Author - Chryshane Mendis

Archaeology.lk interviews Dr. H. Nimal Perera

Dr.H. Nimal Perera

Dr. Nimal Perera

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.

Dr. Nimal Perera at Deccan College India (seated first from right) with the late Prof. V.N. Misra (seated second from left) and Dr. Vasant Sinde (standing third from left) who is the present Vice Chancellor of Deccan College of the University of Pune, India.

Dr. Nimal Perera at the Australian National University.

Dr. Siran Deraniyagala (left) and Dr. Nimal Perera

Supervising excavations at Mahasthangarh archaeological site in Bangladesh, 1994

Prehistory of Sri Lanka 4: the intermediate period of Prehistoric research in Sri Lanka

Chandima Bandara Ambanwala

Department of Archaeology & Heritage Management, Rajarata University of  Sri Lanka, Mihintale.

Chandima Ambanwala

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.

Dr. P.E.P. Deraniyagala

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.

Minihagalkanda (picture www.lakdasun.org)

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).

Excavation plan of Bellanbandipalassa by Dr. Deraniyagala and the uncovered human skeletons

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.

Artifacts from the Neravana cave in Kukulegama excavated by Dr. Deraniyagala

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 Balangoda Man, a sculpture by Dr.P.E.P. Deraniyagala in the British Museum (picture by Kalum Manamendra-arachchi)

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.

Artifacts from the Beli-Lena inner cave

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.

An Epigraphic and Social archaeological study of Vaharala Inscriptions

R. M. Mangalika Rajapaksha

Research Officer, Central Cultural Fund, Anuradhapura.

Translated by Chryshane Mendis

Introduction

Mangalika Rajapaksha

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.

A Vaharala inscription from Vessagiriya

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)

Vaharala/Vahara layara/Vahera la (වහර ල/වහර ලයර/වහෙර ල)  = Vihara Salaka (විහාර සලාක )

Vahara laha (වහර ලහ)  = Vihara Salaka (විහාර සලාක) (Ranawalla 2004:123)

  • 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).

Prof. Senerat Paranavitana

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.

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.

Language features

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).

Example:

පාචීන > පජින

සංවච්ච්ර > හවජර

අහය > අපය

පධානඝර >පතනගල

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).

Formal features

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.

Dr. Malini Dias

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.

Occupations

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.

The Clergy

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
  • Paranavitana, S., Godakumbura, C.E. (1963). Epigraphia Zeylanica Volume ¹, Archaeological Survey of Ceylon
  • Renfrew, Colin,(2005), Archaeology- The key concepts, Taylor and Francis Group, London and New York
  • Uduwara, Jayanta (1991), Epigraphia Zeylanica Volume ¹¸ part II, Department of Archaeology, Sri lanka
  • Wickremasinghe, Don Marthino de Silva. (1912). Epigraphia Zeylanica Volume ¸, Published for the government of Ceylon by Henry Frowde
  • Paranavitana, S,(1962), Some Sinhalese Inscription of Circa Sixth Century, University of Ceylon Review vol XX, 1-11

Excavating Alugalge: archaeology.lk visits the excavations of the prehistoric site

By Chryshane Mendis

Chryshane Mendis

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.

Excavation within the cave. (Photograph by Dinesh Devage)

 

Prof. Somadeva examining some finds (Photograph by Dinesh Devage)

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.

Photograph by Dinesh Devage

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.

Drying of the soil after wet sieving

 

Sorting out the artefacts at the house

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.

Before separation

Bone fragments

Burnt clay

Identified stone tools

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.

The artefacts sealed in separate bags.

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.

On the way to the site

Some of the scenic houses on the way to the cave.

Entering the cave from the path.

Lighting the inside of the cave.

The team with Prof. Somadeva (Photograph by Dinesh Devage)

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.

References

  • 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.

 

Prehistory of Sri Lanka 3: the early period of Prehistoric Research in Sri Lanka

Chandima Bandara Ambanwala

Department of Archaeology & Heritage Management, Rajarata University of  Sri Lanka, Mihintale.

Translated by. Chryshane Mendis

Introduction

Chandima Ambanwala

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

Robert Bruce Foote (image taken from God Apes and fossil Men)

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.

Hand-Axe found by Robert Bruce Foote (taken from God, Apes and fossil Men)

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.

A Quartz stone tool found by Green in the area of Kandy

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.

C. G. Seligman

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.

The Vaddas of Sri Lanka (taken from magnificientisland.blogspot.com)

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.

Kudiramale point – Iranamadu formation

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.

 

Prehistory of Sri Lanka 2 : the geographical and geological background of Sri Lanka

Chaminda Bandara Ambanwala

Department of Archaeology & Heritage Management, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka, Mhintale.

Translated by : Chryshane Mendis

Chandima Ambanwala

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”

Source: Google Maps

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.

Pangaea and Gondwanaland, above 200 million years, blow 80 million years (taken from K.A.R. Kennedy’s God apes and Fossil men)

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.

D. N. Wadia (1883-1969) (this picture is taken from www.scientistsinformation.blogspot.com)

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

Sri Lanka’s geological zone (taken from Arjuna’s Atlas of Sri Lanka)

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.

  1. Highland complex: the central highlands and northeast and south-west of the island.
  2. Wanni complex: also called the Western Vijayan complex, comprises of the lowlands west of the Highland complex.
  3. Vijayan complex: also called the Eastern Vijanyan complex, consists of the land east of the Highland complex.
  4. Kadugannawa complex: centrally located in the Highland complex, the internal rocks are separate to that of the Highland complex.

 

 

Sri Lanka’s geographical background

Temperature

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.

Rainfall

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.

Soil distribution

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.

  1. Animals and plants that live on the soil
  2. Having a structure in the soil
  3. 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:

  1. Climate
  2. Parent materials
  3. Relief
  4. Organisms
  5. Time

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.

Natural Flora

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.

Knuckles: Central Highland Sri Lanka

Environmental zones

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.

Environmental zones (taken from S. U. Deraniyagala’s Prehistory of Sri Lanka: an Ecological Perspective)

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.

 

Prehistory of Sri Lanka 1 : the beginning of a long journey

Chandima Bandara Ambanwala

Department of Archaeology & Heritage Management, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka, Mihintale.

chandimaambanwala@yahoo.com

Translated by: Chryshane Mendis

Chandima Bandara Ambanwala

Introduction

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.

Mahavamsa

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.

Skeleton of Balangoda Man excavated from the area of Bellanbandipalassa in Ambilipitiya during the 1950s. (Taken from The Pleistocene of Ceylon by Dr. P.E.P Deraniyagala)

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.

Historical periods

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.

Fa-hien Cave (Pahiyanlena), another habitat of the Balangoda Man

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.)

Prehistory of Sri Lanka

Introduction

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.

Prehistoric Pothana Cave

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.

Series content

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.

Chandima Ambanwala

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.

Chryshane Mendis

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.

“The last King of Jaffna was a Sinhalese Buddhist” Lecture by H. D. L. Mahindapala 13th February 2017, Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka

H. D. L. Mahindapala

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.

H.D.L. Mahindapala delivering his lecture at the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka

You can read more about this following this link.

King Sankilli II Statue Photo Credit: Jaffna City

Book Launch, “Marga Puranaya” by Dr. P. Vidanapathirana

The book ‘Marga Puranaya’ by Dr. Vidanapathirana was launched on the 22nd of February 2017 at the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology.

The ceremony commenced at 3pm with the welcome speech delivered by Dr. Arjuna Thanthirage. The Chief Guest for the ceremony was Prof. S. B. Hettiarachchi and Guest of Honor was Dr. Janaka Weerasinghe, Director of the PGIAR.

Speaking on her book, Dr. Vidanapathirana stated that this is the first comprehensive study on the ancient roads of Sri Lanka and that she focused on the different factors that led to road development in ancient Sri Lanka. One special highlight in her book is that of the location of Nandikadal in the North, a place which saw much action during the last days of the civil war; was in fact an important junction on the days gone by where 8 roads met and that the most complex road networks were in the North and East of the island. She said that 80% of the present road system which was developed by the British was based on the ancient roads.

Presenting the Book to Prof. Hettiarachchi

Further elaborating on this book, Dr. Weerasinghe during his speech stated that the late Prof. Senaka Bandaranayaka’s vision for the PGIAR was to the archaeology of the Common Man rather than to the glorious histories of Temples and Palaces; to this his student; Dr. Vidanapathirana has brilliantly elaborated in her empirically researched work. This book proves that all roads led to Anuradhapura and that the roads bound the city to all the regions. The main purpose of this complex road system was the ordering of the landscape and networking it, hence the reason Anuradhapura became the center of the network and not due to trade or other reasons. This work contains the first archaeological map of ancient roads as previous maps were based on simply historical facts. Dr. Weerasinghe concluded by saying that he wished this would inspire future researchers to explore the new avenues created through this book.

Addressing the gathering Prof. Hettiarachchi spoke on the importance of the reference of historical literary sources in conducting archaeological explorations to solve the contradictions in the stories by elaborating certain tales; and concluded that this book is an excellent example of an archaeological perspective on roads.

The book was officially launched by presenting the book to the Chief Guest and Guest of Honor by the author Dr. Vidanapathirana. The ceremony concluded at 4pm with the vote of thanks by Ms. Chandrika Godage, Senior Academic Registrar of the PGIAR.

 

 

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