Tag - Chandima Ambanwala

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 : Bibliography

Chandima Bandara Ambanwala

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

Given below is the list of references to the Prehistory of Sri Lanka article series published by archaeology.lk. Kindly note that this list could be updated time to time.

Sinhala

  • ඇඞ්කින්ස්, එල්. හා ආර්. ඇඞ්කින්ස්, (1999), පුරාවිද්‍යා විධිනියම, පරි. ඩබ්ලිවි. දිසානායක, අනුරාධා ප‍්‍රකාශකයෝ, දෙල්ගොඩ.
  • ගුණතිලක, ජේ. (1997), මහාද්වීපික ප්ලාවිතය, මුහුදු පත්ල විස්තාරනය හා තල භූ කාරක මතය, ඛණිජ, පාෂාණ හා පරිසරය, සංස්. ජේ. ගුණතිලක හා ටි. හේවාවසම්, ශ්‍රී ලංකා භූ විද්‍යා සංගමය, පේරාදෙණිය (පි. අ. 32-44).
  • දැරණියගල, එස්. යු. (1984), ප‍්‍රාග් ඓතිහාසික පසුතලය, මහවැලි වංශය, 1 කාණ්ඩය, සංස්. ඩි. එම්. ජි. ඒකනායක, මහවැලි සංවර්ධන අමාත්‍යාංශයේ ඉංජිනේරුමය කාර්යයන් පිළිබද මධ්‍යම උපදේශක කාර්යාංශය, කොළඹ. (පි. අ. 61-63).
  • දැරණියගල, එස්. යු. (1990), පුරාවිද්‍යා කැණීම්, පුරාවිද්‍යා දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවේ ඉතිහාසය, පළමු වන වෙළුම, පරි. කේ. බි. ඒ.එ. ඞ්මන්ඞ්, ප‍්‍රධාන සංස්. එන්. විජේසේකර, පුරාවිද්‍යා දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව, කොළඹ. (පි. අ. 221-237).
  • දැරණියගල, එස්. යු. (1991), ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ ප‍්‍රාග් ඉතිහාසය, පරි. එස්. ජයවර්ධන, හා එන්. පෙරේරා, පුරාවිද්‍යා පශ්චාත් උපාධි ආයතනය, කොළඹ.
  • දැරණියගල, එස්. යු. (1995), ප‍්‍රාග් ඓතිහාසික ජනාවාස, අපේ සංස්කෘතික උරුමය, ප‍්‍රථම කාණ්ඩය, සංස්. ඒ. ගුරුගේ, මධ්‍යම සංස්කෘතික අරමුදල, කොළඹ. (පි. අ. 3-8)
  • දැරණියගල, එස්. යු. (1998), සබරගමුවෙන් මතු වූ ප‍්‍රාග් ඓතිහාසික බලංගොඩ මානවයාගේ සංස්කෘතිය, සබරගමු උදාන නිදහස් ස්වණ ජයන්ති ප‍්‍රදර්ශනය – සමරු සංග‍්‍රහය, සංස්. ඒ. අතුරුගිරිය. (පි. අ. 3-7)
  • දැරණියගල, එස්. යු. (2000), ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ ප‍්‍රාග් හා පූර්ව ඓතිහාසික ජනාවාස, චිරන්තන : ඓතිහාසික අධ්‍යයන සඟරාව, අංක 4, පරි. එන්. පෙරේරා, සංස්. ඩි. මනතුංග, අයි. බුලංකුලම හා තවත් අය, ඊ. එම්. අයි. පි. ඒකනායක, රද්දොළුගම. (පි. අ. 76-95).
  • දැරණියගල, එස්. යු. (2003), ප‍්‍රාග් ඓතිහාසික සබරගමුව, සබරගමුව වංශකථාව, 1 වෙළුම, සංස්. පි. ඇදගම, සබරගමුව පළාත් සභාව.
  • ධර්මවර්දන, ජි. (1997), ගුවන් ඡායාරූප ව්වරණයේ මූලධම හා පස, සීමාසහිත ඇම්. ඩි. ගුණසේන සහ සමාගම, කොළඹ.
  • පරණවිතාන, එස්. (1998), සිංහලයෝ, සී/ස (පෞද්) විසිදුණු ප‍්‍රකාශකයෝ, බොරලැස්ගමුව.
  • පාකර්, එච්. (2008), පුරාණ ලංකාව (ජනාවාස වූ තැන් පටන් වැව් දාගැබ් යුගය තෙක් දේශයේ වංශකතාව), පරි. නිශ්ශංක පෙරේරා, එස්. ගොඩගේ සහ සහෝදරයෝ, කොළඹ.
  • පානබොක්කේ, සි. ආර්. (1997), ලංකාවේ පස හා පොහොර භාවිතය, පරි. ජී. ධර්මවර්ධන, ඇම්. ඞී. ගුණසේන සහ සමාගම, කොළඹ.
  • පේ‍්‍රම්, බි. (1997), පාෂාණ, ඛණිජ, පාෂාණ හා පරිසරය, සංස්. ජේ. ගුණතිලක හා ටි. හේවාවසම්, ශ්‍රී ලංකා භූ විද්‍යා සංගමය, පේරාදෙණිය. (පි. අ. 6-18)
  • මනතුංග, ඒ. (1996), ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ ප‍්‍රාග්ඓතිහාසික පර්යේෂණ පිළිබඳ සමාලෝචනයක්, චිරන්තන – ඓතිහාසික අධ්‍යයන සඟරාව, අංක 2 පරි. සංස්. ඩි. මනතුංග හා අයි. බුලංකුලම, ඊ. එම්. අයි. පි. ඒකනායක, රද්දොළුගම. (පි. අ. 24-34).
  • මද්දුමබංඩාර, සි. එම්. (1984), මහවැලියේ ප‍්‍රභවය හා භූ ගෝලීය පදනම, මහවැලි වංශය, 1 කාණ්ඩය, සංස්. ඩි. එම්. ජි. ඒකනායක, මහවැලි සංවර්ධන අමාත්‍යාංශයේ ඉංජිනේරුමය කාර්යයන් පිළිබද මධ්‍යම උපදේශක කාර්යාංශය, කොළඹ. (පි. අ. 1-12)
  • ලගමුව, ඒ. (2000), ප‍්‍රායෝගික ක්ෂේත‍්‍ර පුරාවිද්‍යාව, සරසවි ප‍්‍රකාශකයෝ, නුගේගොඩ.
  • ලියනගේ, ජි.එල්.එස්.ඩි. (2000අ), ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ ප‍්‍රාග් ඉතිහාසය අධ්‍යයනය කිරීමේදි මතුවන ගැටළු හා ප‍්‍රාග් ඓතිහාසික පර්යේෂණයන් හී අනාගතය, වැලිපිළ පුරාවිද්‍යා සඟරාව, සිව්වෙනි කලාපය, සංස්. ඒ. රාජපක්‍ෂ හා පි. පි. එස්. කුමාරි, ඒකාබද්ධ පුරාවිද්‍යා උපාධිධාරී සංගමය මධ්‍යම සංස්කෘතික අරමුදල, කොළඹ. (පි. අ. 5-7)
  • ලියනගේ, ජි.එල්.එස්.ඩි. (2000ආ), ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ මධ්‍ය ශිලා යුගයේ මානවයාගේ හෙවත් බලංගොඩ මානවයාගේ ජීවනෝපාය ආර්ථිකය, සම්භාෂා, කලාපය 11, විද්‍යාලංකාර 125 සමරු ශාස්ත‍්‍රීය සංග‍්‍රහය, ප‍්‍රධාන සංස්. ජි. ඩි. රත්නපාල, අධ්‍යාපන අමාත්‍යාංශ පිරිවෙන් අධ්‍යාපන ශාඛාව (පි. අ. 881-890)
  • වික‍්‍රම, කේ. ඒ. එස්. (1985), පස පිළිබඳ හැඳින්වීමක් (ප‍්‍රකාශක හෝ ස්ථානය සඳහන් නොවේ)
  • විජේපාල, ඩබ්ලිව්. එච්. (2003), සබරගමු ප‍්‍රාග් ඓතිහාසික පර්යේෂණ හා පි. ඊ. පි. දැරණියගල මහතාගේ දායකත්වය, සබරගමුව වංශකථාව, 1 වෙළුම, සංස්. පි. ඇදගම, සබරගමුව පළාත් සභාව. (පි. අ. 227-234)
  • විජේසේකර, එන්. (1964), ප‍්‍රාගෛතිහාසික සමය, ලංකා විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයේ ලංකා ඉතිහාසය, 1 කාණ්ඩය, 1 භාගය, සංස්කාරක
  • සභාපති, එන්. ආටිගල, විද්‍යාලංකාර විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයේ පර්යේෂණාංශයේ සිංහල පරිවර්තනය (පි. අ. 73-80)
  • වීලර්, එම්. (1971), ආදි ඉන්දියාව සහ පාකිස්ථානය (අධ්‍යාපන ප‍්‍රකාශන දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවේ සිංහල පරිවර්තනය) අධ්‍යාපන ප‍්‍රකාශන දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව, කොළඹ.
  • සෙනෙවිරත්න, එස්. (2006), කුවේණියගේ ශාපය : වැද්දන් සහ නවීකරණයේ ප‍්‍රතිවිරෝධය, හෙරිටේජ් (Heritage), අනුවාදක ඩබ්ලියු. මහින්ද හිමි, විධායක සංස්. එස්. සෙනෙවිරත්න, යුනෙස්කෝ නවදිල්ලි ප‍්‍රදේශීය කාර්යාලය හා පේරාදෙණි විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයේ පුරාවිද්‍යා දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව. (පි. අ. 50-58).
  • සෙලිග්මාන්, සී.ජී. හා බී. ඉසෙඩ්. සෙලිග්මාන්, (2009), වැද්දෝ, පරි. චන්දුශ්‍රී රණසිංහ, fපාස්ට් පබ්ලිෂින් (ප්‍රයිවට්) ලිමිටඩ්, කොළඹ.

English

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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.

Three inscriptions discovered in Delft Island

The marine archaeologists from the Maritime Archaeology Unit (MAU) of Central Cultural Fund (CCF) established in Galle in their archaeological explorations carried out in Delft Island in the North of Sri Lanka in August this year have discovered three inscriptions that have not been hither to revealed.

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Brahmi script

Brahmi script

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Tamil Inscription 01

Tamil Inscription 01

 

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Tamil Inscription 02

Tamil Inscription 02

It has been observed that many archaeological ruins and artifacts could be seen scattered all over the island. Among them are remains of three ancient stupas of different sizes. The three inscriptions could be seen among the paved stones around the biggest of the three stupas which has a diameter of 13.54 meters and circumference of 31.93 meters.

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Small Degaba

Small Degaba

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Large Degaba

Large Degaba

 

Two of the three inscriptions are in Tamil script and the other is in Brahmi script. According to scientific data of the scripts the two Tamil inscriptions belong to the 14 – 15 centuries while the inscription having Brahmi script would date back to the 1st or 2nd century say calligraphists. According to the portion of the inscription that is legible the old Brahmi inscription had been written in Sinhalese prakrit language says Lecturer of calligraphy and epigraph at Rajarata University Chandima Ambanwala.

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Galle Maritime Archaeology Unit - Research Team

Galle Maritime Archaeology Unit – Research Team

 

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Chandima Ambanwala

Chandima Ambanwala

 

The discovery is an important revelation among the discoveries in the archaeological sector carried out in recent times and further studies are ongoing regarding the script found in the inscriptions.

Note and Photographs are by Mahinda Karunarathan

Mahinda Karunarathna and Chandima Ambanwala are co-founders of archaeology.lk[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Jethawanaramaya Complex as it looked in 9th Century AD

See the Jethawanaramaya Complex as it looked in 9th Century AD and fly down to see famous buildings and monuments in 3D. This is a project by the Digital Committee of the Royal Asiatic Society – Sri Lanka. (more…)

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