Geological Background of Some Archaeological Sites of Sri Lanka


by Pathmakumara Jayasingha(Originally published in Sirinimal Lakdusinghe Felicitation Volume, published here with author’s permission)

Archaeological Sites
Different rock units of Sigiriya

Sri Lanka is well known for its richness of archaeological sites. As described in the great chronicles of Mahavamsa (300A.D.), Thupavamsa (300-600A.D.), and many others, such places are not restricted to one particular region or place and they are scattered all around the island. During the past 2500 years of the written history of Sri Lanka, earth materials have been used to build up ancient cities, royal palaces, and mighty irrigation systems. Not only that, tangible evidence from archaeological sites and museums confirms the extensive use of stone materials by ancient people for their day-to-day requirements. The scientific identification of such materials is essential to understand and interpret ancient technological developments, trade, and cultural evolution.

Geological knowledge has been commonly applied in the field of archaeology for a long time in a  global context (Renfrew 1976; Rapp & Hill 1998; Goudie 1987). In contrast, such geological studies on archaeological sites of Sri Lanka are quite rare, although it has only been around forty years ago from the establishment of geology in the country. As seen today, the lack of interest of researchers in both fields might be the main reason for this aloofness. Insufficient geological knowledge on archaeological sites has resulted in misleading explanations and the use of incorrect terminology among historians and archaeologists.

However, it is well understood that comprehensive background knowledge on the geology of archaeological sites is a present-day major requirement. This study was carried out to fulfill that requirement and to give a baseline of information for future research and interpretations.

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