of Dr. Deraniyagala it is evident that his quantitative and qualitative research on the prehistory of Sri Lanka goes to a broad extent. Amoung his many scholarly literatures is The Pleistocene of Ceylon published by the National Museum in 1958 which was taken from his PhD thesis from the Harvard University of USA. The entire contributions of Dr. Deraniyagala to the history of Sri Lanka could never be presented in an article like this, but only a summary of his works to the novice reader.
He firstly began excavations of the Thudawe Galge in the Sinharaja forest and throughout the 1940s conducted excavations in sites such as Udupiyangalge, Bambaragala, Lunugala, Kukulegama, Lenama, Madolgalge, Yakgirilena with finds from stone tools to animal and plant fossils. After this he focused his attention to the Sri Pada Reserve and for the first time excavated the caves of Batadomba Lena of Kuruwita and Batathota Lena; from Batadomba Lena he uncovered stone tools and animal bones. In 1945 his attention was drawn to the Neravana Galge of Kukulegama and also of the Manda Galge in the Monaragala District.
He also conducted excavations in the Ravana Ella cave north of Bandarawela where he uncovered stone and bone tools with the most interesting find being that of the remains of a human skull. During his excavation of the Kalukoladeniya cave in Kegalle they discovered for the first time a stone tool like that of an Ax blade. This proved to be good evidence of a Neolithic implement and was subjected to study by scholars. In Bulathwatta north of Palmadulla he discovered stone implements related to the Balangoda culture. More excavations were carried out at Kabaragalge cave in Rathnapura, Alugalge in Thelula and Boradiyawala in Wilpathu.
The excavations carried out between 1956 to 1961 in Bellanbandipalassa near the Walawe River in Ambilipitiya has gone down in the pages of Sri Lankan Archaeology as one of the most important excavations. This excavation revealed 12 human skeletons, providing a good indication on the physical nature of the Prehistoric Man, hence could be said as one of the most remarkable discoveries in prehistoric archaeology in Sri Lanka. A certain amount of information on this could be found in his book The Pleistocene of Ceylon. Dr. Deraniyagala was the first to show that the Prehistoric Man had similar features of the Homo sapiens or the modern Man. Dr. P. E. P. Deraniyagala was the first to scientifically classify this humanoid as Homo sapiens balangodensis deraniyagala or the Balangoda Man. Hence Dr. P. E. P. Deraniyagala is known as the ‘Father of the Prehistoric Mesolithic Man of Sri Lanka’(although the prehistoric man is known as the Balangoda Man, he was not confined to that area only but lived in every part of the island. It is a custom in archaeology to name a first-of-its-kind find from the locality from where it was found. For example the Acheulean hand axe was first discovered in Sain-Acheul and therefore wherever in the world this is found, it is known was the Acheulean axe).
After this Dr. Deraniyagala conducted expeditions to the Isthripura cave south east of Kandy and Ottappuwe in Wilpathu and uncovered stone implements belonging to the prehistoric age. He further investigated the Herassagala cave in Rathnapura, Budugal Lena and Dikkgal Lena. Manela Galge of Gewaragiriya in Sabaragamuwa and Kithugala Beli Lena in Kegalle too were subjected to investigations. In the Rakwana Buthkanda, Iththakanda, and Buluthota caves through a surface investigation, Quartz and Chert stone tools were found. Through excavations in the area of Hungama in southern Sri Lanka Mesolithic tools were found. This area was once again subjected to systematic excavation recently in 2005 by Dr. Nimal Perera yielding important finds.
Dr. Deraniyagala conducted research on the Veddas of Sri Lanka as well. By studying these primitive people it was possible to get an idea on the culture of the Prehistoric Man. He also focused his attention and investigation on the primitive cave paintings.
During the Ice ages between 10,000 – 1,800,000 years ago the alluvial deposits of Rathnapura belonging to the Pleistocene epoch were extensively studied by Dr. Deraniyagala revealing facts on the environment during that period. These Alluvial deposits could be divided into 3 periods, 1) the Rathnapura period, 2) the Palugahathure period (a dry marshy period), and 3) the Colombo period (a climatic condition similar to the present). Likewise Dr. Deraniyagala focused his attention on the early geological periods of the island and conducted deep studies into them. These studies later aided in the understanding of the habitat and environment of the prehistoric man.
Much data on the Pleistocene epoch on Sri Lanka was taken from his investigations of the gem mines of Rathnapura. Some of his exceptional researches were on the extinct prehistoric animals of the Pleistocene epoch through fossils from the alluvial gem pits which sheds light on the many extinct species of animals and also species that are still living. His book The Pleistocene of Ceylon is an outstanding work in this regard with information on now extinct species such as Turtles, Elephants, Lion, and Hippopotamus. Apart from these he has shed light on two extinct humanoid species as well.
He has compared the animal fossils found from the Alluvial deposits of Pallmadulla in Rathnapura to those found in India from the Narmada river middle and upper Pleistocene deposits and the Swahilik region in Panjab and have shown similarities between the species. This shows that there has been a movement of animal species between Sri Lanka and India when they were once connected. He has pointed out that the alluvial deposits having been re-deposited have caused problems in dating the findings. The artifacts found from the gem mines of Rathnapura were first classified as the ‘Rathnapura Culture’ but later changed to the ‘Rathnapura Industry’ because to be classified as a culture there needs to be many factors whereas only technological artifacts were recovered from the mines hence them been classified as Industry.
The Acheulean hand axe culture which is found throughout the world is interestingly absent from Sri Lanka, several reasons for this have been put forward such as Sri Lanka being separated from the mainland and the none availability of Quartzite stone in the island which was used to construct these stone tools.
The stone age is divided into three ages with the Neolithic being the youngest of the three; it is so differentiated from the two preceding older periods due to the special features in the stone tools and cultural developments of the prehistoric man. It is still not accepted by scholars that a Neolithic period existed in Sri Lanka but decades before Dr. Deraniyagala had shown evidence that this Neolithic period existed.
The research done on this period by Dr. Deraniyagala could not be found on a proper paradigm and thus is considered a weakness in his research. But the knowledge he has created in prehistoric archaeology and various paths he opened up has proved invaluable to the modern scholar. Another important contribution of Dr. P. E. P. Deraniyagala was that he brought in another legendary expert on prehistory of not only Sri Lanka but in the region as well, that is his son Dr. Siran Upendra Deraniyagala.
Even during the intermediate period the Noon brothers contributed their share of knowledge and also in 1950 Bridget Allchin had conducted a study on the stone tools of Sri Lanka. S. P. F. Senaratha of the National Museum in 1969 published a small book titled Prehistoric Archaeology of Ceylon on the prehistory of Sri Lanka and at a time where the study of prehistory is not well known, his efforts must be appreciated.
S. Gunerathna, Curator in Geology and Prehistory of the Department of National Museums in collaboration with the Department of Archaeology excavated the inner cave of the Beli Lena at Avissawella and found evidence of Mesolithic period tools and animal remains. A detailed report of this excavation written by H. D. H. De Silva is to be found in the official publication of the Museum Spolia Zeylanica (1971) titled ‘Beli-Lena Athula – Another Stone Age habitation in Ceylon’. Thus we could see contribution of the National Museum in the exploration of the Prehistory of Sri Lanka.
Dr. Siran Deraniyagala comes in to scholarly sphere at the end of the Intermediate period of Prehistoric exploration thus we would be discussing his contributions under the modern period of prehistoric study.
Through the above discussion we could get an overall understanding of the intermediate period of prehistoric study in Sri Lanka. The special features of this period as stated in the beginning was the taking over of the study of prehistory by the local scholars from the foreigners, the conducting of expeditions throughout the entire island and also conducting studies in relation to geology, zoology and anthropology.
Research Officer, Central Cultural Fund, Anuradhapura.
Translated by Chryshane Mendis
Civilization in 3rd century BC Sri Lanka was a highly cultured one (Pagnasara Thero 2005:10) with a tradition of continuous written records. Writing is an important feature in the evolutionary process of human communication (Bandara 2008:1) but the origin of writing is not as old as that of the origin of man. In the early 19th century James Princep was able to decipher a hitherto unknown script in India (Paranavitana 1970:i) which is called the Brahmi script. This was compared with the rock inscriptions of Sri Lanka by Turner and found to contain similarities in the language (Jayawardane 1). This new found interest caught the attention of many scholars which resulted in the recording and documenting of numerous rock inscriptions found throughout the island.
The majority of the rock inscriptions dating to the 4th and 5th century AD contain the word “Vaharala (වහරල)”. This specific word is found in many different variations such as Viharala (විහරල), Veherila (වෙහෙරිල), Viharila (විහාරිල), Vaharalaya (වහරලය), Viharalaya (විහාරලය), and Veheralaya (වෙහෙරලය) (Priyanka 2008:1) and also it is found after the word “Chidavi (චිදවී)”. Although there are no specific types of inscriptions with this word, inscriptions with these words are collectively known as Vaharala inscriptions (වහරල ලිපි). Scholars have put forward various theories as to the meaning of this word but there seems to be no common theory amoung them. As the various theories on the meaning of this word have not paid much attention to the locations of the inscriptions and their nature, the main aim of this study is to investigate the Vaharala inscriptions that have been overlooked by others and to determine their epigraphical nature and their socio-archaeological data there by giving an outlook into the society at that time.
Vaharala inscriptions were first studied in 1906 (Uduwara 1991:121). Senarat Paranavitana has presented a more logical idea on the Vaharala inscriptions (Paranavitana 1955:35-65); where his idea that it means release from slavery or servant hood has been incorporated to the society. But based on linguistic, historical and cultural facts this statement is proved wrong according to the scholars Madauyangoda Vimalakthi Thera (Vimalakthi Thera 2004:107-108), Kotaneluwe Chandajothi Thera (Chandajothi Thera 1962:24), Saddhamangala Karunarathne (Karunarathne 1984:117-118), Bandusena Gunersekara (1989 November 12:18), Sirimal Ranawella (Ranawella 2008:32-35), Malani Dias (Dias 1991), and Karunasena Hettiarachchi (Hettiarachchi 2005:137).
Being proficient in a given field is a great achievement. This proficiency is created by the deep sense of understanding and knowledge one has to that field. Accordingly given below are the ideas on the meaning of this word by scholars.
Sinhala Dictionary – slavery, servant, submission, performing all work (Sannasgala 1991:258)
Rock inscriptions Alphabet – Vahara/Vaharaya (වහර/වහරය) = Vehera/Viharaya (වෙහෙර/විහාරය)
Senerat Paranavitane – the idea of Slavery or Vahal (වහල්) (Paranavitane 1955:35,36)
J. Wijeratne – wood or timber sacrifice (Paranavitane 1955:36)
Sirimal Ranawalla – making of Vihara Salaka
Malani Dias – being exempted from compulsory services (Dias 1989:19)
Wimalakthi Thera – a Vihara chamber/making a Vihara chamber (Wimalakthi Thera 2004:108)
Saddhamangala Karunarathne – making of buildings for Viharas (Karunarathne 1984:117-118)
Kotaneluwe Chandajothi Thera/ Bandusena Gunersekara – making the Viharageya/ making chambers in the Viharaya (Chandajothi Thera 1962:24, Gunersekara 1989 November 12:18)
Karunasena Hettiarachchi – being exempted from compulsory services (Hettiarachchi 2005:137)
Benil Priyanka – making chambers in the Viharaya/ Vihara chamber/making of a (Priyanka 2012:14)
Calligraphic details from Vaharala Inscriptions
The development of the Sinhalese language and alphabet goes hand in hand (Gunersekara 1996:40). The Brahmi script it is believed to have evolved over the centuries into the present Sinhalese script. The transitional period of the Brahmi script can be stated between the 6th – 7th centuries AD (Lankage 1996:49). Most of the Vaharala inscriptions belong to this period with a few belonging to the 5th century AD. In the development of the Sinhalese script, the middle period or the transitional period could be stated as the period between the 6th to 7th centuries AD where an acceleration of the transformation of the script could be observed (Gunersekara 1996:82). Although it is hard to confirm as to when the Brahmi script began transformation into the present Sinhalese script, a transformation is clearly observable during the 6th century AD (ibid 83).
When comparing the inscriptions of the 6th – 7th centuries, variations in the scripts could be seen, (ibid 84) especially when comparing the Vaharala inscriptions to other contemporary inscriptions. These details would not be discussed individually but as a whole.
The letters of the Nilagama inscription which belongs to the middle of the 6th century AD are circular in shape (Paranavitana 1943:28) whereas the letters of the Nagirikanda inscription are vine-like (a free style without any angles)in shape (Paranavitana & Godakumbura 1963:11). The Kudarathmale inscription contains totally different shapes when compared to the above two (Paranavitana & Godakumbura 1963:37). The letter ‘අ’ in the Nilagama inscription is found in 3 different forms (Paranavitana 1943:37). The letters ‘ආල , ඇල & ඈ’ could not be identified in the studied inscriptions but the letter ‘ඉ’ although least used can be found in 8 places in the Nilagama inscription. The ‘උ’ of the Madagama Viharaya inscription contains an opening from the right with a line drawn from the top of an angle to left (Paranavitane 1943:142-143), this is found to be more circular in the Baros Mandapa Vaharala inscriptions (ibid:137-144). The base line of the letter ‘එ’ in the Kudarathmale inscription curves inwards a bit in the center with the ends vining outwards (Paranavitane & Godakumbura 1963:37) and in the inscriptions of the Baros Mandapa, the right side line rises up with an incline to the left with the semi-circle turned to the right (Paranavitana 1943:137-144). Also the letter ‘ඔ’ could be identified in the Vessagiriya inscription (Paranavitana 1943:128-139).
The letter ‘ක’ found during this period differs from earlier periods by having a vertical line with its bottom end curved to the left and a horizontal line from the center with its two ends curving downwards (Gunersekara 1996:89). The ‘ක’ symbols in the inscriptions of Uttimaduwa (Karunarathne 1984:117) and Madagama Viharaya (Dias 1991:43) are beautifully designed (Gunesekara 1996:40) where the horizontal line having its ends curving downwards as before but having a small circle above the center of the horizontal line. From the Kudarathmale inscription the letter ‘ඛ’ is found in the shape of a hook (Paranavitane & Godakumbura 1963:37). Further circular shaped ‘ග’ letters could be found. The letter ‘ග’ which takes the form of a horseshoe in the Ridi Vihara inscriptions (Dias 1991:43) contain an inwards curve from the left (Gunesekara 1996:89).
A letter ‘ච’ not found before could be seen in the Ridi Vihara inscription (Gunewardane 1996:92) where two lines joining the horizontal line divide with the left line curving and another line across the right line (ibid). This could be seen in the Baros Mandapa and Vessagiriya inscriptions as well but the Kudarathmale inscription does not contain lines running across (ibid). The head of the letter ‘ඩ’ of the Madagama inscription is in the shape of a large hook. The letter ‘ණ’ could be seen in the Vessagiriya inscription but also a more beautified form could be found in the Kudarathmale inscription.
The letter ‘ත’ could be found in two forms in the Kudarathmale inscription. The letter ‘ද’ of the Sangamu Vihara inscription contains a small horizontal line attached to one end of the larger semi-circle (Dias 1991:82). A number of variations of this letter could be found during this time. The letter ‘ද’ of the Neelagama and Kudarathmale inscriptions contain a smaller semi-circle curving towards the left at the bottom of the larger semicircle, it could be seen as forerunner to the present letter ‘ද’ (Pagnyasara Thera 2007:166). No noticeable difference could be seen in the letter ‘න’ with the older periods (Gunersekara 1996:99). The Kudarathmale inscription contains a somewhat developed ‘න’ but the ‘න’ of the Madagama inscription is closer to the modern letter.
Circular ‘ප’ letters with a small horizontal line joined to the left line of the figure could be found in Vaharala inscriptions as well as other contemporary inscriptions (Lankage 1996:56). Not much of a difference could be seen in the letter ‘බ’. The letter ‘ම’ could be found as angled shaped figures as well as free-shaped figures. The ‘ම’ of the Neelagama and Kudarathmale inscriptions contain a horizontal dash at the top.
The letter ‘ය’ of the Kudarathmale inscription could be found as a figure with two attached semi-circles with a vertical line running up from the center with a dash on it (Gunersekara 1996:103). Also the letter ‘ය’ with the shape of the contemporary ‘ප’ could be seen from the inscriptions of Baros Mandapaya. No difference could be seen in the letter ‘ර’ when compared to the same letter of earlier periods. The ‘ර’ of the Neelagama and Kudarathmale inscriptions is just a vertical line but a small circle could be seen on the top of this line in the Uttimaduwa inscription. The stages of the development of the ‘ල’ could be seen from the inscriptions at Baros Mandapaya, Kudarathmale and Ridi Viharaya (Pagnyasara Thera 2007:176 & Gunersekara 1996:105). The letter ‘ව’ is a special figure found only in the Uttimaduwa inscription and Kandakaadu inscription.
The letters ‘ෂ & ශ’ are not found in any Vaharala inscription and a much more developed ‘ස’ could be found in the Ridi Viharaya Vaharala inscription when compared to other contemporary inscriptions (Gunersekara 1996:106). Very similar figures to the modern letter ‘හ’ could be found in the inscriptions of Ridi Viharaya, Vessagiriya and Madegama. In the bottom semi-circle of the letter ‘ළ’ in the Ridi Viharaya inscription a dot could be found at the end. In the Kudarathmale inscription the letters ‘ක්ඛ’ are found as one figure.
A large quantity of such letters could be found in these inscriptions and also instances where the sizes of the letters vary from one another within the same inscription. Further there are evidences of two or more inscriptions found on the same rock surface.
From the beginning to the 3rd centuryAD, most inscriptions contained Prakrit features but they seem to be lax later on (Amarawansha Thera 1969:27). Most features unique to the Sinhala language could be specially observed from the period of the Vaharala inscriptions thus making this period an important phase in the development of the history of the Sinhala language (Gunersekara 1996:106). During the Prakrit period the long vowels became shorter and also the isolation of consonants could be seen. This is believed to be a characteristic of only written form (Amarawansha Thera 1969:27) but it is also believed that these features were included in the spoken form during this period (Gunersekara 1996:106). Words deriving from original Sanskrit could be seen especially words synonymous with common or solitary meanings of Vaharala or other forms known as “Kahavana” (කහවණ). In the development of sounds the transformation from hard to soft sounds could be seen (Amarawansha Thera 1969:27).
පාචීන > පජින
සංවච්ච්ර > හවජර
අහය > අපය
The use of “ව” instead of “ප” could be seen –
කහාපණ > කහවණ
Paranavitana states that the meaning of the word Vaharala derives from the Sanskrit word “Vruhshala” (වෘෂල) (Paranavitana & Godakumbura 1963:35). According to him it derives as “වෘෂල < වරෂල < වරසල < වරල. D. J. Wijerathna believes that it is from the Sanskrit word ‘විසාරල’ with a ‘ලී’ sound. ‘Vaharala (වහර ල)’ is the union of ‘Vahara (වහර)’ and ‘La (ල)’ to form a compound states Sirimal Ranawella and that ‘Vahara (වහර)’ is ‘Vihara (විහාර)’ and the ‘ල’ meaning ‘Lahe (ලහ)’ or ‘Salaka (සලාක)’ (Ranawala 2008:34). Bandusena Gunersekara’s views goes similar to that of Chandajothi Thera’s were the words ‘Ala (ආල)’ , ‘Alaya (ආලය)’ means ‘Ghruha (ගෘහ)’, ‘Mandira (මන්දිර)’ and also ‘Vihari (විහාරි)’ meaning occupation (වාසය කරන) and through that ‘විහාරි’ and ‘ආල’ becomes ‘Viharila (විහරිල)’ (Priyanka 2014:11). Malini Dias points out that the historical meaning for the word ‘Chidavi (චිදවී)’ is “චිද් ධාතුවෙන් උපන්”.
In the early Brahmi period instead of the verb, participles were used (Amarawansha Thera 1969:27). In the Vaharala inscriptions this changes and the verb takes more form (Paranavitane 1943:132-133). ‘Chidavi (චිදවී)’ is a causative verb . ‘Veyawaya (වෙයවය)’ goes as an Acclamation verb (ආශිර්වාද ක්රියාව). In the first person tense in order to give the word “වෙමි”, they have added ‘මී’ to names of persons.
In the Vaharala inscriptions one could find many alternative words for one word such as the word ‘වහරල’ is found as Viharala (විහරල), Vaherila (වහෙරිල), Viharila (විහාරිල), Vaharalaya (වහරලය), Viharalaya (විහරලය) and the word Chidavi (චිද්වී) as Chadawala (චදවල), Vadewala (චදෙවල), and Sidavi (සිදවී). Therefore when investigating the language features of the Vaharala inscriptions as a whole it could be found that the language was changing with an uncertainty in the formation of words (Amarawansha Thera 1969:28).
The cave inscriptions written from the 3rd century BC appears to have died out, as between the 1st to the 2nd centuries AD longer inscriptions with greater details are found. The formations of the Vaharala inscriptions when compared to other contemporary inscriptions differ in formations.
It has been observed that quite often Vaharala inscriptions are found in places where the foot touches the ground such as on a Sandakadapahana (Moonstone) or a flight of steps. In comparison with other rock inscriptions, a special feature of the Vaharala inscriptions is that the surface of the rock has not been specifically prepared for the inscription. The sentences either overlap each other or are quite close to each other and vary in size. At times these deviate from standard grammar and are mostly found in temple complexes. These are some of the special features identified when studying these inscriptions.
Therefore it is believed that these were inscribed for the needs of a specific group of people as most of these inscriptions are made of incomplete sentences. There is no evidence to show that these could have been the works of people still studying letters. Some inscriptions only contain a clause, thereby there could be times when someone could consider it a section of an inscription.
Socio-archaeological details found in Vaharala inscriptions
When studying these inscriptions, common features could be identified such as 1. the donor’s name, 2. donor’s village, 3. his positions or occupation, 4. the work, 5. the quantity of the donation, and 6. and rejoicing.
Names of People
Here two types of names could be seen, which are those of the names of Kings and royalty and those of the common people which includes regional and cast leaders and common people. There are many instances where in one Vaharala inscription, several names could be seen, for example on the No. 4 Vaharala inscription at Vessagiriya, three names; Sahasawarala, Dalameya, and Sakanakana Wesaminiya are found (Paranavitane 1943:128-139).
In most of these inscriptions the names of children, spouse, siblings and relatives are mentioned and it seems that these names were not common names used in rock inscriptions but those of use by the common people in the society because a name found in one inscription would not be found in another. Apart from the Vaharala inscriptions, names found in other contemporary inscriptions too are hard to identify. From whatever the identifiable names, it is hard to distinguish as to if they are male or female and their ancestry.
Names of places
In studying Vaharala inscriptions it is possible to identify place names, village names and names of Temples. For example in No. 1 Vaharala inscription at Vessagiriya the village name of Lathakathala and the temple Boya Upulwan Kassapagiri Viharaya could be identified (Paranavitane 1943:128-139). In certain inscriptions names of forests too could be found (Dias 137-141). A Vaharala inscription in Paaluhungamuwa mentions Uththara Deshaya (උත්තර දේශය) (Dias 1991:87). At certain times both the name of the area and the temple could be found separately on the same inscription. The place names identified in these inscriptions are hard to trace in the present. There are times where a said name of a temple in a Vaharala inscription is found in other rock inscriptions of the same era, likewise it should also be studied in respect of place names by searching other inscriptions.
When studying the context of Vaharala inscriptions it suggests that these were written by people not of high class. The majority of the occupations are from tile makers (උළු වඩුවන්) , identified by the words ‘ඔලුවඩු’, and ‘උලුවඩු’. Apart from them other occupations such as traders, carpenters, ministers and lords of the King, teachers could be found but most individuals do not mention their occupations, therefore they are thought to be local village people.
Most of the Vaharala inscriptions are found in temple premises and therefore frequently mentions the names of temples. Hence it is believed that the people of the inscriptions were people who rendered a service to the temples. When looking at temple names, the Kudarathmale inscription which states ‘පුවිජයි සිධට’ means ‘පැවිදි සිධාර්ථය’ (Paranavitane 1955:30-34). Although the Kumbukkanda inscription mentions a Monk, the name of the Monk could not be identified (Dias 1991:186).
The society as seen from the Vaharala inscriptions
The idea for writing the Vaharala type of inscriptions is still unknown. It is believed that these would have been written by a certain group of people in the society for a specific need. Most of the Vaharala inscriptions found in Sri Lanka are centered on a temple hence the majority of them speak about a temple. Therefore the people mentioned in the inscriptions could have been people who performed a certain service to the said temples. Such people who performed services to temples did exist as stated by other rock inscriptions and other literary sources. As Paranavitane states that the idea of Vaharala being slavery, it would actually mean slavery not as in the common social phenomenon but as a specific group of people in the society whose occupation was only to serve the temples.
In order to clarify this, one needs to look into the governing and organization of temples between the 5th to 7th centuries AD. When investigating contemporary temple organization, the functioning of an Aramaya or a Monastery was done completely by the Monks (Rahula Thera 1999:143). Just as there were laws for Monks, Helpers (ආරාමිකයන්) and temple lands of a Monastery, there too were laws on the servants (දාසයන්) of an Monastery. And the servants and slaves attached to the temples were collectively known as Helpers (ආරාමිකයන්) (Gunewardane 1993:98). Therefore in order to maintain the large Vihara complexes it is believed that servants or slaves existed but they were not like the slaves of ancient Greece who had no personal freedom (Amarawansha Thera 1996:39). All people who served the temple were known as Aramika (ආරාමිකයන්) (Gunewardane 1993:99). Some of these people were given for the maintenance of the temple by Kings and other royal officials and facilities for their sustenance (ibid 100).
An interesting method regarding the income of the Aramayas or Monasteries was the donation of money which helped in the sustenance of the servants (දාසයන්) and also for the relieving of their services (Rahula Thera 1999:151). For what reasons they took servants as part of the Helpers (ආරාමිකයන්) is unknown but evidence could be found on the notion that the word Vaharala is slavery as stated by Paranavitane. When searching more on the slavery in temples, although the Monks have preached against the use of helpers, with the expansion of the priestly community and the villages attached to each temple; they might have taken their services for the Monasteries. Although it is believed that Vaharala does not mean slavery, it is known that the temples used servants (Gunewardane 1993:123). It is recorded that King Silameghawarna gifted prisoners of war to temples (Sumangala Thera Devarakshitha 1996:44:51) and also Kings Aggabodhi IV, Pothakuttah, and Sena I have gifted servants or slaves to the various religious institutions founded by them. Therefore when observing the contemporary society of the Vaharala inscriptions from this historical perspective; a system of slavery or servants could be seen in the temple complexes. Hence it can be assumed according to Paranavitane that there was no profession or occupation called a slave among the people.
Regarding the word ‘Chidavi (චිදවී) Paranavitane believes it means ‘Midaveeya (මිදවීය)’ or ‘being released’ (Paranavitane 1955:35-65). Presenting monetary gifts for the maintenance of the Monastery was believed to be a meritorious deed but releasing a person out of slavery or out of servant hood was believed to be an even more meritorious deed (Rahula Thera 1999:53). There is evidence to show that several people could come together and release one person from slavery or servant hood and also a person’s wife and children too could be released. In such instances the monetary amount paid was around 100 Kahawanu but situations where the value is more or less than 100 too have been identified. Therefore it could be assumed that the words ‘චිදවී වහරල’ means any form of activities or actions around the use of slaves or servants in the temple complexes.
When observing the content and structure of the Vaharala inscriptions, features of the society between the 5th to the 7th centuries could be studied. As most studied Vaharala inscriptions are found on stairways and Sadakadapahan (Moonstones) it could be thought that these belonged to a people of a low grade in the society. Also when comparing these Vaharala inscriptions with other rock inscriptions, the structure of the Vaharala inscriptions are found to be incomplete and with other rock inscriptions, a pre-surface preparation could be seen but in the Vaharala inscriptions, no such preparations could be found. Also the sharp distinction between Vaharala inscriptions and other inscriptions of a supposed higher class of people could be taken as a sign of respect to them. Based on the writing styles such as the grammar, variations in letters, and the use of different forms of the same word; it can be argued that these were done by people with a less education. All the Vaharala inscriptions found throughout the island contain the same writing style hence it could be seen that that specialization was present in the society concerning these type of social actions.
List of Reference used for this article:
Dias, Malini (1991), Epigraphical Notes, Department of Archaeology, Colombo
Karunarathne,Saddhamangala. (1984). Epigraphia Zeylanica Volume ¹¸¸, Archaeological Survey of Sri Lanka
Paranavitana, S. (1970). Inscription of Ceylon Volume I, Archaeological Survey Department of Ceylon
Paranavitana, S. (1983). Inscription of Ceylon Volume ¸¸ Part ¸, Department of Archaeology, Sri Lanka
Paranavitana, S., Dias, Malani. (2001). Inscription of Ceylon Volume ¸¸ Part ¸¸, Archaeological Survey Department
Paranavitana, S. (1943). Epigraphia Zeylanica Volume¸¹, Published for the government of Ceylon by Humphrey Milford
Excavation of the prehistoric cave of Alugalge is conducted by the Field Archaeology Unit of the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology (PGIAR) led by Professor Raj Somadeva and a team of Researchers from the PGIAR and University students. The excavation which is funded by the PGIAR and the National Science Foundation (NSF) is part of the field work of the ‘Hunters in Transition’ project which aims at identifying the pre and proto historic transition which would have occurred in the mid or late Holocene Epoch. This project is the extension of the research programme of ‘Archaeology of the UdaWalave Basin’ begun in 2006 the area of which had been identified as an environmentally optimal area to study this transition. This 15 year project is currently running in its 9th season with the present excavation. The Archaeology.lk team visited the excavations in mid-March to gain an insight on this current excavation and as to what goes on during an archaeological dig.
Alugalge is located in the village of Illukumbura in Balangoda of the Rathnapura District. To reach here one must travel to Balangoda and upon reaching Kirimatithenna junction which is 3.5km passing Balangoda town on the Kaltota road, turn right on the Weligepola road and proceed about 10km to Kongasthenna junction. From here take the Illukkumbura road to the right and proceed about 5km passing the scenic Panana village to a sharp 90 degree turn to the left, from where one must take the small road to the right and travel about 2km through the hilly tea estates and home gardens to the Illukkumbura school and from here it is a 1km downhill hike from the road onto the left. The team of Archaeologists and Prof. Somadeva are based in a rented house in the beautiful peaceful village of Illukkumbura which is about 3km from the site.
Alugalge Cave on Google Map
Summary of the excavations
Speaking to the Professor and the team, they explained that this is the second phase of the excavation of the Alugalge cave which commenced on the 20th February 2017 and is planned for a period of 6 weeks but that the duration could be extended or shortened based on the excavations. This cave was for the first time surveyed and excavated in August 2016 which yielded evidence of prehistoric habitation and put the occupation of the site in about 3,450 B.C. with the most interesting find being that of a Shark tooth pendant.
Inquiring into the identification of this site, they explained that after every excavation an exhibition and awareness programme is conducted in the villages from which the residents share their knowledge of possible locations which are afterwards surveyed. The cave of Alugalge was one of the many such locations identified by the people and after conducting several surveys of other nearby caves, this particular cave was selected. Such programmes with the village folk have proved very valuable and their interest in identifying and reporting on possible locations is quite noteworthy and the help and support given to the excavation by people is remarkable as the writer witnessed.
Explaining on how they conducted the excavations; about a week was spent on surveying the site and only after a thorough survey is it decided to excavate. The cave, which was excavated on the previous occasion, was excavated to a further depth this season. Once the surveying was completed they laid the gird plan and conducted the profile drawing of the levels which is of most importance and only then was it begun to excavate.
The excavated soil layers go through two processes in order to obtain artefacts, first by dry sieving and second by wet sieving. The section of the excavated soil is marked by the grid number and layer number for a systematic identification and only then taken through the above two processes which are conducted at the site. This dry and wet sieving is a careful process and is done through experienced hands due to the delicate nature of the artefacts. Artefacts are selected during these two stages as well and further after the wet sieving; the soil is carefully dried and brought in marked bags back to the house for a more careful piece by piece identification and selection.
The recovered soils which are carefully marked are brought back to the house and some entire days are spent on selecting the artefacts from them. When the writer visited the excavations, both days spent there were on this separation of artefacts from the soil layers; which as the writer witnessed is equally exciting and fun as digging in the cave because for to the archaeologically eyed participant, every step of an excavation be it in the field or indoors is sensational as something new to knowledge is brought to light every moment.
Once dried, the soil is spread on a white polythene sheet on a table and using a variety of twisers one by one the tiny particles are separated into different containers.
It is amazing as to the amount of artifacts that turn up from just one bag of soil; for when spread out on the sheet, what seems like a heap of soil and dirt, when separated piece by piece reveals an array of artefacts. The artefacts found are Quartz stone tools and flakes, remains of animal bones and bone tools including teeth, shells, pieces of burnt clay, pieces of charcoal, and sometimes tiny pieces of graphite. The more remarkable findings are measured and cataloged separately for further analysis.
Stone tools are usually made from Quartz and Chert, but from this site only Quartz tools were found and make up the largest percentage of artefacts found and these are classified as microliths due to many being less than a centimeter in size.
Some of the shells discovered belong to the species Acavus haemastoma and seeds found here are identified as Dik Kekuna (Canerium zelanicum) which are still found in this area. These artifacts are then sealed in small transparent bags and labeled according to the grid and layer number from where they were excavated. These will be taken for further analysis. The bags of soil recovered from the site amount to over a hundred and from morning till night are being painstakingly sorted out by the team. The patience that one requires to perform this is immense and it requires a trained eye to spot the artefacts from the soil and rocks.
When at the site the team would spend about 8 hours from 8 am in the morning till about 4 pm in the evening and when at the house as when the writer witnessed, from around 7 am they would sit on the benches sorting out the artefacts till 10 pm in the night only resting for meals and tea and the interesting stories of the Professor.
Traveling to the source of these wonderful finds, the Alugalge cave is located 3km from the house, the first two kilometers is motorable and turning off from the Illukkumbura school to the left we parked the motor cycle in a house nearby and began the 1km downhill hike to the cave. The first 500m is through the backyards of few houses and then takes a rather steep decent through patches of forests and small tea estates. The path is very narrow and there are many other footpaths joining the main path which makes it tricky but is now quite familiar to the team now used to trekking this path daily for almost a month. Traveling through the beautiful woods to a very low elevation the path turned north along a small ridge and came up beside a massive rock several dozen feet high, here lay the shelter of the prehistoric man, the Alugalge cave. The area has been arranged well for the dig, with a hose and tap brought from a nearby estate and much equipment such as spades and shovels including a generator used to light up the inside of the cave. The mouth of the cave opens up to the west and is surrounded by thick evergreen forests. When excavating, the team hikes down here daily, leaving the house at 7 am in the morning and arriving near the Illukkumbura School in a hired truck and making the downwards decent to the site carrying all the equipment and meals and work at the site till about 4 pm in the evening. The villagers are very supportive and have great respect to the Professor and team as the writer witnessed and many children from the village come to observe the excavations. For the lover of nature and history, this is the ultimate satisfaction.
The excavations are scheduled to conclude end of March and only a scientific analysis of the findings back at the PGIAR would reveal the full worth of this season’s discoveries. The fascinating field of archaeology never fails to amuse the mind of even the most uninterested person with its wonderful stories of the past, spectacular findings, most of the time touched last by human hands over thousands of years ago and also the stories of the present, of the places visited, people encountered and the diversity of cultures witnessed. Although separated from family and friends for several weeks, the lover of archaeology is ever happy at heart for he who uncovers history finds happiness in diversity and wherever he or she may be, will always feel at home.
Somadeva, R. (2011), Archaeology of the Uda Walave Basin. Occasional Paper no. 2, Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology, Colombo: Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology.
Somadeva, R. (2014), Archaeology of Mountain, Occasional Paper no. 3, Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology, Colombo: Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology.
Department of Archaeology & Heritage Management, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka, Mihintale.
Translated by. Chryshane Mendis
It is a known fact that different approaches need to be applied in examining a certain subject, therefore in studying a certain subject, there can be many different methods used. One successful method is by studying the contributors of that subject or the scholars that contributed to that specific filed. Accordingly from here on this article series would focus on the founders of prehistoric archaeology in Sri Lanka and the best way to appreciate them is by describing their contribution to the field. Also it is important to be aware of the hardships faced by archaeologists and other researchers in creating the knowledge we have today. Dr. Siran Deraniyagala in his doctoral thesis at the Harvard University in USA titled “Prehistory of Sri Lanka: an ecological perspective”, the section on History of Research (pages 2-22) contains an interesting stream of information and analysis and deserves an honorable mention here.
Even though knowledge of the Man of the pre-Vijayan era or the Prehistoric man is limited in the present generations, studies into to prehistory dates back to more than 125 years ago. The interest to study the Stone Age Man dates back before the Archaeological Survey of Ceylon was started in 1890 under Harry Charles Purvis Bell. It can be seen that the interest created in the prehistory of Europe in the 19th century spread directly to Sri Lanka. Excited by the theory of evolution by Charles Darwin, European scholars began to search the origins of Man moving away from the religious belief that Man was created. Though this enthusiasm was centered in Europe, the Europeans living in the island too took an interest in the Stone Age Man in Sri Lanka. The ways in which Sri Lanka’s prehistory was studied and its features, when examined shows important characteristics at different periods. Accordingly from the first study in 1885 to the present can be divided into 3 periods. They are, 1. the period from 1885 to 1939, 2. the period from 1939 to 1969 and 3. from 1969 to the present. Let us examine these different periods in brief.
The beginning of prehistoric archaeological research in India could be stated as begun from 1863 after the discovery of a Palaeolithic tool from a rock crater in the Pallawaram area of Madurai by Robert Bruce Foote of the Geological Survey of India. The writer believes that prehistoric archaeology should be studied as a unique subject or a regional phenomenon not bound by administrative boundaries (like India, Sri Lanka, Eastern Province, Western Province or cultural boundaries). Therefore the above incident could be taken as the beginning of prehistoric archaeology in Sri Lanka as well. Similarly, prehistoric research began in the island in about 1885. The founders of prehistoric research in the island were not archaeologists but scholars and professionals from different fields (archaeology had not been developed as a discipline during this time). The initial work of the early researchers was collecting of stone tools made out of Quartz and Chert found on the surface in different parts of the island. Through these findings, they provided evidence that prehistoric people using stone tools had existed in the island. In collecting and defining these tools, these researchers were spontaneous in interpreting these findings with findings in Europe.
The Entomologist E. E. Green in 1885 discovered from sites in the central hills such as Peradeniya, Nawalapitiya and Pudalu Oya stone tools of Quartz and Chert, this is one of the oldest recorded prehistoric explorations done in the island. Afterwards the cultivator John Pole discovered many more tools in places such as Maskeliya, Dimbula, Dikoya, Bogawanthalawa, Mathale, Nuwara Eliya, Madolseema, Galle, and Maankulam. In 1913 he published a detailed report on his findings. In his report, he has identified the Chert tools as belonging to the Palaeolithic period and the Quartz tools to the Neolithic period.
Soon after the famous Swiss anthropologist brothers P. Sarasin and F. Sarasin began their studies in the island. The knowledge gained from their research in the Celebes islands was a useful factor in commencing research here in Sri Lanka. With that knowledge, they showed that all the stone tools found throughout the island were human creations as was the view of certain western scholars that the tools were the work on nature and not man. Firstly the Sarasin brothers examined the Thelula and Galge caves of the Southern Province and found evidence of animal remains and Quartz tools. After that, they examined locations in Buthala and Okkampitiya but found no evidence.
After that, they focused their attention on the areas of the Vaddas in Bibile and Nilgala who are thought to be some of the oldest inhabitants of the island. In the meantime, they also excavated the Gangodadeniya cave which showed some results, but the special feature of this excavation was their attention to the soil layer found there. During their systematic excavation of the cave, they were able to discover a human skeleton. After this once again their excavations of Matigaha-ara cave and Gongigane cave in Akiriyankumbura showed no promising results. From here they next focused their attention to the central hills of Sri Lanka. They found stone tools on the surface in areas in Kandy and Bandarawela and also collected stone tools from the areas of Gampola, and Nawalapitiya. It is mentioned that these stone tools are now in the Basel Museum in Switzerland. The artefacts found by the Sarasin brothers and John Pole has been reexamined. Their findings from Sri Lanka were put into the report in 1909 and at a time when Prehistory was not that developed in the world; the publishing of a successful report was an important phenomenon. Through this report when comparing the tools found in Sri Lanka and those found in Western Europe, puts them to the Upper Paleolithic period and belonging to the Magdalenian culture of Europe. Based on these the research of the Sarasin brothers is very important to the study of Prehistory.
The Government’s Mineral Resource Researcher Parsons too had investigated the prehistoric era of Sri Lanka. He had excavated the Beligalge cave in the Dikmukalana tea estate of Bambarabotuwa. During the excavations, he had found human skeletal remains about 8 feet deep. Later Charles Hartley examined the soil excavated by Parsons more closely.
B. Gardner had collected stone tools from the area of Belihul Oya to the east of the Beligalge cave and conducted researches in different parts of the island. Later Lewis too carried out several researches island wide with the Urumuththa cave in the Matara District being the most prominent.
The Irrigation Engineer Henry Parker contributed a great deal to the study of prehistory by conducting several ethnological researches on the Vadda and Sinhala people. He tried to produce a logical view on the folklore of the Sinhala, Tamil and Vedda people of the island. On studying the origins of the Vadda, he proposed the idea that they are the descendants of the Yaksha people mentioned in the Pali chronicles. Through his book Ancient Ceylon: an account of the aborigines and of part of the early civilisation, Asian Education Services, New Delhi (1909) he showed his knowledge on the many fields he looked into. He was the first to categories stone tools in Sri Lanka through the systematic excavation of soil layers of caves of Bendiyagalge in Henebaddha and Mullegama Galge.
The anthropologist couple Charles Gabriel Seligman and Brenda Zara Seligman who have conducted some of the best anthropological research of modern times have greatly influenced modern prehistoric archaeological research. Out of the many researches conducted by them, the research on the Vaddas of Sri Lanka The Vaddas – Cambridge University Press is an important work. Through their excavations of the Bendiyagalge cave in Henebaddha they pointed out the historical periods of the cave through the analysis of the soil layers. C. G. Seligman was the first to propose the categorization of the stone tools by Quantity. The Seligman couple too had collected stone tools from the Bandarawela area just as the Sarasin brothers. They had rejected the idea that the stone implements found from this area belonged to the Palaeolithic period as suggested by the Sarasin brothers and instead stated that they belong to the Neolithic period. The stone implements excavated by them are said to be at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.
Charles Hartley who contributed a lot to Sri Lankan prehistory continued to excavate the Beligalge cave begun by Parsons earlier but could not reach the bed rock due to several large rocks which they encountered while excavating. Hartley had carried out his research in Bandarawela, Diyathalawa, Haputhale, Pattipola, Nanuoya, Koslanda, Ragala, Norwood, Dickwella, Radella, Dimbula, Koggala, Hatton, Maskeliya, Bagawanthalawa, Ulapane, Nawalapitiya, Gampola, Dolosbage, Peradeniya, Kadugannawa, Kandy, Puttalam, Habarana, Kurunegala, Polonnaruwa, Hambanthota, Beligalge and many other places in the island. It is shown that most of the stone implements excavated by Hartley were sent to the Archaeology and Anthropology Museum of Cambridge University and the Pitt Rivers Museum of Oxford University. Through his excavations, thousands of stone implements were found.
Hartley was able to broaden the foundations laid by the Sarasin brothers and all the stone tools found up to that date were found to be similar to the Neolithic tools. The tiny stone tools found were called as Pigmy in 1913 and now known as Microlithic stone tools. Microlithic tools are found in locations such as Matale, Diyathalawa, Pattipola and Maha Eliya (Horton Plains) of the Wet zone or Environmental zone D and the coastal regions of Jaffna.
He was able to collect lunate shaped geometrical stone tools and also presented a categorization of the stone tools. But sadly Hartley never produced a satisfactory report on his numerous excavations.
The geologist E. J. Weyland could be identified as one of the most important characters in the early period of prehistoric archaeological exploration who took a different approach to it. He served as the Government’s Assistant Mineral Resource Researcher. Kalum Manamendra-archchi has pointed out that the greatest prehistoric archaeologist of the modern times Dr. Siran Deraniyagala has taken influence from E. J. Weyland. He has paid special attention to the impact of geological conditions and climatic conditions to the prehistory of the island. He had conducted studies in the North West in the Kala Oya and Modaragamaru plateau deposits and also in the South East from the semi-arid region of Udapothana up to Mulathivu. He has shown that the deep gravel layer found in these areas belong to the Pleistocene glacial period and the surface red sand belonged to a dry climatic condition. The red soil deposit now known as the Iranamadu Sequence by geologists and the Iranamadu Formation (IFm) by archaeologists was first studied from an archaeological point of view by Weyland. During the 1970s and 1980s, this deposit was future scientifically studied by Dr. Siran Deraniyagala. Out of the many publications by Weyland, the article “Outline of the Stone Ages of Ceylon” in the Spolia Zeylanica is a famous work. In this work, he had categorised the stone tools as the Hill series and Lowland series. The stone implements found from the Bandarawela area by researchers such as Charles Hartley were found small in size and they were classified as belonging to a period between Paleolithic and Neolithic periods and also plateau deposits inclusive lowland grades tools were large in size and made a comparison to them with the Middle Paleolithic or Mousterian period in Europe.
Johnn Still and A. M. Horcart too have contributed to the development of prehistoric archaeology in Sri Lanka. Between 1938-39 E. C. Wormann, a postgraduate student of Harvard University investigated the coastal areas of the Northwest and collected stone tools. The implements found by him are now in the Peabody Museum in Harvard University, USA. He had examined stone implements from Bandarawela and believed them to belong to the Mesolithic period and also the Plateau deposits found by Weyland were categorised as belonging to the Mesolithic period by Wormann.
A. Noon and H. V. V. Noon further conducted excavations in the Bandarawela area and found over 2,000 stone implements which were analysed on different foundations. They have stated that all the stone tools found in the island belonged to the same culture and said it could be known as the ‘Bandarawela culture’.
Looking back at the early period of prehistoric archaeological explorations several features could be observed. 1) All research were done by foreigners, 2) and explorations were conducted by non-archaeologists but professionals of different other fields which is a very special feature and also that they have paid attention to the stone implements and anthropological factors. Another feature is that most of these excavations were conducted in the central hills of the country and that in later years that changes. However, when comparing world prehistoric archaeology, Sri Lanka has amassed a great deal of data and created a firm base for the syllabus of prehistoric archaeology. Accordingly, we could say that modern prehistoric archaeology has a firm foundation and a formal point of view.
Department of Archaeology & Heritage Management, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka, Mhintale.
Translated by : Chryshane Mendis
Archaeology is considered a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary subject. It could be said so as the knowledge generated from other natural sciences and social sciences are used to get an overview of archaeology. When studying about the prehistoric man under archaeology, just as looking into the cultural features, the Archaeologist should also look into the environmental features around. Although the prehistoric man built a culture, as he too is an animal who depends on the environment and the culture he built is also based on environmental facts, the natural environment therefore, is important. In the study of prehistoric man, the Archaeologist cannot get a total understanding of him by studying the cultural factors alone. Attention should be focused on the environmental factors as well. This article series which attempts to follow the story of the prehistoric man of Sri Lanka will try to give a brief understanding of the environment in which he lived or rather from which he lived in. Therefore let us take a look into the ancient environment or the geographical and geological factors of Sri Lanka.
The placement of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is separated from the Indian subcontinent by a 29 km wide strip of sea and is 8° north of the equator. The absolute location of Sri Lanka is situated between Northern latitude 50 55” – 90 51’ and East longitude 790 41” – 810 53”
Delft, Punkuduthiv, and Analathiv are some of the many islands separate of the mainland found in the north and north west. From Point Pedro in the North to Dondra head in the south is 430 km in length and from Point Sangamankanda in Kalmune in the East to Colombo in the West is 227 km at its maximum width. Total square area of Sri Lanka is 65,610 square km. To the south-west of the country are the Maldivian islands, and to the south-east, the Nicobar and Andaman islands. The island’s terrain, weather, climate, flora and fauna, soil and other data show a relationship to nearby southern India.
The Geological history of Sri Lanka
As one of the founders of geological research in Sri Lanka, the Indian national D.N. Wadia has stated that the geological history of Sri Lanka is still not 100% known. But an overview of the geological history of Sri Lanka can be viewed by the studies conducted so far. Sri Lanka’s geological scale goes back as far as to the ancient super-continent of Gondwanaland described by Alfred Wegener. Much of Sri Lanka comprises of Precambrian rock as old as 280 million years. Accordingly, the landmass of Sri Lanka has suffered all the changes faced by the planet over millions of years.
From the beginning of geological activities, the landmass south of the Himalayas mountain range which is India, Pakistan, Afganistan and Sri Lanka were an island. At that time the area of Sri Lanka was situated around 7° north of the equator. Later all the landmass on the surface of the earth formed into the large super continent known as Pangaea and the landmass of the Indian subcontinent passing the equator joined the continents of Africa and Antarctica.
26 million years ago during the Permian period, the south of Sri Lanka was joined with South Africa and western Antarctica and settled in a snow covered area 60 latitudes south. As a result of the rising temperature during this period, a glacier flowing from South Africa drifted over southern Sri Lanka creating several geological features. During the historical period, an important aspect of the hydraulic culture was the construction of tanks, the depression in the land which aided its construction is considered to have been generated through the erosion of such glaciers. The gold and gem stones found in certain lake basins are believed to have been washed down from the gold and diamond sites in Africa by the glaciers and being deposited here.
After the super-continent Pangaea broke off into sections, the landmass of Gondwanaland too broke off and the continent of Australia and the Indian subcontinent began their northwards journey. 18 million years ago in the Jurassic period, the island moved to the tropical climate and thus coniferous plant fossils have been recorded from the Vanni region and the northwestern area of the island in Thabbowa and Adigama.
6.5 million Years ago the Indian subcontinent moving northwards collided with the Eurasian continent and as a result of this collision the Himalayan mountain range was formed. It is evident that this northward push of the subcontinent is still in progress as observations have shown that the Himalayas continue to rise few centimetres a year. Due to this collision, the island of Sri Lanka began its separation from the mainland and continues to move 1 centimetre a year towards the south-west. As a result of this, the peninsula of Jaffna which was once part of the Madurai area of India is now around 325 km southwards.
During the glacial and inter-glacial periods throughout the world, the sea levels rose and fell and as a result, Sri Lanka and India were separated and joined again several times. With this, the land bridge formed between India and Sri Lanka gave the needed backing for the movement of species between the two landmasses. This on and off separation continued for several hundred thousand years and was completely separated for the last time around 7,000 years ago. During the times when the sea levels rose, a limestone layer was formed on the coral reefs in the Palk Strait. Accordingly 2.4 million years ago during the Miocene epoch of the Tertiary period which is believed to be a warm period, due to the flooding of land by sea water the Limestone sediments from Jaffna to Puttalam were formed. During this time scholars assume the northwestern coast of the Island to have been along Puttalam, Madu Church and across Mankulam to Mulathivu.
2 million years ago the Pleistocene epoch of the Quaternary period saw the flourishing of animal and plant life at a respectable level. Through an archaeological dig in the Alluvial soil deposits from Rathnapura several years ago by Dr.P.E.P. Deraniyagala many remains of extinct and living species of animals were found. He pointed out that these species showed a close connection with the species of the Siwalik and Narbada regions of India. This series will discuss further on the history of the Pleistocene epoch in Sri Lanka in another article.
It is the view of geologists that there is few evidence of the island’s geological history from the Precambrian eon to the Jurassic period. The lack of major evidence from these periods suggests that during this time the entire land was one stable landmass. The rock formations throughout the country like Mihinthalaya, Sigiriya, Dimbulagala, and Dolukanda provide examples for this.
The Birth of Sri Lanka’s landscape
The origins of the island’s landscape was the subject of geologists from the beginning of the 20th century, firstly by foreign scholars and then by the local scholars. Collecting all ideas on the birth of the landscape Prof. C.M. Madduma Bandara on an article tiled “the geological background of the Mahawali” to the Mahawali Wansha Granthaya explains this perfectly. The following is taken from that article and all due credit should go to him.
The first view of the birth of the landscape of Sri Lanka was given in 1928 by the Scandinavian geologist F. D. Adams terming it the “En-mass block uplift”. By drawing a cross section of the landscape from north to south and east west he identified 3 different plains varying in height. He has shown that these 3 different plains could be witnessed along the Haputale-Haldumulla road. He pointed out that these plains contain at times rapid slops and at times escarpments giving the ‘Worlds end’ as an example. According to Adams similar to the highest plains, a large landmass first became land through the Block uplift. This first land was quite higher than the present highest level. After weathering for a long period the second uplift took place lifting this block and raising both these blocks the third uplift took place. This third block, Adams believes is similar to the present landmass of Sri Lanka. According to this view, the central hills should show the oldest features of the land but scholars point out that the highest slopes of the hills show the youngest features.
As an alternative view, D.N. Wadia, the Indian geologist put forward the “Circumscribe Block Uplift” theory in 1943. According to this theory, a landmass similar to the entire island faced an uplift and complementary block uplifts which took place in the center gave the present landscape its features. As of this view, the oldest sections are the coastal regions. The faults along the Nilgiri mountains of India, the Malabar coast, and Thabbowa are believed to be during the period of the Circumscribe Block Uplift. Further the Sri Lankan geologist K. Kularathnam proposed another theory called the “Multiple Block Uplift” theory in 1953.
A theory based on Geo-movement was put forward in 1972 by D. P. W. Withanage. According to him, the land of the central highlands developed through micro Geo-movement and with the process of erosion gave birth to its present form.
Many such theories on the origin of the landscape of the island have been put forward and its origin is continued to be studied by geologists at present. The geological evidence found have played an important role in determining the origin of the landscape and it could be seen that these factors have in later times aided the development of human civilization. In a simple way, this fact could be seen as how the geological features have influenced the survival of the prehistoric man and his culture.
Sri Lanka’s geological zones
Geologically looking, 9/10 of Sri Lanka comprises of highly crystalline rocks of more than 570 million years ago from the Precambrian era. The rest 1/10 comprises of sedimentary formations such as limestone, sands and clay of the Jurassic period and tertiary and quaternary periods. In the northern zone, a layer of limestone formed during the Miocene epoch could be traced. Precambrian rocks could be divided into 4 main categories based on their rock types, isotopic characteristics and structures.
Highland complex: the central highlands and northeast and south-west of the island.
Wanni complex: also called the Western Vijayan complex, comprises of the lowlands west of the Highland complex.
Vijayan complex: also called the Eastern Vijanyan complex, consists of the land east of the Highland complex.
Kadugannawa complex: centrally located in the Highland complex, the internal rocks are separate to that of the Highland complex.
Sri Lanka’s geographical background
Due to Sri Lanka being an equatorial country, it receives direct sun light throughout the year. Although there is a consistent temperature throughout the year it is hard to see a distinct division. Even though it’s hard to get a clear temperature difference in Sri Lanka, the normal monthly medium temperature is 27.4 °C and annual medium temperature is less than 27.8 °C. When traveling from sea level upwards the temperature drops around 0.64 °C for every 100 meters. Under these temperature conditions, it is favorable for human habitation and does not affect human settlements. Hence just as many other environmental factors, the temperature of the island too provides favorable living conditions.
Rain is the main method by which Sri Lanka receives freshwater, an important component for life. According to annual rainfall data, the highest rainfall is recorded from the central hills while the western region receives the most rainfall. Sri Lanka receives rain in 3 ways, 1) by Convectional rain, 2) by Monsoonal rain, 3) by Cyclonic rain. Due to the cyclonic conditions in the Bay of Bengal Sri Lanka receives cyclonic rain between the months of October to November with heavy rainfall to North and East. Based on these facts it is clear that due to the consistent rainfall there is sufficient freshwater for animals. On the other hand the many water ways which flow from the central hills creates a favorable condition for human civilization. The rain, streams, springs, and other water bodies all aid greatly in the survival of Man. When studying the ancient human habitats and other elements of prehistoric man it is clear that the habitat of the ancient man was always close to a water source.
When studying the natural environment of prehistoric man, an important component which helped his activities is the soil. A habitable environment for animal and plant life is only made possible by a stable soil. Looking in comparison to rock materials, there are few features of soil.
Animals and plants that live on the soil
Having a structure in the soil
Ability to withstand environmental changes
Soil also plays an important role in an archaeological study by protecting the animal and plant remains found in the different types of soil and sediment and thus providing a valuable insight into the ancient environment. Examining certain types of soil provides us with vital information on Man. Physical and chemical weathering of the bedrock helps in the creation of soil and given below are some of the main factors that help in this process:
The Dry zone and Semi dry Intermediate zone, the Wet zone and Semi wet Intermediate zone are the different climatic zones of Sri Lanka and out of the identified 25 types of soil found within these zones, they fall under the 14 great soil groups. This differentiation depends on the variance of the factors and the parent rock. Out of the soil distribution of the island, the red soil found from the coastal regions of north-west and south-east Sri Lanka has revealed rich evidence relating to the prehistory of the Island. Scholars point out that this soil has been formed due to special climatic conditions. But wrong views about this soil are found spreading in the society at present. At present, the oldest human artifacts have been found from this soil and the information from these sheds light on the Paleolithic period.
Any place where flora has been generated without the intervention of Man is known as Natural flora. Sri Lanka’s flora is divided into two main parts, 1) Forests and 2) Grasslands. Archaeologists believe that this natural flora directly influenced the behavior of prehistoric man and the related cultural elements. Some grasslands and plains of the central highlands are the results of the work of prehistoric man as Dr. Siran Deraniyagala has shown.
Depending on many environmental factors researchers have been able to divide Sri Lanka’s environment into several zones. They are divided according to the below diagram.
For archaeological investigations at present, these divisions are used. Accordingly, when planning prehistoric expeditions and the interpretation of human components, various zones are classified based on these environmental zones. Out of the archaeological studies on prehistoric man carried out so far, the majority of studies have been from the wet zone or ‘Environmental zone D’ and some from the semi-arid zone or ‘Environmental zone A’. Studies from the semi-arid zone have revealed some of the oldest prehistoric evidences dating to the Paleolithic period while studies from caves of the wet zone mostly dates to the Mesolithic period. The other zones have seen less attention on the study prehistoric man and should be the areas of study in the future.
Department of Archaeology & Heritage Management, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka, Mihintale.
Translated by: Chryshane Mendis
Sri Lanka stands out as one of the foremost amoung the few countries in the world with a continuous written history. Since the introduction of Buddhism from India, Buddhist scholars keen on writing down the history of the Sasana had written the Deepavamsa, Mahavamsa and various other chronicles and literature continuously from the 3rd century BC up to the present. The main aim of the early literature was to record the history of the Sasana in the island thus the recording of human settlements did not seem important to the writer. According to the great Chronicle Mahavamsa, the human habitation of the island called Lanka took place with the arrival of Prince Vijaya. Accordingly, most scholars of history believe the island was made a human settlement with the arrival of immigrants from North India speaking an Aryan language around the 5th century BC. Prof.Senerath Paranavitana believed the pioneers for the cultivation of Indo-Aryan settlers were Traders. Certain scholars also suggest that the island was colonized by the Tamils who made South India their homeland. But historical and archaeological investigations have provided little evidence to prove this theory. There are also other theories on the human colonization of the island but are neglected due to the lack of a strong basis for them.
By the time of Emperor Ashoka of India, the Sinhalese who had come from North India speaking an Aryan language had by this time settled in many parts of the island and begun agriculture, farming, industries, and trade for their living and had developed their lifestyle to a considerable level. From this background, the history of Sri Lanka could be revealed from local and foreign sources. Taking it simply, before Sri Lanka was settled by immigrants from North India, was the island inhabited? Or according to the Mahavamsa and North Indian literary sources such as the Divyavadana, Sinhalavadana was the island inhabited by supernatural people who could change their form as they wished? During the past 125 years due to the limitless efforts of both local and foreign scholars, these questions have been answered to a considerable extent by Archaeologists and other experts. But the knowledge generated from such studies has mostly been limited due to it either being in English or being introduced only to Archaeology (Special) students in Universities. This knowledge, created by the usage of public funds for the discovery of the past of our people and not being made known to the general public is a matter of concern. There is a great need for the study of the prehistory of Sri Lanka to be made known to the society as the prehistoric man being not only the ancestor of our people but also forming the base for the formation of our proud history.
There is little opportunity for the school students to study the story of the prehistoric man who made his home in the island more than 2500 years ago. There is even less opportunity for the general public in this regard. Through this article, I hope to give a brief introduction to the story of the prehistoric man of Sri Lanka who lived thousands of years ago and how our ancestors interacted with the environment for their survival. The continuing of an academic work on the internet needs comments from readers. Hence kindly note that the continuing of this article series depends on the positive and negative feedback received.
History and Prehistory
In the study of human history, if a time period could be studied using written records or literary sources, it could be considered as History. Scholars in general state that the written evidence in Sri Lanka starts from the 3rd century BC. It is believed that the Brahmi script used by Emperor Ashoka in his letters of the Dharma was introduced to the island with the arrival of the Most Ven. Mahinda and thus the people learnt the art of recording. As these incidents took place in the 3rd century BC, it is accepted that the written records start from around that period. (But Dr. Siran Deraniyagala has been able to rationally prove that the use of script in the island dates back 2-3 centuries prior). Inscriptions using such script can be found in the thousands throughout the island on rock shelters offered to monks. Some of the best examples of these can be found in Anuradhapura from sites such as Mihinthale, Vessagiriya, and also in Sithulpavva. As said before, it is accepted that these inscriptions belong to the 3rd century or later and through these inscriptionsPalaeolithicwe could get a good understanding of our history. Accordingly, the period from the writing of such inscriptions up unto the present can be stated as History or the Historic period.
As such the period before writing or the period before the historic period is known as the Prehistoric period. Though the Deepavamsa, Mahavamsa and other literary sources stats briefly of this period, the information given cannot be believed or understood properly. Certain sources describe Yakshyas (demons) and Nagas (snakes) like humans living in the island. Archaeologists have identified an intermediate period between Historic and Prehistoric periods known as the Proto-historic period. This period can be identified as a period where evidence of a certain form of writing is found but cannot be distinguished as a proper form of communication. This Proto-historic period can also be called as the dawn of the historic period. It is believed that the people living in this era were quite familiar with iron technology, animal husbandry, and small-scale agriculture. From archaeological evidence, this Proto-historic period existed approximately 1000 B.C. to 300 B.C.
An individual studying prehistory will not be able to take information and data from literary sources as this predates the historical period. Therefore they will have to rely on non-literary sources for data and information. The non-literary sources would be human and animal bones, stone tools, food leftovers, coal, parts of plants, pollen, landscape, soil layer etc. In archaeology these are known as material factors and prehistory is totally based on such sources.
Based on archaeological research conducted by various people, human settlements have been traced to over 125,000 years ago in Sri Lanka. But this knowledge is limited to only a minority of people both local and international. Accordingly, we have become a people knowledgeable of and speaking of only a 2,500 year history. As we speak of a proud heritage of a hydraulic-agrarian culture after the advent of Buddhism and achieving much during 2,500 years it is just as important to know the prehistoric and proto-historic history of Sri Lanka; because our true prehistory could be overshadowed by illusions of unsupported incompatible theories in the minds of our people destroying the reality.
Archaeologists have been able to divide the time period of Sri Lanka’s long history into several ages based on the socio-technological features in order to study it. Conducting research for several years Dr.Siran Upendra Deraniyagala has been able to successfully classify the different phases of history. Based on this classification of the ages it is possible to gain a formal understanding of the history of the island. The time periods in this article are based on the following epochal classification.
125,000 B.C.(or even before) to 1000 B.C. – prehistoric age (Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic periods)
1000 B.C. to 500 B.C. – Proto historic iron age
500 B.C. to 300 A.D. – Early historic period
300 A.D. to 1,200 A.D. – Middle historic period
1,200 A.D. to 1,500 A.D. – Late historic period
1,500 A.D. to 1,815 A.D. – Modern historic period
In Sri Lanka and anywhere in the world, the form of prehistoric technology was stone technology. Stone implements were the main technology of the prehistoric era and based on the various developmental stages throughout the ages, they are divided as Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic eras. In prehistoric Sri Lanka, the prehistoric man of the Mesolithic era is famously known as the Balangoda Man. Evidence of this prehistoric man was first found in the Balangoda area by Dr.P.E.P Deraniyagala. Following the worldwide archaeological method of naming a find by the name of the location it is first discovered at, so the remains of the prehistoric man being first found from the Balangoda area was thus named as the Balangoda Man. Accordingly, any remains of the prehistoric man found from anywhere else in the island would still be called as the Balangoda Man. From the anatomical remains of the modern man found around the world, archaeologists point out the remains from Sri Lanka as belonging to some of the oldest remains ever found. The Balangoda Man led a nomadic lifestyle who hunted any animals he could catch, from baby elephants to snakes and ate all edible fruits, yams, leaves and flowers using stone implements made from rocks such as quartz, chert and crystalline.
Thus the purpose of this article is to bring to light the story of the prehistoric man beginning from 125,000 years ago or even 500,000 years ago down to us in the present, or simply the story of Man in Sri Lanka from the prehistoric times to the present.
It is important to keep in mind the following passage quoted from a 1956 publication of E. J. Wayland, a geologist who took a keen interest in the prehistoric era of Sri Lanka on the limits and complexity of this subject.
“There are so many Problems of Prehistory in the island that a Lifetime’s research would not suffice to solve all. The history Ceylon and its Peoples, Past and Present, Cannot be represented by a volume, but only by a Library”
The prehistory of Sri Lanka and her people should not be learned just for the comforting of the mind but also to create a path of rehabilitation for the future.
List of references (this article has been compiled using data and information from works of scholars both local and foreign but have omitted the references within the article for the ease of reading. Therefore the writer and archaeology.lk wish to thank and honor the scholars, whose works have aided this article. If a reader finds a paragraph unclear or wishes to know a reference please use the comment option given to which the writer or this website would reply at their earliest.)
The Prehistory of Sri Lanka is a fascinating episode of the story of Man on how he depended on the natural environment to survive and how he later tamed it to form civilization. The island’s prehistory dates back thousands of years before the events of the Pali chronicles. Sri Lanka stands out in the world as one of the few countries with a continuous written history from the 3rd century BC. The historical period is considered from the point in time where written records are available and the period of time where written records are not available of man is considered as the prehistoric period. Sri Lanka’s early historic period begins in the 5th century BC with the colonization of the island by immigrants from North India speaking an Aryan language and the historic period from the 3rd century BC from where written records are found.
When we speak of our country’s past, we speak of the 2500 years of written history but hardly do we realize that Man had been in the island long before that, even the great chronicle Mahawamsa states of the presence of various tribes in the island during the arrival of Vijaya. Sri Lanka’s prehistory dates to over 125,000 years ago with evidence of human settlements in almost every part of the country. Through the categorization of stone tools, three distinct periods could be observed as Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic and the famous prehistoric man of Sri Lanka known as the “Balangoda Man” belonging to the Mesolithic period.
This article series would cover the entire scope of the prehistoric man of Sri Lanka beginning with a clear introduction into the historical setting with an overview to the terminologies and the known knowledge to the novice mind. Then with an overview of the origin of the geology and geography of the island in order to better understand the natural environment of the prehistoric man and then on to the extensive studies conducted on prehistoric archaeology from the late 19th century to the present by both foreign and local scholars.
Purpose of the Series
The aim of this article series is to bring to light to the general public an important aspect of our country’s history; because this knowledge is mostly confined to only a few in the academic world. Just as we speak of a proud 2500-year-old history, it is as important to know the origin of our ancestors and how they interacted with the environment to survive.
About the Author
This article series is written by our archaeology.lk team member Chandima Ambanwala which has been published in 6 volumes in our Sinhala website and is translated into English by Chryshane Mendis of archaeology.lk.
Being awarded the Prof. P. Leelananda Prematilake & Dr. Nanda Prematilake Prize for Archaeology from the University of Peradeniya in 2006 along with his Bachelor of Arts (Special) 1st class Honours, he also holds a post graduate Diploma in Architectural Conservation of Monuments and Sites from the University of Moratuwa in 1998 and also a Master of Science in Archaeology from the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology in 2010. From 2008-2010 he was appointed a Temporary Lecturer in the Department of Archaeology of the University of Peradeniya and currently serves as the Lecturer of Prehistory and Epigraphy in the Department of Archaeology and Heritage Management of the Rajarata University.
Completing Advance Levels in 2013 from St. Joseph’s College, he is an independent researcher in the fields of Colonial warfare in Sri Lanka and is currently an undergraduate at Aquinas University College Borella.
History records King Sankilli II as the last Tamil King of Jaffna whose defeat at the hands of the Portuguese in 1619 lead to the annexation of the Kingdom of Jaffna to Portugal. But a closer examination of historical facts proves otherwise. History states that the invasion of Jaffna by King Senerath of Kandy in 1629 as the last battle for the Jaffna Kingdom from which the Portuguese had to wrestle it back.
This historical approach is made against the Tamil separatism argument justified by the Vadukoddai Resolution of 1976 by the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) stating that the Tamils handed over power to the Portuguese, the Portuguese handed it over to the Dutch and the Dutch to the British, therefore the British should have handed over power to the Tamils to run Jaffna as an independent nation instead of handing the entire country into the hands of what they call “the Sinhala state”. This historical argument became the corner stone for the separatist. The origin of this thesis goes back to Judge Weeramantry’s legal move to blast the base on which the Tamil theory for a separate state was based. History has been altered for the political agendas of the separatists in keeping with the Vadukoddai Resolution; ownership of history was a prime condition to prove ownership of territory thus alternate histories have been arguing that the Tamils were here from the ‘dawn of history’. The argument here is that those who came first have a greater legitimacy and supremacy than those who came later, this is spurious argument. If so then the Americans and Canadians must hand over their Nations to the first people, the original settlers.
One way of redeeming the nation from the ethnic impasse is to disentangle the threads of history that have distorted the political realities. It is into this context that this historical approach backed by historical facts is presented. King Senerath of Kandy for strategic and economic reasons launched an invasion of Jaffna with five thousand men under the command of Atapattu Mudaliyar in 1629, the advancing Sinhalese forces were backed by the people of Jaffna and ravaging through the region confined the Portuguese to the Fort and laid siege to it. This fact is stated by several Portuguese historians including Queyroz and Ribeiro and further states that even taxes were collected. Although this invasion failed which resulted in the destruction of the invading force including Atapattu Mudaliyar, this blasts the politico-legal myth that the sovereignty of Jaffna was passed on to the Portuguese by the last King Sankilli II and therefore the British should have handed back sovereignty to his descendants, the Tamils. But history records the last King of Jaffna was Senerath King of Kandy. And as Senerath was the last King to fight the last battle over Jaffna there could be no doubt that sovereignty passed over finally from the Sinhala King to the Portuguese. The main mission here is to present the audience with evidence for them to evaluate.
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