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Archaeological Milestones in Sri Lanka: Part 02

By Chryshane Mendis

 

 

 

 

This article series would sum up some of the most important events in the journey of Sri Lankan Archaeology, milestones which changed the way we think of the past, the way we know the past and the way we see and protect the past. Milestones in Sri Lanka archaeology would include important discoveries to institutional and policy establishments, which, has helped the field to progress to the present and helped expand our understanding of the past.

The previous article dealt with the milestones of the Translation of the Mahawamsa, the publication of Ancient Inscriptions of Ceylon in 1883 and the Discovery of stone tools in the island. This article would feature:

  1. The re-Discovery of Sigiriya
  2. Establishment of the Ceylon Archaeological Survey in 1890
  3. H. C. P. Bell’s ‘Kegalle Report’

 

The re-Discovery of Sigiriya

Sigiriya, the 5th century AD rock fortress cum city of King Kasyapa I which traces its human occupation to prehistoric times, was after the death of the King, converted into a Buddhist monastery which continued till about the 12th century AD. Afterwards, the architecturally, artistically and technologically stunning remains we see today faded away from history and were consumed by the jungles. Sigiriya is only mentioned once by local sources in the Mandarampura Puvata of the 17th century which describes the settling of South Indian Saivites by King Rajasinghe I, and once again falls into obscurity until the adventuring British explores of the 19th century brings this lost city into light.

As Sigiriya is mentioned in the Mandarampura Puvata of the 17th century, there is no doubt that the locals knew of this ancient complex, but it was the writings of the British explorers that brought Sigiriya into the light of common knowledge and the academic sphere. Thus, on these grounds, the first person credited with the rediscovery of Sigiriya is Major Forbes of the 78th Highlanders in 1831. Publishing in 1840 in his work titled ‘Eleven Years in Ceylon, comprising sketches of the Field sports and Natural history of that Colony and an account of its History and Antiquities’ he describes two expeditions to Sigiriya in 1831 and 1833. In 1831 he explored up to the base of the rock on the western side and climbed up to the gallery level (mirror wall). In his own words:

“From the spot where we halted I could distinguish massive stone walls appearing through the trees near the base of the rock, and now felt convinced that this was the very place I was anxious to discover…to form the lower part of the fortress of Sigiri many detached rocks have been joined by massive walls of stone, supporting platforms of various sizes and unequal heights, which are now overgrown with forest-trees. Having surmounted these ramparts, we arrived at the foot of the bare and beetling crag; and perceived at a considerable distance overhead, a gallery clinging to the rock, and connecting two elevated terraces at opposite ends, and about half the height of the main column of rock. These remains were very different from anything I had expected to discover; not merely from their remarkable position and construction, but as being the only extensive fragments of the ancient capitals of Ceylon which are neither shrouded by vegetation nor overshadowed by the forest”

In 1833 he returned to Sigiriya and explored the area north of the rock towards Pidurangala and traced the ramparts and moat as well as again the gallery or the mirror wall and also the Sigiri tank to the south of the rock. He traced the section which ascends the summit in the north but never attempted to scale the rock due to the great rick involved and added by the discouragement by the local people on summiting the rock due to the area being infested with bears and leopards. In his own words:

“I returned to Sigiri in 1833, and ascertained that the town lay around the palace to the north of the rock, and traced for some distance a stone wall and wet ditch with which it had been surrounded. I then learned that from the highest terrace many small steps leading to the summit of the rock may still be perceived; but in much too dilapidated a state, and in too hazardous a position, for one to attempt… on my second visit I remarked that the projecting rock above the gallery, at least so much of it as is within reach, had been painted in bright colours, fragments of which may still be perceived”

Sigiriya in the 19th century (image courtesy: https://sometimes-interesting.com/2014/02/17/sigiriya-the-lion-rock-of-sri-lanka/)

In this initial exploration of the rock, it can be found that the famed Sigiri frescos, the Sigiri graffiti, the water gardens and the lion’s paws were yet to be discovered. The first record of summiting the rock was in 1853 by two young civil servants, A. Y. Adams and J. Bailey. Later in 1875 T. W. Rhys Davids in an article writes how he explored the site and describes how he saw the paintings on the western face of the rock through a telescope. The following year T. H. Baleskey published a much detailed paper on the remains of Sigiriya which describe the gallery, the fresco pocket and other prominent features such as the rampart and moat and also includes the first plan of the ruins of Sigiriya which were visible back then. In 1889 A. Murray of the Public Works Department under the advice of former Governor Sir William Gregory managed in scaling up to the fresco pocket and sketched out thirteen figures.

Systematic archaeological excavations began only in 1895 under the leadership of the first Archaeological Commissioner Harry Charles Purvis Bell. The site was explored by Bell on 15th and 16th April 1894 including the summit, which was ascended using jungle ladders. By the end of the year iron ladders had been fixed to ascend the summit and some clearing had begun in preparation for a full season’s work the following year. Work began in January 1895 and lasted till May. During the first four seasons from 1895 to 1898 generally taking place during the first several months of the year, the entire rock and its immediate surroundings were cleared and surveyed, which by the 5th season in 1899 extended to the surrounding sites of Mapagala and Pidurangala. Excavations were initially begun on the summit and beneath the western scarp in 1895 but from the following year till 1897 all excavations were concentrated on the summit. During the excavations of the summit in 1896, apart from revealing the ruins, systematic trenches were opened in order to study the foundations of the walls; and again in 1898 shafts were driven to the bedrock of the summit to further study the foundations which revealed an underground drainage system. In the seasons of 1896 and 1897 all 22 frescos were systematically studied and copied in oil paint.

Sigiriya summit after excavations (image courtesy: https://sometimes-interesting.com/2014/02/17/sigiriya-the-lion-rock-of-sri-lanka/)

 

Sigiriya fresco pocket (image courtesy: https://sometimes-interesting.com/2014/02/17/sigiriya-the-lion-rock-of-sri-lanka/)
Image from ‘H.C.P.Bell, archaeologist of Ceylon and the Maldives’, 1993

 

In the initial archaeological excavations in Sigiriya, one of the most stunning discoveries took place in 1898. Up until then, although the name of Sigiriya implied ‘Lion Rock’ no trace of a lion had been found, neither in painting nor in sculpture, which confused scholars on the origins of its name. That is until H. C. P. Bell began excavation of the ‘maluva’ or terrace to the north of the rock from which the final ascent to the summit is. At the base of the rock from where the upper gallery to the summit would have started was a mound from where the ladders were placed to ascend the summit; this was thought to be a mound of debris from when the upper gallery had fallen off. But the mass proved to be solid brick work and in the center the flight of stairs were found. This discovery is best described in Bell’s own words from the Annual report of that year:

“When following the curved ground line of the north façade to the massive brick structure, s0me stucco-covered work was uncovered. This at first seemed to represent very roughly moulded elephant heads – three on either side of the central staircase – projecting from the brick work in high relief, life size. Closer examination and the presence of a small boss further back than the ‘heads’ gave the clue to a startling discovery – the most interesting of many surprises furnished during the four season’s work at Sigiriya.  These alto relievos were not a variant form of the ‘elephant-headed dado’ of the chapel ‘screens’ of the larger dagabas of Anuradhapura.  They were none other than the huge claws – even to the dewclaw – of a once gigantic lion, conventionalized in brick and plaster, through whose body passed the winding stairway, connecting the upper and lower galleries…towering majestically against the dark granite cliff, bright coloured and gazing northwards over a vista that stretches almost hilless to the horizon, must have presented an awe inspiring sight for miles around. Thus was clinched forever to the hill the appellation Sihigiri “Lion Rock.”…here then is the simple solution of a crux which has exercised the summaries of writers – the difficulty of reconciling the categorical statement of the Mahawamsa and the perpetuation to the present day to the name “Singha-giri” (Sigiri) with the undeniable fact that no sculpture or paintings of lions exist on Sigiri-gala”

Image from ‘H.C.P.Bell, archaeologist of Ceylon and the Maldives’, 1993

By the beginning of the 20th century, much of what we know of Sigiriya had been revealed, properly surveyed and excavated, but the enchanting place still continued to reveal its secrets in the 20th century and even in the present. Thus the rediscovery of the fortress city and its total revelation served as a laboratory for the discipline and a huge step in the initial years of archaeology in Sri Lanka.

 

Establishment of the Ceylon Archaeological Survey in 1890

H. C. P. Bell, first Commissioner of Archaeology (image courtesy:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Charles_Purvis_Bell)

Archaeology as a professional discipline began only in the early 19th century and by the mid-19th century had found its way to Sri Lanka with the British administration taking a keen interest in the ruined monuments found throughout the island, especially in the North Central Province. In 1868 Governor Sir Hercules Robinson appointed a committee to look into the ancient monuments in the island and by the early 1870s photographs and preliminary site surveys had been carried out in Anuradhapura. Until 1890 irregular investigations were conducted into the ancient monuments of the island such as the epigraphical survey carried out between 1875 to 1879 which led to the publication of the major work ‘Ancient Inscriptions of Ceylon’ in 1883 and an archaeological survey under S. M. Burrows between 1884 to 1886 in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. During this particular survey, the area around the major monuments in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa were cleared of the jungle and a surface search for monuments was carried out in and around the major sites; also old roads were cleared and new roads constructed to the larger ruins as well as the drawing of schemes for further excavations.

The proper establishment of a Government department for Archaeological work was started in February 1890 with Harry Charles Purvis Bell as its first Commissioner. His first assignment was a survey of the antiquities of the Kegalle District of which he was the District Judge; this survey produced the important work known as the ‘Kegalle Report’ (described below). After this preliminary survey of the Kegalle District, he was given the option of Tissamaharama or Anuradhapura for a major scientific investigation, which he chose Anuradhapura and proceeded to on the 7th of July 1890 – this date is thus considered the founding date of the Archaeological Survey of Ceylon and the birth of scientific archaeology in the island.

H.C.P. Bell and his family in Sigiriya (image courtesy:http://www.britishempire.co.uk/maproom/ceylon/sigiriya8.htm)

Bell started off his work in Anuradhapura with just a Labourer supervisor and 20 labourers, which was fondly known as ‘Bell’s Party’ and a systematic exploration of the jungle was carried out to determine what ruins lay above ground. Explorations were done in the modern town of Anuradhapura and immediate surroundings and were divided into 9 areas for ease of exploration. In 1893 archaeological work was extended to the Sabaragamuwa Province and to the Central Province the following year. During its initial years till the turn of the 20th century exploration, excavation and conservation work were centered primarily on the sites of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya. The Archaeological Survey of Ceylon was at a later date named the Department of Archaeology of Sri Lanka and continues to be the governing authority on the archaeological heritage of the island. Thus the establishment of an official governing body for the archaeological matters in the country was a major milestone in the expansion of the discipline of archaeology in Sri Lanka.

 

H. C. P. Bell’s ‘Kegalla Report’

Interest into the archaeology of the island was shown by the British from early on and several sporadic efforts were made into the study from the 1870s; it was finally in February 1890 that the Archaeological Survey of Ceylon was begun with Harry Charles Purvis Bell as the first Commissioner. At the time of commencement, Bell was serving in the Kegalla district as District Judge, and hence his first assignment was the survey of his resident district which comprised of the ancient divisions of the Four Korales (Sathara Korale), Three Korales (Thun Korale) and Lower Bulatgama (Pata Bulatgama). This report which comprised of an intense historical and archaeological survey was thus the first official work of the Archaeological Survey of Ceylon (which later became the Archaeological Department).

The title of the report goes as ‘Report on the Kegalla District of the Province of Sabaragamuwa’ and was first published in the Sessional Paper XIX – 1892: Archaeological Survey of Ceylon having been printed by George J. A. Skeen, Government Printer, in 1904. The work is structured into three Parts, and is best explained in Bell’s own introduction as follows:

“The present report has been arranged under four heads. The ‘Introduction’ deals with the historical geography of the Kegalla District. In Part I. (Historical) is recorded so much of its history as I have been able to glean from records, chiefly from the fifteenth century onwards. Part II. (Antiquarian) sums up briefly the characteristic forms of architecture and temple adornment in the District, and gives in some detail description both of ancient sites, legendary, and historical, and of the more important vihares, dewales and kovils of each Korale and Pattuwa. To Part III. (Epigraphical) has been left the treatment of all stone inscriptions and copper-plate or palm-leaf (ola) grants discovered in the course of research. finally, in the ‘Appendices’ will be found miscellaneous information bearing on the District which would have been out of place in the text”.

In Part I, he discusses the historicity of the district from ancient times unto the present. However the most important sections of the work are Parts II & III. Part II which deals with the antiquity of the district, although according to Bell’s own words, the Kegalle district is somewhat barren in terms of archaeology, the largest category of monuments recorded is religious establishments, a significant number of which traces its history to the Anuradhapura period. Part II opens with a general categorization and introduction to the monuments found, dividing them as Temples (cave temples and detached buildings), Viharas, Dagabas, Bodhi-maluvas, Dewales, and Architecture, Sculpture and Painting. From then on, the content is divided by the Korale, Pattuwa and finally by the Village in which is given a clear description of the antiquities, its location, present state with measurements and historical quotations from various sources to supplement the description. Apart from the many religious monuments described, there is recorded also other secular monuments such as the Manikkadawara fort, Balana fort and Peradeni Nuwara ruins.

Part III gives detail on the epigraphy of the district, dividing into Inscriptions, Sannas and Treasure and Boundary marks. Several early Brahmi cave inscriptions are described along with inscriptions dating from the 5th, 10th, 11th centuries all the way to the 19th century with the slab inscription of King Sri Vickrama Rajasinghe of 1806 in the Selawa Viharaya.

Many Sannas belonging to Viharas, Dewalas and private individuals too are recorded with the majority being written on copper plates. The oldest Sannas recorded is belonging to King Buvenekabahu V. Few locations of treasure marks and boundary marks too are given.

In the Appendices, the following details are supplied; Constitution of the Kandyan Kingdom with the Four Korales in particular, Lists of villages held under different Tenures, Lists of Registered Service Villages appertaining to different Temples, Lists of Vihares, Devales and Kovils, Flags of the Disavas and other Kandyan Officials, Cartography of the Kegalla District and some Boundary Ballads.

The significance of this work lies not only in the fact that it being the first project of the Archaeological Survey but also as a comprehensive record of the monuments of that district as they were during the late 19th century. It serves at present as an important source document for any archaeological or historical research conducted within this area; also since much of the archaeological data given in the report mainly concerning the secular monuments have since vanished, this serves as one of the only records of these ruins in a systematic way (e.x:- the Balana kadawatha described in the report can no longer be seen and is the only description available of it).

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An Archaeological Study on the Kaduruwela Fortress

By Priyantha Susil Kumara Marasinghe

Senior Archaeological Officer

Central Cultural Fund

Translated by Chryshane Mendis

Research Objective

The main objective was to create a scale drawing of the architectural feature identified from Satellite images using the data taken from a field survey of the area. The secondary objective being the proper identification of the site using the archaeological evidence from the excavations.

Research Methodology

Location

This fort is situated in the Grama Niladari Divisions of Veerapedesa and 4th Ela of the Thamankaduwa Divisional Secretariat of the Polonnaruwa District of the North Central Province. The GPS coordinates of the fort’s four corners are as follows; south east corner N7 55.068 E81 01.613, south west corner N7 55.068 E81 01.122, north west corner N7 55.491 E81 01.114, north east corner N7 55.491 E81 01.611.

The boundaries of the fortress are thus; from the north, the Sacred City of Polonnaruwa, from the east, the present Kaduruwela town, from the west, the present Polonnaruwa new town, and from the south, the Aluth veva.

 

 

The Area of the fort

The fortress can be divided into two sections, the main section is a large quadrangle and the other sections are rectangular gateways on the four sides. The length of the southern rampart based on visible and topographic features is approximately 870 meters; with the eastern and western moats, the length of the entire southern section would be 963 meters. The western rampart from north to south is approximately 840 meters and with the northern and southern moats is 922 meters. The outer moat of the south along with residential area is 190 meters wide. In total the entire area covered by the fort is approximately 1,108,032 square meters; 43,813 perches; 273 acres; 110 hectares; and 1.10 square kilometers. In total this fort is spread over a square kilometre of area. The northern gate including the moat is 336 meters in length by 200 meters in width.

The southern side of the fortress appears to have been strongly built indicating the main perception for its construction, mainly targeting the approach path of the enemy which would have been from the south, thus strengthening that particular side. The moat beyond the southern rampart is 42 meters wide and beyond that is a stretch of land 160 meters in width. South of that is another moat 30 meters in width. It is believed that the area beyond the second moat was covered by a lake or a marshland. The 160 meters wide stretch between the two moats is believed to have been a security zone as well as a forward defence zone. This area can be identified as a housing scheme as evident from the pottery pieces, hence it is thought to be the living quarters of the soldiers. The southern gateway appears to have been placed towards the eastern end. Accordingly, the main access route would have been spread on a high ground towards the south where the Mahaweli River and Amban River meet as evidence has shown. When considering the area of the fort, it is equal to the area of the inner city of Anuradhapura but is six times larger than the inner city of Polonnaruwa.

The Rampart

From the main entrance of the Seed production farm, the internal road network that going south and west run on a mound of higher elevation which is the rampart of the fortress. The rampart at its shortest width is 14 meters but can reach to 16 meters at certain places. As an average, it could be taken as 15 meters in width. Due to erosion and harvesting of the fields, noticeable changes could be observed. From Seed production farm office 410 meters of the eastern rampart and 430 meters of the southern rampart function as access roads for the fields.

It was observed that earth has been used in the construction of the ramparts, and the lowest levels of earth appear to have been compressed. The external layers appear to have been made of a mix of crushed stone and earth; this could be the layer dug out during the construction of the moat. The methods used to create these ramparts can be observed from the center section of the south rampart and from certain sections of the north rampart. On the eastern corner of the northern rampart the remaining part is clearly observable. For this, broken long rectangular stones have been used with the earth. The stones found measured 70cm x 15cm x 10 cm. The northern rampart is about 4 meters from the level of the moat (at present from the layer of the paddy fields). The walkway which is 8 meters between the moat and the rampart could clearly be seen. Most likely on top of the earth bund wooden stakes would have been placed forming into watch towers which would have made up the rampart. According to Arthrashasthraya the height of the ramparts should be 36 feet.

The Gates

The main entrance to the fort was situated to the north. The width of the gate is around 200 meters and length around 336 meters. The inner area of this gate comprised of a complex design. The moat surrounding this was connected to the moat surrounding the entire fort and further there were two moats within the center of the gate. West of the gate is a stretch of land 125 meters wide and the moat beyond that running north to south is 20 meters. Another section of land 35 meters wide is surrounded by an inner moat. Built in a way that the moat can be observed from the higher ground, the gateway when approaching from the north from the lake could not be observed clearly due to disorientations created by the moat.

The other gateways are rectangular but not as the northern gate. The longer side of the rectangular gateway is placed along side the fortress. No ramparts can be seen around these, thus could have been surrounded by water or marshes. The eastern gateway can be identified with the area of the present Seed production farm office. Of this only a small area has been built up and the rest is under cultivation. According to vegetation features along the eastern gateway, the western gateway too could be identified; the southern gateway too could be identified through vegetation features and also within this area could be found the remains of a building with stone pillars.

An important feature in the fort is that the gateways are not joined to the fort. The link between the quadrangle of the fort and the gateway is through the moat. It is believed that the link between the gate and the rampart could be easily broken during emergencies. Accordingly, there must have been a draw bridge. The guards would have constantly patrolled the ramparts and there would have been tall watch towers in the four corners of the fort to observe enemy movements from afar.

The moat of the fortress

Around the fort is a moat. The outer moat is 33 meters in width and the rampart was 2 meters above the moat. The moat was covered with water plants such as Lotuses. At the sections still surviving of the moat, the muddy soil suggests it would have been very deep.

At the remaining sections of the moat, paddy fields, banana and kohila plantations and even ponds for exotic fish could be seen at present. The moat between the main fort and the northern and southern gateways is 42 meters wide. From the southern moat, 160 meters from here can be found a second moat 30 meters wide. This goes westwards and then turns northwards. In the area belonging to the Seed production farm this could still be seen.

The internal structure of the fort

Evidence as to how the internal fort was structured is meager. Half of it has been cultivated by fields and the rest has been built up. However, based on the excavations carried out in 2010, a simple idea can be arrived at as to how this was structured. For the excavation, an area in the paddy fields belonging to the Seed production farm and 100 meters to the center from the southern and western ramparts was selected. This area due to the continuous cultivation had exposed the mound; it was decided to excavate the area where there were lots of bricks and tile pieces which was not cultivatable.

This area was 33 x 10 meters and from the buildings that were exposed, it was clear that the internal buildings were situated according to the four directions. This shows that the internal buildings and streets would have been placed according to a well laid out plan. The excavations revealed an inner courtyard (mada midula) and external bathing area of a house and based on other archaeological artefacts found there, it is believed to be the residence of a high ranking official of the fort.

Are there features of a fort?

When going through the features of the Kaduruwela fort, it is believed to have taken design from the features of fortresses in the ‘Kautilyage Arthrashasthraya’ (කෞටිල්‍යගේ අර්ථශාස්ත‍්‍රය). According to that a fort should be surrounded by three moats, but in the Kanduruwela fortress this has been done only on the southern side where enemy attacks were expected. On the south are two moats with the lake used as the third moat. These features were designed based on the topographic features of the land and not according to any particular design it is understood.

The method of designing a fortress is given in the Kautilyage Arthrashasthraya: “for the erecting of a fort, the most suitable natural position must be selected. If it is not surrounded by a river, it should be built on a higher elevation with low plains surrounding it”. Such features can be seen on the Kanduruwela fort as it is situated on a higher elevation. When turning to the western gateway, it could be seen that the surrounding area is on a considerably lower elevation. Spread throughout this low plains at present are paddy fields fed by the no. 4 canal of the Parakramasamudraya.

The fortified city should be constructed in a circular, square or rectangular form and surrounded by three moats states the Kautilyage Arthrashasthraya. Further the Arthrashasthraya states for the strengthening of the moat, the banks on either side must be made out of granite or bricks with the base made of granite and made in a way that the moat is supplied with water throughout the year along with a mechanism for removing the excess water; and filled in with Lotus flowers and Crocodiles. Above the moat a rampart should be built, the width of which should be twice the height. The base should be compressed upon using Elephants to strengthen it. Poisonous thorn plants should also be planted.

The present bund of the bund is 16.46 meter (54 feet) in width; hence the height would have been 8.23 meters (27 feet). But the Arthrashasthraya says the rampart should be built at a distance of 24 feet from the moat at a height of 36 feet. Accordingly when 24 feet is taken off the complete width, only 28 feet remain. That would be the width of the bund. Therefore the height of the rampart would be 14 feet. There would have been an open area on the rampart used as the walkway. This feature can be seen on the northern rampart where remains are found. The Mahawamsa description mentions an 18 cubits high gateway. This would be approximately 27 feet. Accordingly the width of the rampart should be 52 feet. That is same the same width as with the present bund.

The eastern and southern sides of the fort were completely protected by tanks. It can be thought that the area under water was up to the foot of the rampart. In 1948 a section of the old tank was restored under a new name called Aluth wawe. Accordingly to folk lore it is believed to be the Dana wawe built by Sulu Mugalan or Chula Moggalana (Mahawamsa chapter 41, verse 61). The reason the southern gateway was not placed in the center may be due to the fact that the water from the tank reached up to the southern rampart hence building it on the remaining space available towards the east. Due to these special features it can be clearly identified with the features of a fortress.

Ideas and opinions on Vijithapura.

The idea that the present area known as Vijithapura (Anuradhapura Yugaya, page 58) which is 20 miles south of Mihintale and a bit north of Kalawawe was the site of the ancient Vijithapura fortress has been put forward only by Prof. Sirimal Ranawalla. But the majority of scholars puts Vijithapura to a location in Polonnaruwa; amoung them are Prof. Senerat Paranavitana (University of Ceylon History of Ceylon Vol.I, chapter iii, page 154), Henry Parker (Ancient Ceylon, pp.237-9), Prof. Mangala Ilangasinghe (Lankadeepa, 28.05.2006, Rajakale uthuru muhude navika satan), and Dr. Panditha Kamburupitiye Vanarathana Thero. Taking into consideration the majority opinion, it could be said that Vijithapura was situated in Polonnaruwa, but they have not suggested any specific location. In 1982 Denis Fernando identified the present ruins through satellite imagery and proposed that this could be the Vijithapura fortress.

Several mentions of fortresses and auxiliary cities in Polonnaruwa can be found. Regarding the Vijithapura fortress, this was captured from King Elara by King Dutugamunu and the 25th chapter of the Mahawamsa gives a detailed description. Further, a fortress is mentioned during the reign of King Vijayabahu, where it mentions that the Cholars in fear barricaded the fortress gate and gave battle and that it took 1 ½ months for the forces of Vijayabahu to capture it (Mahawamsa chapter 58, verse 54). There is no further mention of the fort captured by Vijayabahu.

Later during the reign of King Gajabahu II a fully equipped fortress is mentioned; it is recorded that King Parakramabahu besieged this fortress and after a battle outside, the defeated King Gajabahu locked himself within his fortress and later when it was about to be stormed the emissaries of the city opened up the gates.

During the Polonnaruwa period there were many auxiliary cities close to the main city such as Rajaweshibuganga, Singhapura and amoung them Vijithapura too is mentioned in the chronicles. King Parakramabahu is said to have built a Vihara known as Veluwana in the auxiliary city known as Vijitha.

Conclusion

A satellite imagery survey was carried out in 2009 once again to positively identify this fortress. And accordingly, through the field survey of the area, features of a fortress were clearly identified. Therefore is this the Vijithapura fortress of Elara? The fortress of the Cholars which Vijayabahu conquered? The fortress of Gajabahu? Or is it the auxiliary city named Vijitha of Parakramabahu? No clear conclusion has been arrived at as yet.

One of the main problems is the lack of sufficient research conducted into the fort’s dating. During the excavations carried out in 2010, by examining the size of the bricks and technology of the interior buildings it was identified that these belonged to the early Anuradhapura period; the tiles and clay artefacts found too fit to this period and no evidence has been found thus far indicating its use during the Polonnaruwa period. Hence as no design features of the Polonnaruwa period were found, it could be said to belong to the early Anuradhapura period. Therefore the ideas put forward above on Vijithapura, its descriptions in the chronicles and based on the material evidence found, there is a high possibility of this being the Vijithapura fortress.

This excavation was carried out under the supervision of Prof. Manutunga.

Bibliography

  1. Mārasiṁha, em.pī.es.kē. 2010 kaduruvela balakoṭuva gavēṣaṇaya hā paryēṣaṇa kæṇīma, madhyama saṁskṛtika aramudala,polonnaruva vyāpṛtiya
  2. Laṁkā viśvavidyālayē laṁkā itihāsaya i kāṇḍaya iii pari. duṭugæmuṇu rajugē jayagrahaṇaya, senarat paraṇavitāna 1964 vidyālaṁkāra mudraṇālaya
  3. Mhala Dīpavaṁśaya ,1997 candradāsa kahandava āracci es goḍagē
  4. vaṁsatathappakāsinī mahāvaṁsa ṭīkāva, 1994, siṁhala anuvādayatha akuraṭiyē amaravaṁsa nāhimi, hēmacandra disānāyaka. pāli hā bauddha adhyayana paścāt upādhi āyatanaya vidyālaṁkāra mudraṇālaya
  5. Parker,H. Ancient Ceylon,
  6. Mahāvaṁsaya I, II, 1996 śrī sumaṁgala himi, hikkaḍuvē, baṭuvantuḍāvē, dēvarakkhita, dīpānī prakāśakana, koḷam̆ba

 

 

 

 

 

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Two Arabic Epigraphs found from the Ambalangoda Harbour

Mahinda Karunarathna, Apprentice Graduate, Regional Office, Central Province, Department of Archaeology. mahindakandy222@gmail.com – 0719945046

Dr. Mohamed Sulthan Mohamed Saleem, Senior Lecturer, Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of Peradeniya. msmsaleemnadvi@gmail.com

W.M Chandrarathne, Officer in Charge & Project Manager, Maritime Archaeology Unit & Maritime Archaeology Museum, Galle project, Central Cultural Fund. chandraratne7@yahoo.com

Location

The ancient harbor Ambalangoda is located in No 85 – Patabandimulla Grama Niladari Division (GND) of Ambalangoda Secretariat Division (SD), Galle District, Southern Province (6°14’07.4″N, 80°03’03.1″E) and about 800 m along the Ambalangoda – fisheries harbor road and 200m to the North from the jetty of fisheries harbor.

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Historical background

The great Chronicles Mahavamsha and Sandesa kavviya (messenger poems) had not mentioned about the activities of the ancient harbor at Ambalangoda. Thisara Sandesaya (1344-1359 AD) (Gunawardane, 2001 p. 1), Parevi Sandesaya (After 1415 AD) have described the coastal areas of the Southern province near Ambalangoda in their poems. Kalutota, Maggona, Beruwala, Aluthgama, Kosgoda, Bentota, Welitota (Balapitiya), Madampamodara, Totagamuwa, Rathgama mentioned in Thisara and Parevi sandesyas (Jayatilake, 2002 pp. 97, 101, 102, 103, 104, 107, 108, 109, 113; Gunawardane, 2001 pp. 101, 103, 107, 108, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116). However, one notable thing is the name “Ambalangoda” has not mentioned in this Sandesas.
Portuguese, Dutch and English (1505-1948) records depict the social, political, economical, religious relationships in the Ambalangoda harbor.

Research History

Three groups of Archaeology, Maritime Archaeology, and Harbour Development Project have intervened to the Maritime Archaeological activities in the Ambalangoda Harbor from 1998 to 2012.

The Artifacts found from the investigations in the Harbour

The Artifacts found in 1998

Most of the artifacts had been found by the private persons. On 14th May 1998, a maritime archaeology team (Department of Archaeology and volunteers) had carried out a preliminary investigation in the harbor (Jayatilaka, Gihan; Nerina de Silva, 1998 p. 1; Maritime Archaeology in the Ancient harbour at Ambalangoda, 2016 p. 32). According to the eyewitnesses, the timbers lie parallel to the shore. However, the team did not unearth the position of the wreck. Most of the artifacts found from the site had sold to the local dealers. The team gathered the information about the artifacts through interviews with eyewitnesses. The locals brought out various artifacts from their house and allowed to be photographed and recorded. 21 artifacts under 8 categories (A-H) were recorded by the group (Jayatilaka, Gihan; Nerina de Silva, 1998 pp. 1-5; Maritime Archaeology in the Ancient harbour at Ambalangoda, 2016 p. 32) (Table No 1).

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Some artifacts found in 1998

The Artifacts found in 2007

The Ambalangoda harbor development project was carried out in 2007. Several types of artifacts emerged while digging the sea bed of the harbor. Cowry shells (Cypraea moneta), copper plates and ceramics are some examples of the artifacts. Two Arabic inscriptions can be seen in two copper plates.

Cowry shells (Cypraea moneta)

The Artifacts found in 2012

The Maritime Archaeology Unit (MAU) of the Central Cultural Fund (CCF) has explored and excavated the site (Grid No 5 & 9 / 10 m x 10 m) from 1st of March to 10th of April 2012 to unearth more archaeological objects that belong to the ship wreck. Unfortunately, the team did not find any object from the site (Ambalangoda Exploration & Excavation Report – 2012, 2012 p. 5).

While the excavation in 2012
Excavation pit, 2012

(Ambalangoda Exploration & Excavation Report – 2012, 2012 pp. 10-11 ).

The Arabic Epigraphy found from the Harbour at Ambalangoda

Introduction – The Ambalangoda harbor development project was carried out in 2007 while digging the sea bed unearthed several types of artifacts. Discovering 5 copper alloy plates were a remarkable finding of the site(Table No 2). A notable thing whichcan be seen is two epigraphy in the reverse of the copper plates number 2 (2007/SL/S/AMBA/02 ) and 5 (2007/SL/S/AMBA/05).

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The above table shows five copper alloy plates which have been displayed in the Maritime Archaeology Museum (MAM) of Central Cultural Fund in Galle Fort.

Epigraphy on copper alloy plates

I. Description of the epigraphy

This epigraphy is very small, 71.68mm in length ,1 mm in depth of the letters and ,10. 68667 mm in Length of a letter. Thickness is 1.21 mm, Radius 29 cm, Width 14.5 and Weight 697.3 g (copper plate 2) and Thickness 0.75 mm, Weight 285.4 g (copper plate 5).

The plate has fragmented into two parts, probably, when it was under the sea bed or when digging the sea bed by the high pressure water dredger. There are no decorations in the obverse and the reverse of the plate. The five plates have been made of the copper alloy. This plate with epigraphy were deteriorated. It is covered by the brownish or blackish “patina”. This plates conserved in 2014 before being displayed in the Maritime Archaeology Museum in Galle.

II. Photographs and stamp pages of the epigraphy

Epigraphy 1

Epigraphy II

 

III. Translation of the Epigraphy

The period between the fourth and sixth centuries A.D. is generally considered to be a period of decline for the trade of Arabia.

The Arabic alphabet has 28 letters, all representing consonants, and is written from right to left. Twenty two of the letters are those of the Semitic alphabet from which it descended, modified only in letter from, and the remaining six letters represent sounds not used in the languages written in the earlier alphabet.

It is a Southern Central Semitic language spoken in a large area including North Africa, most of the Arabian Peninsula and other parts of the Middle East.

Arabic is a language of the Quran and is the religious language of all Muslims. Literary Arabic usually called Classical Arabic, is essentially the form of the language found in the Quran, with some modifications necessary for its use in modern times; it is uniform throughout the Arab world. Colloquial Arabic includes numerous spoken dialects, some of which are mutually unintelligible (The New Encyclopedia Britannica,vol:1,, page: 508, 509, 51015th Edition, 2005, U.S.A).

Ceylon was earlier known to the Arabs on account of its pearl-fisheries and trade in precious stones and spices, and Arab merchants had formed commercial establishments there centuries before the rise of Islam (Abid;Page 838). This Arabic letter had been written without dottings, it reveals the early era before Islam, because after introducing Islam ,dotting to Arabic was introduced to make it easy to recite the Holy Quran.

Translation of the Epigraphy

Epigraphy 1
Arabic (منح له سيد عبد الرب) / (Manehe Lahu Sayyid Abdul Rabb)
English “Mr. Abdul Rabb Awarded to him”

Epigraphy 2
Arabic (منح له سيد عبد الرب) / (Manehe Lahu Sayyid Abdul Rabb)
English “Mr. Abdul Rabb Awarded to him”

This first epigraphy similar to the second epigraphy

Here this Arabic letter was written without dotting, its meaning is: “Mr. Abdul Rabb Awarded to him”, (منح له سيد عبد الرب), (Manehe Lahu Sayyid Abdul Rabb), Early Arabic writing had been included without dots. The dots found today in Arabic writing were one of the first innovations that came after the spread of Islam. These dots make it clear what consonant is to be pronounced. Before the dots, people read the text without any dots. They could do this through their experience. Arabic Writing has been using dots since the dotting system was first inventedby Abu al-Aswad Al-Du’ali ( 603–688 A.D) to prevent grammatical errors. He was a close companion of fourth Khaliphat Ali bin Abi Talib and grammarian. He was the first to place dots on Arabic letters and the first to write on Arabic linguistics.

Acknowledgement

Director General, Department of Archaeology, Director General, Central Cultural Fund, Mr. Rasika Mutukumarana, Maritime Archaeology Team of the MAU, Mr. Chandima Ambanwala, Miss. Mangali Disanayake and Mr Saman of Maritime Archaeology Museum, Mr.Sumeda Weerawardana, University of Peradeniya.

References

  1. Ambalangoda Exploration & Excavation Report – 2012, Maritime Archaeology Unit, Galle, Unpublished, 2012.
  2. Gunawardane, A.D.S. 2001. Tisara Sandesaya. Colombo 10 : Samayawadana, 2001.
  3. Jayatilake, K. 2002. Wimarshana Sahitha Parevi Sandesaya. Gangodawila : Pradeepa publishers, 2002.
  4. Jayatilaka, Gihan; Nerina de Silva. 1998. Ambalangoda Shipwreck Report on a Prelminarii Investigation. s.l. : Unpublished , 1998.
  5. Maritime Archaeology in Ancient harbour at Ambalangoda. Karunarathna, Mahinda; W.M Chandrarathne. 2016. Colombo 7 : Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka, 2016.
  6. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2005, vol:1,, page: 508, 509, 51015th Edition, 2005, U.S.A.
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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.

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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.

 

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Study of Holocene hunter-gatherers in Sri Lanka : towards a regional model

The archaeological project titled ‘Hunters in Transition’ initiated in the year 2009 focuses the Holocene adaptations of the prehistoric hunter-gatherers occupied in the deep mountainous hinterland in Sri Lanka. Three separate climatic regions i.e.  wet, intermediate and dry zone which are geographically adjacent to each other have been archaeologically investigated through a series of reconnaissance surveys and excavations.

A view of the Vavullena cave which is a large prehistoric occupation in Illukkumbura of Balangoda

Floral and faunal distribution in the sampled area were mapped against the dispersal of prehistoric sites. Six Spatio-temporal caves situated in the region; the elevation ranging between 900 and 300m msl. fall into the period between 9000 -3500 cal. BCE were probed to establish a spatio-temporal framework to the Holocene cultural development. All of the caves investigated are situated not very far from each other; the maximum distance does not exceed 20km.

Approaching the Vavullena cave in Paragahamaditta

Identification of a natural formation of a quartz deposit which had been extensively exploited for lithic manufacture (as suggested by the artifacts excavated)  suggests as one of the key attractors of the colonization of its surrounding landscape. 25 varieties of wild grass seeds, nuts together with an extensive index of small animals hunted suggest that the Holocene hunters-gatherers had shown a marked resilience to the new climatic regime. Some of the symbolic artifacts excavated evidenced the fresh approach of them seeing themselves and their external world.

A symbolic object (probably a female genital)
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Alugalge Cave in Balangoda Revisited

The second phase of the archaeological investigations in the prehistoric cave of Alugalge in Balangoda has been initiated in the late February 2017.

 

The Alugala Cave

 

This cave was first excavated in July 2015 and has yielded an assemblage of artifacts suggesting the prehistoric occupation at the location during the mid/late Holocene. One of the notable characteristics of the stone implements (quartz) recovered is the presence of hyper-microliths; length of some of the lunates of that kind are not exceeding 4mm.  Other artifacts excavated include bone points, pieces of graphite with the marks of heavy aberration, small grind-stones, etc. Plant materials reported are residues of charred nuts (Canerium Zelanicum), seeds (probably Oriza sp.) and some of the specimens in the assemblage are waiting to be identified. The abundance of terrestrial shells (Acavus sp., Oligospeira sp.) among the food residues indicates that the cave was inhabited by the prehistoric communities in a period of relatively wet climatic condition was prevailed.

Prof Raj Somadeva at site

Some of the non-utilitarian artifacts found (a grid drawn on an undressed stone surface) have strongly suggest a conceptual inclination towards symbolism which has been considered as one of the explicit manifestation of the hunters in transition. Prehistoric deposit of the Alugalage cave has been dated to the 3505 cal. BCE. This project is funded by the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology and the National Science Foundation (research grant number IK/2014/01).

Non-utilitarian artifacts

 

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Excavating the Royal Palace of Seethawaka

By Chryshane Mendis

The rise and fall of the Seethawaka Kingdom in the 16th century is one of those remarkable episodes of history where a kingdom with a short lifespan could have an effect for generations to come such as that of the short lived empire of Alexander the Great; such was the feat of the warlike Seethawaka Kingdom. Seethawaka as a Kingdom came into existence in 1521 after the Vijayaba Kollaya where the kingdom of Kotte was divided amoung the three brothers, with Kotte to Buvenekabahu, Raigama to Raigam Bandara and Seethawaka to Mayadunne (the city of Seethawaka being the modern day Avissawella).

Growth of the Seethawaka Kingdom https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Sitawaka

Seethawaka emerged as a warlike kingdom under its two rulers, Mayadunne and Rajasinhe I and led the national struggle in ousting the Portuguese who had by then made a foothold in the island through the King of Kotte. The war effort of Rajasinghe and Mayadunne had forced the Portuguese to abandon Kotte in 1565 and moved to Colombo thus Seethawaka became the largest kingdom in the South West. With the annexation of Kanda Uda Rata in 1582 and the confining of the Portuguese to the fort of Colombo, the war machine of Rajasinghe brought the entire country except the northern Jaffna kingdom under the domain of Seethawaka. With the death of King Rajasinghe I in 1593 the once mighty kingdom fell due to internal strife and enabled the Portuguese to march onto Seethawaka who sacked the city. No invading army ever marched onto the city from the 1540s till its fall and thus would have grown into a splendid city with many buildings and a grand Palace as stated by many sources.

Sadly no trace is found of this city today with Seethawaka being confined to just a name. The old city is believed to be in the area of the present Avissawella town. Although the area is strewn with legends of its once mighty past, only two prominent archaeological sites exist; one is that of the beautiful Barendi Kovil and the second is the site of the Royal Palace with the ruins of a Dutch fort.

This archaeological site located on the Southern bank of the Seethawaka Ganga and could be reached by travelling on the Maaniyangama road with the turn off to it near the Avissawella Courts from the Avissawella-Hatton road. Travelling about half a kilometre one could find on the right the sign board by the Department of Archaeology along with the Regional Archaeological Office.

The Royal Palace of Seethawaka was said to have been destroyed by the Portuguese who built their own fortress in the vicinity. Later the Dutch built their fort in 1675 on a hillock said to be the site of the Palace; but this fort was abandoned after ten years. In 2013 it was reported that a section of the Palace was found when conducting excavations here. To find out more about this the writer visited the ruins and the Regional Office in February 2017. Below is a summary of the excavations conducted at the site by the Department of Archaeology.

Plan of the Dutch Fort of Seethawaka from Fortifications Along The Kelani River by D.P.Chandrasekara

Summary of the excavations of 2012-2013

Speaking to Ms. Janaki Biyanwila the Regional Officer Excavations, she explained that no archaeological excavations were conducted here prior to 2012 and stated that their main two objectives in excavating this site were to first scientifically investigate as to whether this is the real location of the Palace and secondly to excavate and conserve the visible ruins of the Dutch Fort. The site is located on a hillock just east of the Regional Archaeological Office of Sabaragamuwa with the visible ruins of a Dutch fort with the rampart being around 100 feet long and 8 feet high on each side with four large bastions and in the center a square ruined structure. All of this is constructed by large kabook stone and neatly cut stones. The existence of these ruins are also mentioned in The Interior of Ceylon And Its Inhabitants (1821) by Dr. John Davy where its stated that he visited them in August 1819.

The ruins before excavation, from Fortifications Along The Kelani River by D.P.Chandrasekara

The excavations commenced with funding from the Department of Archaeology in 2012 under the guidance of Dr. Nimal Perera the then Director of Excavations and Supervised by M. A. S. T. K. Madurapperuma Assistant Director Sabaragamuwa. The technique used for the excavation was the Grid-box method with 3m x 3m squares (which involves dividing a section on a grid and digging squares leaving a space between each square called a Baulk showing the terrain elevation before excavations). The site was divided into four sections, and the North and East sections were excavated in 2012 with 12 3×3 squares in the North section and 23 squares in the East section. In 2013 a total of 106 squares were dug. During the first year, evidence of the Dutch fort was uncovered with evidence of two gun placements on each bastion. In 2013 they uncovered evidence of the existence of a grandeur building predating the Fort.

Out of the many artifacts uncovered from the site were large iron nails used for roofing, large potter

y with decorations, Dutch coins etc. The most definite evidence of the existence of the Palace was the discovery of large clear cut stones in the center structure along with kabook stones. As it is reported that the Palace was destroyed, therefore no evidence could be found of the original structure of the Palace but it is evident that the foundation stones of the Palace were used in later construction. Through the excavations, it was revealed that the ruins belonged to two periods with the remains of the Dutch fort being the newer construction and foundations of an older structure in the center predating the Dutch fort was clearly identified. Further compelling evidence of the Palace was the discovery of a layer of burnt earth along with roof tiles broken into small fragments throwing weight onto the fact that the Palace was attacked and burnt to the ground.

 

Foundations of the inner structure. The square cut formations are the remains of the Grid-box excavations.

 

   

 

Ms. Biyanwila further explained that originally the Palace complex would have spread across 4-5 acres, but the present site is only within half an acre, she stated that proposals are underway for the conservation of these ruins which would be funded by the Central Cultural Fund.

These clear-cut stone steps are said to be part of the Palace

We may never know how exactly the Palace was, but it is still a thrilling find to the history lover to glimpse upon the materials that would have once made up the adobe of the mighty Lion King of Seethawaka whose power confined a powerful European nation to just a Fort. Walking through the ruins of the Fort one enters from an opening in the ramparts on the western side and is immediately met with a flight of stairs leading up to the center structure. The ramparts and the bastions too could be clearly identified and would have given a commanding position as this fort is situated on a natural hill. Remarkable as the fort is, one could not help imagining as to how the Royal Palace would have been with its many interconnected halls and apartments spread throughout the entire area which is now home to Rubber and Coconut plantations. It is captivating to think that the hill, offering an elevated view of the surroundings, could have been the location of an important section of the Palace, possibly even the very room of Rajasinghe.

References:

  • Chandrasekara D. P., Architectural Heritage Of Sri Lanka: Fortifications Along The Kelani River,
  • Punchihewa G. S. G., A Lost Medieval Kingdom of “The Lion King”,
  • Gunawardena Philip, The Heritage of Seethawaka,
  • Excavation division Sabaragamuwa Department of Archaeology, Seethawaka Maliga Boomiya Kaneema 2012-2013.
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Udupiyangala excavations, the conclusion

The Udupiyangala cave in Kalthota, Balangoda is a prehistoric habitat which was excavated by Dr. P.E.P Deraniyagala in 1936. Through that excavation it was recorded that quartz tools and a clay pot with seeds was found. Based on that evidence Dr. Deraniyagala believed it reflected a new path in the Stone Age culture of Prehistoric Sri Lanka. To identify this culture he proposed the termed Ferolithic culture. But at that time Dr. Deraniyagala was unable to determine as to how old that culture was.

In February 2016 under the Hunters in Transition project, excavations of Udupiyangala was recommenced mainly to determine its age. As a result of the excavations, tools made from transparent quartz, snail shells, burned seeds and many more important findings were made.

Amoung the finds, the most interesting find is of a pendant made from Chert stone cut into the shape of a heart. The soil level in which this pendant was found was dated to 7745 BC.

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Fieldwork of the Hunters in Transition Project -2016 (Second field season)

The second season of the hunters in Transition project was initiated between 22nd July and 4th September 2016. Two excavations have been carried out in Illukkumbura of Balangoda. The objective of the fieldwork was to investigate the adaptation of the prehistoric communities in the area to the climatic changes of the early and the middle Holocene.

 

Prof Raj Somadva during the excavation
Prof Raj Somadva during the excavation

The first cave excavated was Paragahamaditta galge alias Bandukanda galge in Panana has revealed a rich assemblage of prehistoric stone implements. Lack of prehistoric food residues suggests that the cave had been utilised by the prehistoric communities of the area as a transit location during their mobility of transhumance.

Paragahamaditta galge alias Bandukanda galge in Panana
Paragahamaditta galge alias Bandukanda galge in Panana

The second cave excavated was Alu galge in Maddekanda of Illukkumbura has produced an important assemblage of artifacts suggesting more complex stage of transition of the prehistoric communities lived in the hilly flanks of the area. Except a wealthy collection of prehistoric implements (stone and bone) ad food residues, BRW pottery and a few beads were reported from the parallel levels of the cave floor. Findings of  3 shark tooth and a piece of a coral suggests that the group inhabited the cave had travelled about 30km to the sea and had triggered off a new sphere of economic interaction with the settlements in the valley of the maritime littoral areas. Radiometric datings of the excavations are expected by the end of September 2016.

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Alu galge in Maddekanda of Illukkumbura
Alu galge in Maddekanda of Illukkumbura
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Hunugalagala Limestone Cave Excavation 2013

Hunugalagala is a limestone cave situated on the southern slope of the central highlands in Sri Lanka. It is a mighty rock formation that has been formed through million years ago. The surrounding area of this cave had been used by the foraging communities at least 4000 years ago. Grind-stones utilized for cereal processing and elegantly manufactured microlithic stone implements (quartz) are visible on the ground at several locations not far from the cave. Excavation in the Hunugalagala cave was initiated on 27th July 2013 and the archaeological findings are stunning. The artifacts so far unearthed include stone grind stones, painted potsherds (black lines on red background) and human/animal ? bones which are highly calcified. Hunugalagala is the only cave that has been selected for deep archaeological investigations in the history of the archaeology in Sri Lanka. The excavation team headed by Raj Somadeva (PhD), Professor in Archaeology of the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology in the University of Kelaniya. A Physical Anthropologist and a Geologist with several amateur archaeologists are accompanying the excavation.

 

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Hunugalagala Limestone Cave Excavation 2013

 

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Hunugalagala Limestone Cave Excavation 2013

 

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Hunugalagala Limestone Cave Excavation 2013

 

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Hunugalagala Limestone Cave Excavation 2013
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