Research Paper

A Gemological Perspective of Gem Beads of Jetavana World Heritage Site, Sri Lanka

Pathmakumara Jayasingha – Research Scientist / Geologist, Research Laboratary, Central Cultural Fund, Sri Lanka. ( )
(This was first published in Archaeologia, Part 2, Volume 1, April 2011)



Some natural and synthetic beads of Jethawanaya bead collection

Beads were used as bodily ornaments by ancient people. Bead making is an art and a variety of materials like stones, gems, corals, shells, amber, wood, metals etc have been used since prehistoric time (Dubin 1987). The use of natural materials varied from region to region, country to country and place to place. Later the bead making process has been developed as an industry with better knowledge and advanced technology that created synthetic beads and properly faceted natural beads. After the beginning of long distance trade, knowledge and techniques of bead making were circulated and different kinds of materials and beads were distributed around the world. As a centre for trading in ancient times, Sri Lankan culture was enhanced and gained different techniques, materials and beads from different countries. Sri Lanka is rich in raw materials for making either natural or synthetic beads.

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Ancient chronicles of Sri Lanka have mentioned the use of gems as decorative materials from ancient times (Mahavamsa 300 AD, Thupavamsa 300-600 AD). Gems, are minerals which have specific characteristics. Beauty defined by its colour, degree of transparency, lustre, reflective effect, rarity and durability of a gemstone decide the class of a gemstone, indicating if it is either precious or semiprecious. The main gem varieties found in Sri Lanka are Corundum, Chrysoberyl, Zircon, Garnet, Tourmaline, Beryl, Moonstone, Topaz and Quartz family. Sri Lankan people have used gems not only to create jewellery but also to decorate royal palaces and religious places. One of the best examples is the “Pabalu Wehera” in Polonnaruva which was said to be decorated with beads. There are evidencs of using gems for making beads. In subsequent periods, beads were also manufactured synthetically.


Garnet beads with different

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Research Paper

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)

Sigiriya Rock Units
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 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 confirm the extensive use of stone materials by ancient people for their day to day requirements. 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 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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