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In loving memory of Dr. Roland Silva, a pillar of Sri Lankan Archaeology

By Chryshane Mendis and Prasad Fonseka

Deshamanya Vidya Jyothi Dr. Roland Silva was one of the foremost experts in the conservation of historical monuments and sites and one of Sri Lanka’s most prominent archaeologists. He was the former Commissioner of Archaeology (1983-1990) and the pioneer Founder Director General of the Central Cultural Fund that implemented the UNESCO-Sri Lanka Project of the Cultural Triangle, former Chancellor of the University of Moratuwa, former President of the World Body of Conservators, the first president of the of ICOMOS International (International Council on Monuments and Sites) from Asia (1990-1999), which is one of the three formal advisory bodies to the World Heritage Committee function under  UNESCO, the pioneer in the establishment of the Post Graduate Institute of Archaeology and the pioneer founder President of The National Trust Sri Lanka. In addition he was a senior/honoured member of many other national and international professional institutions of Architecture and Archaeology.

Dr Roland Silva

Born in 1933 to a prominent entrepreneurial family in Giriulla, Roland Silva was the fifth in the family. His only brother was the eldest and there were three elder sisters and three younger sisters to Roland. He began school at St. Joseph’s College Colombo 10 in 1939 and was the youngest boarder at that time in the hostel, where he resided throughout his years at College. In 1942 when the Darley road premises were taken over by the military, the students were moved to three branches in Gampaha, Kelaniya, and Homagama. He continued his studies in Gampaha and then in Homagama, where he excelled in the second and third standards and received a double promotion to the fifth standard. Returning to Darley road in 1946, he took part in high jump and volley ball and finally captained the College Athletics and Volley ball teams. The late Dr. Carlo Fonseka who later entered SJC after having his early education in Mari Stella College was a classmate of his and were together in their years of schooling until they were separated in different streams. Due to his excellence in academic and the other activities, he was awarded the Head Prefectship by the Rector Rev. Fr. Peter Pillai, in 1951.

Young Roland Silva

In Senior Prep (Year 9), he chose Double Maths, Physics and Chemistry (for HSC) and after passing all the examinations, he was called for an interview for selection to University where he indicated his desire to study Architecture. As there was no course on Architecture in the University, the panel recommended him to discuss with the Rector and so the Rector communicated with the Architecture Association (AA) of England to secure a place in their School of Architecture.

Dr Roland Silva with Prof. Senake Bandaranayake, Dr Senarat Dissanayake, Prof. Anura Manatunga, Dr. Sirimal Lakdusinghe

Dr. Roland began his studies in London in 1954, and while there, he had received a letter from Rev. Fr. Peter Pillai about his visit to London to undergo surgery for nonalcoholic cirrhosis. Fr. Peter Pillai had requested his former student to arrange suitable accommodation and he was able to find a visitor’s room in the hostel where he was staying. He had also given his contact details to the Hospital as the emergency contact of Fr. Peter Pillai and tended to the needs of Fr. Pillai throughout his stay in London.

While studying architecture in London from 1954 to 1959, he became interested in  archaeology and thus he found time to complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Indian Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology at the University of London in 1958; and even at this young age, he demonstrated his skills in multi-tasking, which later became the hallmark of his career.

After his studies in London, he toured in Europe and North Affrica visiting archaeological sites and he collected his appointment letter as the Assistant Commissioner (Architecture) of the Department of Archaeology from the Sri Lankan Embassy in Egypt. He became an Associate Member of Ceylon Institute of Architects in 1960, Royal Institute of British Architects in 1962 He later went on to obtain a Postgraduate Diploma in Conservation of Monuments from the University of Rome in 1968 and his Ph.D. from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands in 1988.

Dr Roland Silva

During his illustrious career of 30 years at the Department of Archaeology, Dr. Roland had the privilege of being the last Commissioner of Archaeology and its first Director General. During his tenure, he gave professional and scientific leadership for complex conservation works such as the restoration of the Maligawila Buddha Image and many historical Stūpas. Through his great vision and holistic approach to heritage, he was the pioneer and pathfinder for the UNESCO – Sri Lanka Project of the Cultural Triangle in 1980 and also for the inscribing of Sri Lanka’s first six UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In par with these international projects, he also set up the Central Cultural Fund for the financing and implementation of the project.

Dr. Roland Silva was the Founder President of ICOMOS – Sri Lanka from 1981 to 1990, and also championed for regional representation in ICOMOS International and was subsequently elected the first Non-European President of ICOMOS in 1990, which he held for an unprecedented three consecutive terms till 1999; during which he worked tirelessly to set up national committees of ICOMOS in African, Asian and Latin American countries to realize his vision of making ICOMOS truly a world body. His international work included chairing scientific sessions of UNESCO that listed 222 sites throughout the world and also advocated looking into Asian traditions in conservation and management with an approach to living heritage. He also chaired the international proceedings in Nara, Japan, in 1993 that led to the Nara Document of Authenticity, a landmark document in heritage conservation.

Dr. Roland Silva was a consultant for World Heritage Site projects in many countries. One of his major contributions at the international level was serving in  the team of experts in the conservation of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, which made the tower stable.  Roland Silva the architect, too was active, having assisted in developing the architecture education by setting up a course in architecture at the Colombo Campus and was thus an influential teacher to several generations of architects. The former Head Office building of the CCF, Polonnaruwa Site Museum, and the old site Museum at Sigiriya were all designed by him, evolving a specific architectural vocabulary with tradition.

He is a constant reference to any student of Archaeology in Sri Lanka, and his theoretical studies of ancient Buddhist architecture are now standard practices. Even at an old age, Dr. Roland was still involved in the heritage sector and attended to the affairs of The National Trust with great enthusiasm. His strong charisma was an inspiration to many and although his demise is a loss to Sri Lanka and the whole world, the legacy he left behind will last the ages where he will join the list as one of Mother Lanka’s greatest sons.

Dr Roland Silva with Prof. Gamini Adikari, December 2019


Special thanks gooes to Mr. IMS Madanayake and Ms Sonali Premarathne for providing photos for this article.

This article was published on on January 03, 2020

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International Workshop and Lecture Series on Recent Advances in Indian History and Archaeology and Sri Lanka- South India Relations


India is the nearest neighbour of Sri Lanka and the greatest cultural inspiration of the Island nation. The historical and Archaeological evidence amply supports this assertion. Indian History and Archaeology is taught across universities in Sri Lanka to mark these obvious historical relations between the two countries. Great strides have been made in both disciplines in India and Sri Lanka in the recent past, which need to be reflected in the university curriculum and introduced to students and early career academics. Historically, academics across the Palk Strait have collaborated in training students and conducting research, which was impacted lately due to political sensitivity. Restoration of peace in Sri Lanka has once again created an excellent opportunity to revive these age-old academic relations.

Therefore, the aims of the International Workshop and Lecture Series are to provide a platform for Indian and Sri Lankan historians and archaeologist as well as students in the Special Degree Programmes in History and Archaeology and Early Career Academics and Professionals in Archaeology to meet and discuss recent advances in the said disciplines. It also aims to revive academic interaction between academic institutions and colleagues across Palk Strait and reread Sri Lanka- India relations in general and South India- Sri Lanka in particular. This meeting will also provide an opportunity for students and early career academics to establish contacts with Indian scholars for possible postgraduate opportunities.

Deadline For Registration: August 28, 2018

Confirm Your Participation On Or Before August 30, 2018

Lecture Series And The Workshop

The lecture series and hands-on training in stone knapping (stone tool production) will be conducted by reputed academics and researchers from India and Sri Lanka.

Registration And Applications

Applications are called from students in the Special Degree Programmes in History and Archaeology and Early Career Academics and Professionals in Archaeology.

Registration, attendance at lectures and workshop and conference material, lodging and food are totally free. Early career academics and professionals may need to find accommodation for a night.

For more information please visit this site.


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Scientific evidences to show ancient lead trade with Tissamaharama Sri Lanka: A metallurgical study

The location of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean opened her many opportunities to interact with foreign trade links at the historical time. Archaeologists have established a knowledge regarding the ancient trade links that Sri Lanka had with the out side world by mostly studying the visually identifiable foreign made archaeological objects such as coins, ceramics, beads etc. in addition to using information from the written sources. It is evident all such foreign made archaeological objects discovered so by archaeologists were finished objects most probably exchanged for local trading goods.

Even though Sri Lankan ancient metallurgists had produced leaded bronze icons and other artefacts containing lead probably from circa 4th – 5th Century AD onwards, strikingly lead is totally absent in the protohistoric context metal artefacts of Sri Lanka, where we see only copper and iron artifacts implying lead may have not been known to the country during those periods. (Thantilage 2008 (b): 200-210). To date there is no known lead source within the island. Hence the existence of lead and leaded bronze artefacts produced during the ancient times within the county compels us to think that lead was obtained most probably through the foreign trade that existed during that period. The advance methods of scientific analysis such as stable lead isotope ratio analysis have opened the opportunities to address this type of question.

Arjuna Thantilage
Senior Lecturer, Coordinator, Laboratory for Cultural Material Analysis (LCMA),
Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka

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Kandy Period Bronze Buddha Images of Sri Lanka: Visual and Technological Styles

A rich collection of Buddha images belonging to the Kandyan period (17th– 18th Century AD) possessing characteristic visual features and made of different media have been found from the different parts of the country. Among them a significant number of images are made using the metal. This paper intends to study the metallurgy of the Kandyan period Buddha images which in turn gives some light to the metal technology of that period. In addition this paper tries to study metallurgy of the studied icons in relation to their visual features (visual styles). Twenty metal Buddha images which have been attributed to the Kandyan period and now deposited at the National Museum, Colombo were taken for this study (see appendix 1). These images have been classified as belonging to the Kandyan period mostly by art historical means such as iconography and iconometry which have undoubtedly been proved as very successful for this task.

A historical metal icon possesses two main styles as emphasized by Chandra Reedy (Reedy 1997: 15).

  1. Visual style
  2. Technological Style

The art historical method of classification uses the visual style of an icon as the main source of information in classifying an image. But in this study, it is shown that if we could combine the information gathered from visual styles of the icons by art historical means with the information obtained from their technological styles, it would be more accurate and could go for even further classifications which would not be possible based on the art historical means only.

Arjuna Thantilage
Senior Lecturer, Coordinator, Laboratory for Cultural Material Analysis (LCMA),
Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka

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Prehistory of Sri Lanka 6: Paleolithic period

Chandima Bandara Ambanwala

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

Translated by. Chryshane Mendis

Chandima Ambanwala

The name Paleolithic simply means the Older Stone Age. As stated in the first article in this series, several periods within the prehistoric period can be identified. The common feature of these periods is the use of stone implements. In this way based on the development of stone implements, several periods could be identified. Accordingly the Paleolithic period can be identified with the early developmental stage of stone implements. This article would deal with this first prehistoric period and its development in Sri Lanka.

In the Paleolithic or the Older Stone Age, man begins to use his mind to create stone implements for his day to day needs. In the history of prehistoric humans, the Paleolithic period represents the longest time period in comparison to the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods which are relatively short time periods. The Paleolithic period in Sri Lanka dates between 250,000 to 70,000 years ago as studies have shown but with new evidence being found at present, it is believed that this period could extend to 1.6 million years ago.

The Paleolithic, which extends to a long period of time, has been further divided into 3 sub periods by archaeologists and anthropologists; as the Lower Paleolithic, Middle Paleolithic and Upper Paleolithic periods.

Prehistoric archaeologists further study the beginning of the Paleolithic period as a separate period called the Eolithic period which means the very first period of the beginning of the Stone Age. Although there was no use of human intelligence to craft and shape stones during this time, they had used the naturally occurring stones for their own purposes such as to fight off enemies or to crush different things. The use of stones without pre-preparation to break fruits from trees even at present could be stated as an example for this. Out of the rocks believed to belong to the Eolithic period, the usefulness of rocks weighing above 5kg has been questioned by archaeologists. However at present archaeologists and anthropologists consider the Paleolithic period as the beginning of human culture.

Evidence of the Paleolithic period has been found in countries of the African continent, from Europe, and from India. But the lack of proper evidence from Sri Lanka on this period has been an obstacle to archaeologists till recent times. During the early period of prehistoric research in the island, that which was during the colonial period, from amoung the stone tools collected by different people at different times, some stone tools were stated as belonging to the Paleolithic period or the even earlier Eolithic period. As this information was not based on proper studies of the artefacts and as this data is not in line with the now expanded knowledge base of prehistory, it is hard to take their ideas into account.

As Dr. Siran Deraniyagala has shown, the data on prehistoric man could be found in 3 types of deposits in the island, they are 1) the Ratnapura river basin deposit of the lowland wet zone, 2) the coastal alluvial deposits and sand dunes of the Iranamadu formation in the semi-arid zones and 3) the rock-shelters and open-air sites of the lowland wet zone. Out of these the second category, the gravel layer along the coast of the semi-arid zones belonging to the Quaternary period is one of the most important locations that yields prehistoric evidence. Due to erosion these deposits have turned from a dark red to a reddish brown. This deposit which is spread in a large area was first identified by E. J. Weyland as Plato deposit and later known as the Iranamadu Formation – IFm.

The Iranamadu Formation in Kudiramalai

This is an Eleonite layer which is thought to be decayed ancient sand dunes. Within this layer could be found minerals such as feldspar, garnet, pyroxene, and amphibole constituents. Geologists believe it is due to the chemical reactions of these that have given this layer its red colour and other features. But imaginary ideas and folk lore of the people state the features of this layer are due to the works of a supernatural human of the past.

This formation identified by archaeologists as the Iranamadu Formation can be found on the coastal areas of the Northwest, North, Southeast and South of the island. The red colour soil formation at Ussangoda was subjected to many studies by local scholars. By concretion and structure a similar formation could be found on the Indian mainland along the East and Southern coast known as Terri sites by Indian scholars. Comparative studies on the Terri sites and the Iranamadu Formation have shown similar geological and chemical structures.

The Iranamadu Formation in Sri Lanka (Taken from the internet)

Places where the Iranamadu Formation could be found:

– Along the Northwest and Northern coast from Pallama to Pulmaduwa.

– Along the Southeast and Southern coast from Ambalanthota to Pothuvil Komari

Research into the dating the age of this soil formation was begun in 1972 by the Archaeological Department under Dr. Siran Deraniyagala. Although the Iranamadu formation was explored as a whole, special studies were conducted in 50 identified sites. Through these surveys it was dated to be between 250,000 to 125,000 years old based on the environmental and prehistoric Paleolithic evidences.

Some of the important locations studied by Dr. Siran Deraniyagala is mentioned below:

In the Northwest the areas between Wilpattu National Park and Aranakallur of Pomparippu, Mullikulam, Marichchukandi, Seelawaturai, Murukkan, Madhu, Andankulam, Wellankulam / Arinakallu, Wanathiwila, Ilawankulam, Puliyankulam / Arinakallu, Puttalam, Thabbova, Kalladi, Madurankuli, Bangadeniya, Pallama, Adigama, Anamaduwa.

In the North, Maankulam, Nawa (new) Kokavil, Iranamadu, Elephant Pass/ Maankulam, Iranamadu, Parani (old) Kokavil, Muriyakulam, Kachchamikulam, Olumadu / Maankulam, Nawa Kokavil, Murikandi, Maradankulam, Uilankulam, Thunukkai, Wellankulam, Pallawarayan, Kadadu, Puunakari, Paranthan, Pudukuduirruppu, Oddusudan, Nadunkarni, Puliyankulam.

In the Southeast and Southern regions between Bundala to Ruhunu National Parks, Minihagalkanda, Okada, Panama, Pothuwal / Bundala, Thelula, Thissamarama, Hambanthota,  Ambalanthota, Hungama,  Ranna, Thalanga / Bundala, Angunakolapalessa, and Ambilipitiya were such areas subjected to study by Dr. Siran Deraniyagala.

Through these explorations and investigations it could be stated without doubt that there were prehistoric settlements more than 125,000 years ago. The most important evidences were found along the coast of Bundala. These prehistoric human settlements belonged to the Middle Paleolithic period of stone technology based on the Quartz and Chert stone tools found there. This sand and gravel layer from further studies has shown to be between 250,000 to 500,000 years old.

It is important at this point as the writer believes for a brief summary on the archaeological excavations that yielded these finds. Below is a summary of the excavations of two locations of the Iranamadu Formation in the Bundala area (Bundala-Wellegangoda – 49c & Bundala-Pathirajawela – 50a).

First location – Bundala : Wellegangoda (49c)

The gravel layer of this location in southern Sri Lanka is at present about 8 meters above the present sea level and covered with a sand layer of about 4 meters thick. An area of 1.8 x 1.8 meters was excavated here by Dr. Siran Deraniyagala and several layers of soil were identified which contained traces of human settlements. The stone tools found amoung the 3 main soil layers identified here have deteriorated over time and thus made it hard to study their special features; but they were clearly identified as prehistoric stone tools by archaeologists.

Cross section of the 49c site excavation

The stratigraphy at site 49c is as follows; this information is taken from the work  Prehistory of Sri Lanka by Dr. Siran Deraniyagala.

I – bedrock

II – basal gravels

III – sandy loam of red latosol

X – recent drifting sands

III  has been studied under 13 levels, this layer is approximately 400 centimeters .

III – 1 is about 30-40cm in depth and is the upper most layer of red latosol. Its composition is 70% sand, 6% silt, and 20% clay.

III – 2 is about 30cm in depth and is a level of red latosol with a composition of 58% sand, 7% silt and 35% clay.

III – 3 same detail as the 2nd level and composition is 57% sand, 3% silt and 40% clay.

III – 4-9 same details as the above.

III – 10 composition is 68% sand, 8% silt and 24% clay.

III – 11 composition is 73% sand, 11% silt and 20% clay.

III – 12 composition is 73% sand, 8% silt and 19% clay.

III – 13 the lowest level of red latosol composition is 72% sand, 7% silt and 21% clay.

II – the gravel foundation with about 6-15cm in depth.

I – the bedrock

Second location – Bundala : Pathirajawela (50a)

The basal gravel layer in this region is about 15 meters above the present sea level. Through assessment under absolute chronological dating this level was dated to 125,000 years old. Through archaeological excavations conducted here, stone tools belonging to the Paleolithic period and dating to around the same time period were found. Prof. Sinvi of the Physics laboratory of India examining the soil layer found above the gravel level under the PL dating method has dated it between 74,000 – 64,000 years old. Amoung the stone tools found from this gravel layer, non-geometrical quartz microliths too were found. Studies in this location have shown that a meter of the soil level would have taken 3,500 years to form, therefore according to Dr. Siran Deraniyagala’s assessment; the lower most level of this soil layer could be more than 500,000 years old.

Cross section of 50a site excavation

The stratigraphy at site 50a is as follows:

I – bedrock

II – basal gravels

III – sandy loam of red latosol

IV – stratum of lagoon molluscs

V – colluvial red latosolic loam

X – recent drifting sands

Small stone tools found from the Iranamadu excavation

Amoung the stone tools found from this location, the flake stone tools found from Pathirajawela date between 125,000 to 75,000 years ago whereas the stone tools found from Wellegangoda are dated to around 80,000 years ago. It is believed that the species that created these tools were early Homo sapiens.

Medium sized stone tools found from the Iranamadu Formation

Through this excavation no other cultural or anthropological evidence was found apart from the stone implements. The tropical climate that prevailed in this region has completely erased all such traces. On the other hand during the excavations, sensitive methods that could have unearthed delicate evidence such as pollen was not used during this excavation and thus would have obstructed the finding of such evidences. However with the guidance of Dr. Siran Deraniyagala and International support through the Department of Archaeology, a future programme is being developed to investigate these sites using delicate methods of excavation.

During this period, the population density in the dry zone was thought to be 0.8 – 1.5 per square kilometer whereas the wet zone would have had a population density of 0.3 per square kilometer, hence in comparison with the dry zone, the wet zone would have had a low human population. This data has been taken from the information of the hunter-gatherers of South and Southeast Asia.

Large stone tools from the Iranamadu Formation

According to the archaeological investigations into the Iranamadu Formation, at least during the last hundred thousand years, during the warm periods there was a wet climate with heavy rainfall and during the cold periods the climate was a dry.

No evidence of plant remains that could have made up their diet was found thus no idea can be formed on their dietary habits. This is because as stated above, due to the tropical climate no such traces could have survived and also as mentioned earlier through these excavations no proper samples of such evidences were looked into.

The land bridge between India and Sri Lanka (taken from the internet)

As stated in the beginning of this article, the region of the Indian subcontinent has yielded much evidence on the Paleolithic period and amoung them are not only stone tools but also human remains. And it can be assumed that animals and even humans migrated between Sri Lanka and mainland India through the land bridge which joined the two landmasses. It is the idea of geologists that during the last million years, for at least 800,000 years due to the reduction in sea level India and Sri Lanka would have been one landmass.

Dr. Siran Deraniyagala has stated many years back that the sand dunes found along the coast in the North and Southeast may contain evidence of prehistoric humans of more than 300,000 or even 500,000 years old.

The oldest evidence of human habitation in the island is from the Iranamadu Formation in the North. These can be relatively dated to around 500,000 years ago. The evidence of human settlements found in the Minihagalkanda area of the Southeast of Sri Lanka could be relatively dated to around 250,000 years ago.

The Vivaparimalai limestone caves in Manipai near Point Pedro

Due to new evidence found from the Jaffna area in 2010 the arrangement of the Paleolithic period of Sri Lanka has been transformed. In 1984 Prof. S. Krishnarajah had excavated a place known as Vivaparimalai in Manipai area near Point Pedro and found several stone tools. These stone tools were identified as Hand axes and were made of Chert. The place where these were found is a location of limestone caves. Until 2010 these were not examined properly due to the civil war in the North. But after the war during an archaeological survey of the area these stone tools were shown to Dr. Nimal Perera who is an expert on prehistoric stone tools and was the then Acting Deputy Director General of the Archaeological Department. After investigating them he concluded that they were Hand axes belonging to the Acheulean technology of stone tools. Afterwards these were shown to Dr. Siran Deraniyagala and he too confirmed these as Acheulean tools. Accordingly these stone tools dated between 500,000 to 1.6 million years old and are believed to have been made by Homo erectus. Based on this, these could be placed in the Lower

Stone tools from the Manipai area which are thought to be Acheulean Hand axes

Paleolithic period. Therefore it was evident that the Acheulean culture which has been identified throughout the world had spread to Sri Lanka as well. As the available evidence is insufficient to clearly conclude this, it is one of the Department’s future aims to launch a proper methodical investigation into this.

As stated in this article the earliest human settlements identified are through the Paleolithic period. Accordingly although the Paleolithic period in Sri Lanka is faint, sound evidence could be found through archaeological excavations. However in order to get an acute idea on this period and the humans that lived, more and more archaeological investigations need to be carried out.


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Call for Papers – 11th Annual RASSL Research Conference on Humanities and Social Sciences

11th Annual RASSL Research Conference on Humanities and Social Sciences

March 22-24, 2018

Call for Papers

“Heritage, Culture and Sri Lankan Society”

Research papers should be relevant to the above main theme, and under the following sub-themes:

  • Heritage, Culture and Archaeology
  • Language, Education and Communication
  • Nutrition, Health and Medical Practices
  • Science, Technology and Indigenous Knowledge Systems
  • Aesthetics and Social Values
  • Philosophy and Psychology

Papers may be presented in Sinhala or English

Extended Abstracts of papers should be in twelve point, Times New Roman/FM Abhaya, A4 page format, 30 mm left margin and 25 mm other margins, one and half line spacing and not exceeding 1000 words and include Title, Author/s, Institutional Affiliation/s if any, Postal Address, Tel., email address and five keywords. Sinhala abstracts should also include title and keywords in English. Extended Abstracts should be sent only by email to They should be in the prescribed format, which is downloadable from RASSL website. Extended Abstracts and Full papers should be submitted as Soft Copies only in MS Word Format.

  • Deadline for Submission of Extended Abstracts: Friday, January 12, 2018
  • Announcement of Acceptance: Friday, February 16, 2018
  • Submission of Full Papers: Friday, March 09, 2018

(Full papers will be considered for publication in the RASSL International Journal published through the past 172 years.)

  • Registration fees for members: LKR 1450/-
  • Registration fees for non-members: LKR 2,250/-

Conference Coordinator: Eng. Chandana Jayawardana

(Tel: 011-2699249)


96, Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha, Colombo 07

Sri Lanka

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Prehistory of Sri Lanka 7 : the Pleistocene flora and fauna of Ratnapura

Chandima Bandara Ambanwala

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

Translated by. Chryshane Mendis

Chandima Ambanwala

The Pleistocene epoch is a scientific time period in geology which formed millions of years ago. During much of this epoch the world was covered under ice. This Pleistocene epoch had its effects on Sri Lanka as well according to geologists; Dr. Paul Edward Pieris Deraniyagala had conducted the most number of researches into this period in Sri Lanka. The details and results of his investigations into this epoch were included in a thesis which won him his Doctorate from Harvard University in the US. Based on that important thesis his book The Pleistocene of Ceylon was published by the Department of National Museums in 1958 (P.E.P. Deraniyagala (1958), The Pleistocene of Ceylon, Natural History Series, Ceylon National Museum, Ceylon). According to him this epoch would have been from 1.8 million years to 12,000-10,000 years ago.  All due credit for the present knowledge on the Pleistocene epoch amoung the scholarly society in Sri Lanka belong to Dr. P. E. P. Deraniyagala (He is the son of famous historian and Civil Servant Paul. E. Pieris and his son is the notable prehistorian and former Director General of the Archaeology Department Dr. Siran Upendra Deraniyagala). Before and after him, no Sri Lankan could be found with the interest to explore this important aspect of prehistory which is a sad situation. But the effort by Kalum Nalinda Manamendra-archchi out of the modern scholars to the study of fossils from the Rathnapura area must be appreciated. The difficulties in finding evidences, the lack of faith in the evidences revealed, inability to properly date the evidences, and the difficulty in identifying the context in which the finds are found can be stated as some of the factors that discourage scholars in the study of this period.

Dr. P.E.P. Deraniyagala

At 65,610 km2 Sri Lanka is one of the large islands in the Indian Ocean and during the Pleistocene epoch studies have shown that the island was joined to the mainland of the Indian Subcontinent. Due to the cold temperatures of this epoch the scattered glaciers caused the water level to fall and thus much of the places under water today was land during this time. Due to the drop in sea levels Sri Lanka and India was combined for the last time about 7,000 years ago. During the last 500,000 years the island was joined with the Indian mainland several times. According to some scientists during the past 1 million years the two lands were one landmass for most of the time. When the sea level fell approximately 70 meters, Sri Lanka and India was connected by a land bridge of about 100 km in width. Thus this land bridge caused species to inter-migrate between the two lands.

Kelum Nalinda Manamendra-archchi

At the end of the Pleistocene in Sri Lanka as a result of the rising temperatures the ice sheets that covered the world began to melt away. With the melting of the ice sheets the different materials found on the surface of the earth were mixed with the water and were deposited in low areas. Thus along with the alluvial deposits formed, environmental material on the surface through

The Pleistocene of Ceylon

anticline formations have been deposited in these low depths. Thus human and animal remains on the surface had been washed down and embedded in these deposits. The gem and seam deposits and other deposits of Rathnapura and other adjoining areas were created through the above process.

Found below is a comparison of this state of the Pleistocene with that found in the Alps mountain range by Dr. P. E. P. Deraniyagala. These ideas have been expressed by Dr. Deraniyagala with regard to the glacial periods of Gunz, Mindel, Riss and Wurm and also the warmer interglacial periods.

The soil layers of the gem and seam deposits of Rathnapura and the surrounding areas are the results of the melting of the ice from the mountainous areas. The fossilized remains of fauna and flora of that time or even before are preserved within these layers. In the process of excavating these seam deposits for gem stones, fossils of plant and animal life are usually found. Some of the main places that produce fossils in the Rathnapura alluvial deposits are Gatahaththa, Balangoda, Ambilipitiya and Kalawana. The gravel layer with such data is usually between 6 inches to 3 feet in depth and rarely exceeds 3 feet. The alluvial deposits can be found 12-40 feet deep and at certain places like Rakwana it is found 108 feet below the surface but certain places may also contain these deposits on the surface as well. Based on the data collected thus far, the details of the soil layers of a normal Rathnapura alluvial deposit can be stated as below.

            1 ½ feet – humus

            3 feet – loam

            5 feet – black clay

            5 feet – greyish clay

            3 feet – clay with fossils

            1 ½ feet – sand

            1 ½ feet – gravel

            ½ feet – mineral gravels with large amounts of fossils


It is evident that certain layers containing fossils have been re-deposited due to the process of glacierization. According to the above it is hard to ascertain that these would have been deposited in a regular/methodical way as certain deposits have been found which were thought to be very old but contained pearls, pottery and iron of much later periods. Such deposits show a disturbed nature therefore because of this it is difficult to properly date the deposits chronologically.

A gem mine in Rathnapura (image taken from

In the middle of the 1930s under the supervision of P. E. P. Deraniyagala from the National Museums (in 1939 he was made Director of National Museums), investigations were carried out into the alluvial strata that contained gem stones in the Rathnapura deposits. From then until 1963 the fossils of animal and plant life were subjected to investigation by Dr. Deraniyagala. By examining the fossil records found within these layers, a high knowledge on the species that lived during the Pleistocene was developed and amoung them identifying animal species that have gone extinct and those that are still living.

Below is a list of the large number of spices that have gone extinct.

Scientific name Common name Features
1 Geoemyda trijuga sinhaleya A species of tortoise Can be larger than the present ඝණ කටු සහිත ඉබ්බා tortoise
2 Trionyx punctate sinhaleya A species of tortoise  Can be larger than the present මෘ දු කටුව සහිත ඉබ්බා
3 Crocodylus sp. A species of Crocodile A more slender head than the present crocodile
4 Hypselephus hysundricus sinhaleyus A species of Elephant Comparable to the Indian sub-species.
5 Palaeoloxodon namadicus sinhaleyus A species of Elephant Could be a smaller species than the Indian sub-species.
6 Rhinocerus sinhaleyus A species of Rhinoceros A single horned Rhinoceros
7 Rhinocerus kagavena A species of Rhinoceros A single horned Rhinoceros
8 Hexaprotodon sinhaleyus A species of Hippopotamus A Hippopotamus very similar to Hexaprotodon palaeindicus of the Narmada region but with 6 teeth in the front.
9 Hystrix sivalensis sinhaleyus A species of Porcupine Relatively small in size.
10 Homopithecus sinhaleyus A hominid species From a gem mine in the Karangoda area of Ratnapura.
11 Homo sinhaleyus A hominid species From a area close to Ratnapura.
12 Elephas maximus sinhaleyus A species of Elephant Now extinct.
13 Leo leo sinhaleyus A species of Lion A lion much larger than the present Indian lion.
14 Muva sinhaleya A species of Sambur Small in size.
15 Sus sinhaleyus A species of Wild boar 2/3 the size of the present Wild boar in Sri Lanka.
16 Bibos gaurus sinhaleyus A species of Bison Shorter small horns than the present Indian bison.
17 Gona sinhaleya කුළුමීමා Could be the ancestor of the කුළුමීමා Bos indicus that inhabits the North Central Province.
18 Tatera sinhaleya A species of Rat This species had longer and broader teeth than the present Rat in Sri Lanka.
19 Axis axis ceylonensis Spotted deer The present spotted deer.
20 Rusa unicolor Sambar deer The present Sambar.
21 Bubalus bubalis migona Buffalo The present Buffalo.

Number 10 & 11 in the above, Homopithecus sinhaleyus and Homo sinhaleyus respectively are two of the most important fossil finds. An ancestor of modern humans, the fossil of Homopithecus sinhaleyus which was an incisor tooth was found from a gem mine in the Karangoda area of Ratnapura.

The tooth belonging to Homopithecus sinhaleyus and the skull fragment above the left eye of Homo sinhaleyus. (Images by Kalum Nalinda Manadendarachchi )

The enamel of the tooth has turned black and is semi-cylindrical at the bottom which enlarges when going up. The deposit stratification of the site that contained this fossil is given below:

6 feet – black mud

 6 feet – laterite soil

3 feet – organic materials and sand

 1 ½  feet – blue clay

1 feet – fine white sand

 ½ feet – hardened sand

1 feet – Gem gravel with fossils (the layer in which these fossils were found)

Decayed rock


The fossil of the hominid Homopithecus sinhaleyus was found along with the fossils of Hexaprotodon sinhaleyus, Rhinoceros kagavena, Elephas maximus sinhaleyus, Axis axis ceylonensis, and Rusa unicolor unicolor and through the Uranium dating method were dated to the same period.

Below is a result of the comparison of the incisor tooth of Homopithecus sinhaleyus with the same of a modern Gorilla and Human.

The extinct Hypeselephas hysundricus

Through this comparison it is proven that this belonged to an ancestor of modern humans and also it shows close resemblance to those of Pithecanthropus robustus of Java and Gigantopithecus blacki of China. Further Prof. A. Raymond of the University of Kyle? Through his great knowledge on the subject has stated this to be a fossil of an ancestor of humans.

The fossil of Homo sinhaleyus was found in a location close to Ratnapura and make up the bone fragment of the skull above the left eye. Along with this, the fossils of Hexaprotodon and Elephas maximus sinhaleyus and the deposit stratification of the site that contained these fossils are given below:

            3 feet – humus

            2 ½  feet – laterite soil

            4 feet – blue clay

            1 ½  feet – organic material and mud layer

            2 feet – black sand

            ½ – 2 feet – Gem gravel with fossils (the layer in which these fossils were found)


When taking the measurements of this bone fragment, the eye cavity was found to be relatively small, thus based on these measurements Dr. Deraniyagala has stated that this could be compared to the Neanderthal humans.

The relative age of the fossils of the Ratnapura deposits can be determined through comparison. Therefore the assumptions can be arranged as below:

  1. Hexaprotodon is older than Elephas maximus sinhaleyus.
  2. Hexaprotodon can sometimes be even older than Rhinoceros kagavena.
  3. Hexaprotodon, Elephas maximus sinhaleyus, Rhinoceros kagavena are same period/contemporary. There is a high possibility that the incisor tooth of Homopithecus sinhaleyus is of the same period as them.
  4. Rhinoceros kagavena can be twice as old as Elephas maximus sinhaleyus and also a bit older than

There are also plant fossils found from these deposits and according to the radiocarbon dating done by the TATA Corporation of India, the below results were arrived at:

  • Mesua species more than 47,000 years BP (Before the Present)
  • Largestroemia speciosa 7520 +/- 150 BP

These plants can even be found at present in this region.

The now extinct Rhinocerus sinhaleyus that lived during the Ice Age ( K.N. Manamendra-archchi)

The fossils found from the gem mines of Ratnapura share a comparison with those found in the regions of Swahilik and Narmada basins of India as shown by Dr. Deraniyagala. These regions of India belong to the Middle Pleistocene epoch.

Through this we could get a sound knowledge on this historical time period which is the Pleistocene. But as shown above due to the re-depositing, it is an obstruction to dating these finds accurately. But with modern technological developments it is important to re-examine these fossils; this could be done through the collaboration of future archaeologists, archaezoologists and geologists which could yield more important evidences.

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20th Century Historians : D.W. Ferguson

By Chryshane Mendis

Program Coordinator,
Chryshane Mendis

Historical researches undoubtedly require reference to original sources; at present much of the original literature on Sri Lanka both local and foreign have been reproduced and translated into the present vernacular. This tedious task has no doubt aided the modern student of history to dig through original works of literature with much ease. Contributions of Donald William Ferguson in the areas of Portuguese history are a landmark in scholarship in the country and there is scarcely a student or writer of Sri Lankan history who has not benefited by the penetrating researches of Donald Ferguson.

Image taken from Gaspar Correa’s Lendas Da India, Monograph series No.01, Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka.

Donald Ferguson was part of the well-known family of Fergusons in the profession of Journalism. His father, A. M. Ferguson was from Ross-shire Scotland and arrived in the island in 1837 aboard the same ship carrying Sir Stewart Mackenzie who was to take up duties as the new Governor; He had tried his hands as a Planter, a Customs Officer and a Magistrate and finally joined the weekly newspaper Observer as co-editor along with its proprietor Dr. Christopher Elliot in 1846 and subsequently became its sole proprietor and chief editor. He was joined soon after by his nephew John Ferguson as Assistant editor who is famously known for the Ferguson Directory.

Into this family of journalists, Donald Ferguson was born in Colombo on 8th October 1853 to Alastair Mackenzie Ferguson and Anne Mackerras. He received his primary and secondary education in England at Highgate and Mill Hill where he acquainted himself with the classical languages of Latin and Greek but also with Dutch, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and French. He also made familiar of himself with Sinhala and Tamil. After completing his studies in the United Kingdom he pursued a journalistic career in Ceylon focusing on the history of the island and joined his father and cousin on the staff of the Observer as Assistant Editor. He was also the founder and chief editor of Ceylon Literary Register and the Vice President of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. His study of the Portuguese and Dutch languages enabled him to focus on the original sources pertaining to Sri Lanka’s history and through his frequent visits to England due to ill health, he was a regular visitor to the British Museum where he copied and translated documents relating to Sri Lanka. His unique access to these original works made him a prominent authority on the colonial history of the island especially the Portuguese period publishing numerous papers to journals especially to the Ceylon Literary Register and the Journal of the Ceylon Brach of the Royal Asiatic Society. In 1893 he retired to England and continued his passion with Ceylon history until his death on 29th June 1910 in Croydon.

“He was indeed a rare type of scholar…his life should be an example and a stimulus to us all and his memory will be cherished with gratitude by this Society” – Vice President of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society upon announcing his death.

“The quantity and quality of his work, which would have been great for a person of vigorous health, were truly surprising when one remembers the condition under which that work was produced” – extract from the first number of the Third series of the Ceylon Literary Register.

The Ferguson Collection:

This is the library of Donald Ferguson which is now in the Peradeniya University Library. (The following is referred from the article on the Ferguson collection by N. T. S. A. Senadeera from Vol. XXXIII of the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1991).

Through his studies in the British Museum, he had made copies of rare works for his personal use and finally included a collection of over 300 items including rare books, manuscripts and maps. Apart from main historical books, his collection contains many kinds of obscure and recondite booklets and pamphlets on Ceylon over the last few centuries. With the acquisition of the Ceylon Observer by D. R. Wijewardene his collection known as the Ferguson collection became part of the D. R. Wijewardene Library. As stated by J. H. O. Paulusz “there are two main disasters that can overtake a library of this kind. On the death of scholar, his collection is usually sold to many others, resulting in dispersal. The other disaster is the removal of the collection or its rare contents abroad. Both these disasters were averted from the Ferguson Collection by the wisdom and foresight of Mr. D. R. Wijewardene.”

Identifying the usefulness of this valuable collection D. R. Wijewardene’s initial intention was donating it to the Sangharama and Vihara Trust of the University of Ceylon (now the Peradeniya University)but recognizing its wide appeal agreed that it should be placed within the reach of the whole island and therefore offered it to institutions to purchase the whole collection. As this did not materialise, in his last will Mr. Wijewardene directed his executors to offer it to the University of Ceylon now the Peradeniya University. On 30th May 1951 his lawyers after his death contacted the University and on the 14th August, the Vice-Chancellor accepted the offer and finally, in December 1959 the Ferguson Collection was transferred to the Library of the University of Peradeniya.

In 1948 J. H. O. Paulusz published a 75-page book from the Ceylon Daily News Press titled “The Ferguson Section of Mr. D.R.Wijewardene’s Library” describing 19 books and 4 maps of the Ferguson collection and containing a catalogue of the entire collection compiled by Mr. S. A. Mottau. This small book gives the magnitude of the collection and as Paulusz states, it is a collection put together to serve a definite end that is to promote and facilitate research among the Dutch records and to support the Original material available in the National Archives of Sri Lanka.; the collection in fact is a single unit. The book describes 19 books and 4 maps of the collection varying from early Sinhala prints to Dutch, German and Portuguese travellers accounts.

The comprehensive catalogue in the end complied by Mr. S. A. Mottau is divided by languages in order Dutch, English, French, German, Portuguese, Sinhalese and Pali, Tamil and other Indian languages and Other miscellaneous languages. These are further sub-divided into General Publications, Pamphlets, and reference books and dictionaries.

A breakdown of the catalogue with the language and number of works is as follows:

Dutch general publications – 31

Dutch pamphlets – 1

Dutch references etc – 10

English general publications – 33

English references etc – 4

French general publications – 17

French pamphlets – 4

German general publications – 23

German pamphlets – 6

German references etc – 3

Portuguese general publications – 34

Portuguese pamphlets – 10

Portuguese references etc – 9

Sinhala general publications – 1

Sinhala references etc – 3

Other… general publications – 3

Other… references etc – 4

The list contains Travel diaries, books, Tombos etc with the title of work, author and date of publication. The number of works in the above topics excludes the numerous volumes of the same work which have separate sub reference numbers. This catalogue serves as a valuable indicator of the quality and quantity of the collection and an important tool for the student of history.

His notable works:

His most notable contribution can be stated is the translation of the Decadas of de Barros and do Couto in the title of The History of Ceylon from the Earliest times to 1600 A.D. in No. 60 Vol. XX of the Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1908. The Decadas were a history of the Portuguese in India and Asia first written by the historian Joao De Barros and later by Diogo Do Couto. Ferguson’s translations are those of the sections pertaining to Sri Lanka and makeup one of the most important Portuguese works referred to by historians alongside the great work of Father Queyroz (The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon). In a period of less Sinhalese literature this work serves as an important source of reference to study the political situation of the island from the beginning of Portuguese rule till 1600 A.D. This work has been the base for all students of the colonial history of the island and who are therefore in debt to Donald Ferguson for making available such a piece of history.

Some of the other important contributions of his were the translation of another Portuguese historical work being the Lendas Da India by Gaspar Correa which focuses on the early period of Portuguese activities in the island and also the correct identification of the date of arrival of the Portuguese in the island which took place in 1506 and not in 1505 as commonly known, this is now accepted by Historians.

Below is a list of all his publications in the Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society:

“A Belgian Physician’s Notes on Ceylon in 1687-8”,  Vol. X (35), 1887.

“Captain Joao Ribeiro: His work on Ceylon and the French Translation Thereof by the Abbe Le Grand”, Vol. X(36), 1888.

“Ribeiro’s Account of the Siege of Colombo in 1655-56(Tr)”, Vol.XII (42), 1891.

“Robert Knox’s Sinhalese Vocabulary”. Vol.XIV (47), 1896.

“A Letter from the King of Portugal to Raja Sinhe II”, Vol.XVI (50), 1899.

“The Inscribed Mural Stone at the Maha Saman Devale, Ratnapura”, Vol. XVI (50), 1899.

“Alagiyawanna Mohottala, the Author of “Kusajataka Kavyaya”, Vol. XVI (50), 1899.

“A Chapter in Ceylon History in 1630”, Vol. XVI (51), 1900.

“Joao Rodriguez De Sa e Menezes” Vol. XVI (51), 1900.

“Correspondence Between Raja Sinha II and the Dutch”, Vol. XVIII (55), 1904.

“Joan Gideon Loten: The Naturalist Governor of Ceylon (1752-57) and the Ceylonese Artist de Bevere”, Vol, XIX (58), 1907.

“The Discovery of Ceylon by the Portuguese in 1506”, Vol. XIX (59), 1907.

“The History of Ceylon, From the Earliest times to 1600 A.D.: As Related by Joao de Barros & Diogo do Couto (Tr.)”, Vol. XX (60), 1908.

“Letters from Raja Sinha II to the Dutch”, Vol. XXI (62), 1909.

Posthumous publications:

“Mulgiri-Gala”, Vol. XXII (64), 1911.

“The Earliest Dutch Visits to Ceylon”, Vol. XXX (80), 1927.

“The Earliest Dutch Visits to Ceylon”, Vol. XXXI (81), 1928.

“The Earliest Dutch Visits to Ceylon”, Vol. XXXI (82), 1929.

“The Earliest Dutch Visits to Ceylon”, Vol. XXXI (83), 1930.

“Gaspar Correa’s Lendas Da India (Tr)” with an introduction by Gaston Perera, Monograph series No. 01, 2010.



Uragoda, C.G.,  Authors on Books of Sri Lanka, 1796-1948, 2011

Gaston Perera, Gaspar Correa’s Lendas Da India (Tr) with an introduction by Gaston Perera, Monograph Series No. 01, 2010.  (Appendix I – The Donald Ferguson Collection in the University of Peradeniya Library by N. T. S. A. Senadeera, Appendix III – Obituary Notices on Ferguson’s Death(extract from Obituary Notice in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland  and extract from the first number of the Third Series of the Ceylon Literary Register))

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Breaking myths: uncovering the truth behind the ‘Old Dutch Stables’ of Pettah

By Chryshane Mendis

Program Coordinator,
Chryshane Mendis

The Pettah, located in the heart of Colombo bordering the Colombo harbor and the commercial hub Fort was once part of the colonial Dutch city of Colombo which was the center of administration of the Dutch. The Pettah during the Dutch period was known as the Oude Stad or Old City and formed the residential quarters of the city which bordered the Castle or the Dutch Fort of Colombo on the west. This once highly residential area during the Dutch occupation gradually transformed into a commercial hub during the British period and remains that way at present with its unique charm not felt elsewhere. The outline of the Pettah or the roads, are those laid out by the Dutch in the mid-17th century and has managed to maintain its form for over 300 years. Well into the British period the Pettah consisted of houses of various persons and is still scattered around with buildings of old, some preserved and some modified beyond recognition. Out of the surviving Dutch buildings, only the building of the present Dutch museum down Prince Street built in the late 17th century remains in the Pettah, the various other historic buildings such as the Town Hall and the Olcott building belong to the British period. Interestingly there is said of a building situated down Prince Street to be the ‘Old Dutch Stables’. Hunting down this mysterious building, it was found to be on Prince Street, few blocks before the Dutch museum.

This building which now houses a printing press and several other shops, can be found on the right of Prince Street before the Dutch museum when entering from 1st Cross Street but is unrecognizable from the outside as it is camouflaged to meet that of the rest of the Pettah. Through this outer entrance one would gaze in amazement at the massive door frame and its yellow walls instantly recognizing it to an old colonial building.

The front of the building facing Prince Street


The doorway which is about 6 feet from the outer entrance is made of think timber with a large lattice fanlight. Entering through here one comes to a long narrow corridor with tables and racks on either side used by the printing press. Immediately after entry there are two similar doorways on either side of the wall with large door frames but which are sealed off. About 10 feet in front one would find a massive masonry arch with elaborately decorated columns and a keystone in the center of the arch with a symbol of a horseshoe, this section contains a high ceiling. Passing this arch is an uneven corridor with an old two storied building running along the left side and a modern two storied building on the right.

The main entrance

Sealed doorway to the right
Sealed doorway to the left
The Horseshoe on the Keystone

The section on the left is about 20 feet in length and houses the printing press and a few other shops in the rooms. The upper floor looks abandoned and could be reached from the right wing. This upper floor contains an old wooden balcony  with railings which are almost falling apart. The doors and windows of this old section are typical of old 20th century buildings with  decorated oval arched fanlights.

The Upper section
Old wooden balcony with railings

The Old building on the left of the inner corridor
The new right wing in the inner corridor

This building is in a very bad state of preservation and only the strength of its original structure has made it to withstand the winds of time. The two sealed off doorways no doubt opened up to two side wings of this building which are sadly no more as two new buildings have come up on either side in recent times. The people there state that the new up stair building on the right of the inside corridor was built in the 1970s and that before there was an old single storied section with the tiled roof tilting inwards and this section was separated from the inner corridor which would have been an inner courtyard by a long lattice work.

The investigation

This building is thought to be a Dutch stables as claimed by the people around. Having studied the history of the Colombo Fort well, I was surprised to find such a claim. Deciding to find out the truth about this building I dug through the various sources of history and also went through old maps at the National Archives but found no indication of a Stable at the Pettah. When the Dutch took over Colombo from the Portuguese in 1656, they demolished the entire Portuguese city and built anew their own city. They concentrated their military fortifications to the west of the city forming the present Fort area and to the east; they built the residential quarters known as the Oude Stad or Old City forming the present Pettah. Within the Fort they housed the garrison and all high government officials including the Governor and other buildings of the Dutch East India Company which also included the Company stables. The Oude Stad was the residence of the Burghers and the other communities that served in the Company. Going through a map of 1733, there are mentioned 15 important buildings in the Oude Stad including the Siminarium (Seminary which is now the Dutch Museum) and the Nederlandse School on Prince Street known as De Prince Straat during the Dutch times, but no mention is made of a stables.

A Stable or not?

L. Brohier gives an interesting account of the Pettah during the Dutch times in his Changing Face of Colombo speaking on the life of the people during those times and interestingly mentions that residents who own horse carriages, the horses where brought in from the front door and stabled in the garden behind. Therefore this building could not have been a purpose built stables but an ordinary house. Alternately no source could be found as to when this building was constructed and who the original owner was. Digging through the National Archives no material was found on this. I was advised to check with the Colombo Municipal Council as they too have a wealth of documents on Colombo; meeting with the Municipal Assessor regarding this, she said that no such records were found and that the building has not been assessed. Speaking to researcher Mr. Dhanesh Wisumperuma, he stated that the Horseshoe is generally used as a symbol of Luck and was used in houses until recent times; the horseshoe found on the arch of this building could have been placed for this purpose. This might have led to people misinterpreting it as a Stable. Therefore it could be stated that this building was in no way a Stables but an ordinary house.

Dutch or British?

Now the question was its period of construction, was it really a Dutch era building or not? As no written evidence could be found on the date of construction of this building, only an analysis of the architectural features could reveal its most likely period. What mainly characterizes this building to the Dutch period is the large door frame. A study of the colonial architecture revealed that although by the first decades of the 1800s British style buildings were being built, the old Dutch traditions in-house design survived well into the 20th century; leaving to the opinion that what may look Dutch, could well be British. Further speaking to renowned architect Mr. Ismeth Raheem, he explained that the Pettah was remodeled several times and that very little remains of the work of the Dutch period. Looking at the architectural features of this building, he stated that the Keystone on the arch looks British and placed a date between 1880–1930; well into the British period.

A further comparison was made with the Olcott building, another late 19th century house down Maliban Street where Sir Henry Steel Olcott resided.  The column supporting the arch in the Olcott building drew much resemblance to the same found at the said Old building.  And further going through old building plans in the book The Architecture of an Island, I found the surviving sections of this Old House in resemblance to a plan of a Moslem trader house of the mid 19th century down Chekku Street, Pettah but an excursion down this said Street revealed no such house at present for a physical comparison. This building which has not come under the preview of the Department of Archaeology, although not Dutch and not a Stable is no doubt a unique component of Pettah’s once proud heritage and if preserved would be an appeasing sight for the wondering tourist to glimpse on a once bygone era of the Pettah.


  • Brohier, R.L., & J.H.O. Paulusz, Land Maps & Surveys, 1951
  • Lewcock, R., B. Sansoni, & L. Senanayaka, The Architecture of an Island,
  • Van Diessen, R., & B. Nelemans, Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch United East India Company Vol. IV Ceylon,
  • Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon
  • Brohier, R.L., Changing Face of Colombo,
  • Journal of the Dutch Burgher Union Vol. 41, No. 2, 1951
  • Maps at the National Archives
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Kotte Heritage 2: The Ramparts and the Moat

Chryshane Mendis

Program Coordinator,

The ramparts are an important feature in fortifications which serve as the defensive wall protecting the camp or city. Ramparts were used in the ancient world to protect a city, a military camp or a border. Due to the insecurity of the ancient world in comparison to the modern era almost all large urban centers or cities needed fortifications for its defence. The remains of walled cities could be found throughout the world from the ancient cities of Mesopotamia to each and every major civilization up until the dawn of the modern age. In Sri Lanka, the ancient cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Panduwasnuwara too were protected by a ring of ramparts. The city of Kotte was first developed in the late 14th century as a purely military fortress by Nissanka Alakesvara and later developed into a fortified city during the reign of King Parakramabahu VI in the early 15th century.

The city of Kotte was divided into two sections, being the inner city and outer city. The inner city was surrounded by a strong rampart with a moat at the South and surrounded by the lake; while the outer city area was fortified by a moat and rampart from the South which guarded the only land pass to the city. The overall defenses were constructed by Nissanka Alakesvara at the inception but the rampart of the inner city area was constructed by King Parakramabahu VI.


Inner city ramparts

The inner city ramparts were constructed by King Parakramabahu VI in the early 15th century and were made up of laterite (kabook) stones. This inner rampart circles the entire city only interrupted in about 6 locations by inner reservoirs. There were 4 small passes into the inner city from the outside and the principle entrance was the inner city gate in the centre of the Southern ramparts. There were further 6 bastions built along the ramparts with 4 guarding the entrance to the 4 passes and 2 at the main inner city gate. The city was protected by a purpose built mud layer and the lake from the North, the West and the East while the rampart from the South was protected by a deep moat. This moat was constructed only on the eastern section of the South ramparts as the western half was in proximity to the lake which provided sufficient protection.

Outer city ramparts

The outer city fortifications were faced to the South which was the main land pass to the city. It is stated that the outer fortifications were built by Nissanka Alakesvara. It composed of granite ramparts, a moat and 2 bastions and also some bastions built by the Portuguese. The granite rampart to the West would have run for about 190 meters while the Eastern section would have run for about 145 meters. In front of these was constructed on either side of the land pass two deep moats. These moats would have been filled with mud and a thin layer of water. The Nikaya Sangrahaya and the Saddharmaratnakaraya states that the outer ramparts were further protected with iron spikes, various other mechanisms and watch towers.

What remains at present?

The ramparts and moats are some of the only preserved archaeological sites in Kotte and a considerable stretch on the inner city rampart could be seen whereas no trace of the outer city granite ramparts could be found. The outer and inner city moats are also very much preserved. Below is a survey done by the writer in April 2017 on the accessible locations of the ramparts and moats.

Description of the inner city ramparts

This description would begin from the north from Parliament road and would go clockwise from thereon.

The outline indicates the inner city ramparts. Red is the ramparts which can no longer be traced. Blue is the conserved ramparts. Brown is the non conserved ramparts

A considerable length of ramparts could be found in the Perakumba Pirivena which could be accessed along the Parliament road. When entering the Pirivena, one could see the rampart running across the Temple premises with about 5 meters of rampart to the right and with an opening of about 10 feet leading to the other side of the Temple; it begins again and runs deep into the temple land for about 50 to 60 meters. The remaining ramparts throughout the area have been declared protected monuments by the Department of Archaeology but many encroachments have taken place; the section in the Temple is an excellent example on the encroachment as it could be clearly observed how the neighbouring lands have destroyed the ramparts. The height of the ramparts here is nothing over 2 feet and the width at the beginning is about 5 feet. One could walk along the long section of the ramparts and when moving forward it is evident on how the lands on the left have taken over; the initial width of 5 feet has about 5 kabook blocks, as one walks on this reduces to 3 kabook blocks and soon to just 2.

Red indicates the rampart

The small section of the rampart in the Pirivena
This road on the other side of the Pirivena and is part of the rampart continuing from the above picture

The encroachment could be clearly seen in two places

The next section of ramparts could be found down the scenic Sri Lanka Nippon Avenue. The first visible ramparts can be seen few meters after the Mahindarama Temple. From here on the rampart is preserved to a considerable extent running down to the south where it turns left along the inner moat. It runs through home gardens which are in certain places well maintained while other sections are overgrown with weeds and also at certain places it is destroyed for the connecting roads. The initial section here is currently being restored by the Department of Archaeology. The book KOTTE: THE FORTRESS also stats that this rampart would have been plastered over with a section down this road containing plaster. As the rampart here runs through private lands a thorough photo-documenting was not possible.

This building is in the Mahindarama Temple down Nippon road and seems to fit the location of the rampart. Its base is made up of laterite blocks which may have been from the ramparts
Part of the rampart under conservation from the Department. This is the first section of ramparts visible down Nippon Avenue

The rampart coming to the inner city moat turns right and runs along the moat. But as the rampart coming near the moat, it turns right; a small section turns left projecting to the boarder of Nippon Avenue. This was according to KOTTE: THE FORTRESS the pier for one of the four passes entering to the city. This initial section is well preserved. Entering to the moat the road crosses on to the rampart and runs along it. Here much encroachment could be seen. As one walks up the ramparts along the moat, it increases in elevation and the great depth of the moat could be seen. From here there is only a single line of kabook bricks indicating the rampart. This section could also be accessed through the First Lane down Rampart Road from Ethul Kotte. This entire section is about 150 meters. It ends at a wall just 2 blocks from the Ethul Kotte road where the inner city gate would have been. Adjoining this block is a new apartment complex and few years back sections of the rampart was visible there but are now lost.

A view of the southern ramparts. Red indicates the conserved ramparts. Blue indicates the moat. Brown is rampart not conserved. Orange arrow indicates the location of the inner city gate
Rampart beginning along the inner city moat. The newly conserved section would have formed the pier for the pass that would have been from here. The eastern ramparts join the wall from where the older conserved section begins

The road running on top of the ramparts along the inner city moat

Rampart along the inner city moat

Now going along the South ramparts on the West of Ethul Kotte road a small section could be found in the Salvation Army Church premises. This stretch of rampart is not conserved and many walls of the neighbouring houses have been built on top. This rampart runs towards the west and ends near the Angampitiya bastion from where it turns north, these sections could be accessed along the Angampitiya road. From where the rampart ends in the Salvation Army premises after few blocks it could be traced again for about 20 meters. Arriving down Angampitiya road from the four ways junction turn left along the small road and arriving up to the Sri Jayawardhanapura School Play Ground one would come across the rampart. Arriving near the ground to the left is a high rising ground with trees, this is the ancient Angampitiya bastion and observing it clearly one could find granite stones which have now eroded away. The section from the Salvation Army Church joins here and turns north. This southern stretch is not clearly visible but walking at the base of this ridge through the thick undergrowth one could find the kabook blocks which make up the rampart.

The Salvation Army Church, part of the site of the inner city gate. Behind this could be found sections of the western half of the southern ramparts

Sections of the ramparts behind the Church
The Angampitiya bastion. The rampart comes straight from the inner city gate and at this point turn left (as per the picture) and forms the western rampart
Granite blocks of the Angampitiya bastion
Section of the rampart coming from the Inner city gate side. Note the elevation by the red arrow

Remains of the rampart on this section

From here the rampart runs northwards with few sections along this road and on the road across Angampitiya road could be seen.

Sections of the western rampart from Angampitiya bastion

Angampitiya road running across

The last visible ramparts along the western section

The western side of the ramparts of Kotte is interrupted at 3 places due to the ancient inner reservoirs but at present, after the above described ramparts, no remains of the ramparts or the reservoirs could be traced. A survey by the writer done along all the roads towards the North on the west of Ethul Kotte road revealed no visible ramparts. This area is highly residential and it is most likely that certain sections still remain within few home gardens as the book KOTTE: THE FORTRESS also mentions, but these are off limits for the regular tourist.

Description of the outer city ramparts

The outer city ramparts which were said to have been built of granite blocks is not visible at present. But traces of kabook blocks could be seen along the western section of the outer moat.

Remains of the rampart on the western section of the outer moat

Description of the inner city Moat

The inner city moat can be accessed as mentioned above along the Sri Lanka Nippon road or the First Lane down Rampart road. Walking along the ramparts along the moat one could see how gradually the moat deepens. The moat would have been filled with a layer of mud and water thereby restricting access by swimming and also maintaining the height of the ramparts. Scaling the moat from the bottom to the top of the ramparts is a near impossible task as the writer experienced thus adding a superb defence to this place. The inner city moat is found only on the east of the inner city gate and no moat was built on the west as area along the Salvation Army Church is levelled ground.

Inner city moat

Description of the outer city Moat

This can be found before the Pitta Kotte junction bordering the UNP Headquarters Sirikotha. The moat could be found on either side of the main road. Both sides of the moat are overgrown with shrubs but the great depth of the moat could be seen clearly. This outer moat and rampart guarded the only land pass to the fortress of Kotte and was the scene of many battles.

Western section of the outer city moat

Eastern section of the outer city moat

The ramparts of Kotte, as being some of the prominent archaeological sites of Kotte are also the most affected sites due to the encroachments made by residents. Although the Department of Archaeology has declared these as protected monuments, without the support from the residents it is an impossible task to preserve them.


  • Fonseka, Prasad, KOTTE: THE FORTRESS, 2015.


The next article would explore the bastions, the passes, and the lake of the fort…

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Kotte Heritage 1: The Tunnels

Chryshane Mendis

Program Coordinator,

Chryshane Mendis


This series ‘Kotte Heritage’ would explore the archaeological and heritage sites of the Kotte Kingdom. Kotte, before becoming the Capital in the 15th century was first developed as a fortress in the late 14th century by Nissanka Alakesvara to serve as a base for his attacks on the Arya Cakravarti of Jaffna. In 1415 with the ascension of Parakramabahu VI as King, Kotte was selected as the Capital due to its superb fortifications and expanded into a beautiful city with further fortifications. Kotte served as the Capital of the kingdom till 1565 when the Portuguese who were defending the Kingdom on behalf of King Dharmapala decided to relocate the city to Colombo due to the continuous attacks from the Seethavaka Kingdom under Rajasinghe I. It is stated that they demolished all the buildings and used the material to expand Colombo.

What remains of the city at present and commonly known are the Veherakanda ruins, Alakesvara’s palace, some ruins at Parakumba Pirivena, the tunnel at Ananda Sastralaya, the Inner and outer moats and sections of the rampart. There are traces of other ruins within Ethul Kotte and Pita Kotte which belong to the fortress but which are not quite known and not conserved. This series will explore all known and unknown historic sites and the legends surrounding them.

The Inner-city and Outer-city

In order to get a proper understanding of the purpose of the tunnel systems it is important to know the city limits. As stated above the city of Kotte developed as a fortress and grew into a fortified city. The historic development of the fortifications of the city of Kotte could be seen in two stages, the first stage by Nissanka Alakeshvara and the second by King Parakramabahu VI. Throughout these two stages of development, various defense systems were constructed such as ramparts, bastions, moats, and various others (this series would explore each of these features in the future). During this development stage a network of tunnels was constructed for the security of the fort.

The fortified city was divided into two sections, as the inner-city and the outer-city, this is still known at present as Ethul Kotte and Pita Kotte; and access to the city was through 7 passes with the only land pass being at Pita Kotte which was about 200 feet wide and was heavily fortified by Alakeshvara and later by the Portuguese as well.

The ancient fortress of Kotte (map taken from Kotte: The Fortress)

The area of the inner-city at present comprises of the land, from the north at the entrance to Ethul Kotte road from Parliament road to the south near the Salvation Army church on Ethul Kotte road and from the east, from Nippon Avenue to the area bordering the Kolonnawa Canal in the west. The inner-city gate was found in the area where the Salvation Army Church is, which is less than 100m to the south from the Kotte Archaeological Museum. The area of the outer-city comprises the area between the inner-city gate up to the Sirikotha which is about 80m before the Pita Kotte junction. This was the main land pass to the city. With this context, we could now look into the tunnel network with a clearer mind of the surroundings.

Red are the ramparts of the Kotte fortress

The Inner-City tunnel

Tunnels are an important feature of a fortification which serves as an escape for the occupants under a siege and also to attack the enemy by surprise. The fortress of Kotte was equipped with such a tunnel system. The fortified city of Kotte was equipped with two tunnel systems, one for the inner city and outer city.

The inner city tunnel was said to have been built by King Parakramabahu VI. It functioned as an escape route with its entrance inside the city and exit leading to the lake where people could easily take boats to the other side. It is rumored that the entrance to the tunnel was through a well inside the city. The exit of this tunnel network was to be found until recently in the premises of the Christian Mission College down Mission road now known as Sri Jayawardenapura Maha Vidyalaya.

Yellow shows the supposed path of the inner-city tunnel. Brown shows the southern ramparts of the fortress

The writer on the 4th February 2017 visited the College premises with Mr. Saliya De Silva, Council member of the Kotte Heritage Foundation, a resident of Kotte and old boy of the College. Mr. De Silva knew the location of the exit of the tunnel which was accessible during his school days. Walking towards the Primary section of the school near the lake which was a considerable drop in elevation, he pointed towards a stone wall and explained that the exit was found here. He states that the opening was about 5 feet in diameter and ran several meters inwards. This was visible in the 1960s during their school days but was subsequently sealed off as it posed a danger to students who might venture in. Judging from the surroundings, it was an ideal place for an exit of a tunnel as the terrain formed a ditch-like feature giving cover to the escapees. And its close proximity to the lake about 20 feet from the opening was ideal for an escape over the lake as the surrounding higher elevation and trees would made it hard to escapees to be seen.

Red circle marks the location of the exit of the tunnel, now covered by a wall
The edge of the Diyawanna Oya
Red circle marks the exit of the tunnel and Blue arrow shows the route to the lake

Climbing the higher ground and heading towards the school Mr. De Silva pointed to a location and explained that there used to be a Tennis Court during his school days were in the corner a certain section of the tunnel was revealed. This has been mentioned in the Administrative Report for 1968-70 of the Department of Archaeology. As at present, no visible location of the Inner-city tunnel exists.

Apart from this, there are few sites within the school of notable historic significance.

The Lambrick Hall

This massive Hall was constructed in 1822 by the Rev. Samuel Lambrick when he established the ‘Cotta-Institute’ providing Christian missionary education by the Church Missionary Society. In time this came to be known as the Christian Missionary College and now Sri Jayawardenapura Maha Vidyalaya. This is perhaps the oldest School in Sri Lanka still in existence. This hall is built of typical Bristish-Ceylonese style architecture with massive columns and corridors and characterised by a large single roof. The roof has been renovated in recent times but the columns and the wooden doors and frames bears witness to the beautiful architecture of the 19th century. This is protected by the Department of Archaeology.

The ancient Na-tree (ironwood tree)

Adjoining the hall is an old Na tree said to be over 1000 years old. Legend states that the Ven. Sri Rahula wrote the Salelihini Sandesaya under this tree; no historical or archaeological evidence is found to support this claim but it is believed that this land in the which the present school is, was known as ‘Erabath-Tota’ during the recent past. It is also believed that during the days of Kotte kingdom it was the seat of ancient learning known as the Dharma Rajika Pirivena. Since a Buddhist temple can be situated 500 dunu (bow) lengths away from the inner-city according to the Vinaya pitaka, there can be some truth in this legend. [The distance to the school premises from the inner-city gate is about 500 metres.]

The ancient Na tree

Kota Vehera

Mr Douglas Ranasinghe has shown in his map a Kotavehera by the side of Mission Road existed during mid-20th century. Kotavehera type dagabas are presumed to be tombs build for important persons. It is possible that this was built at the place where one of the air inlets of the tunnel existed.

Present location of the Kotavehera

Monument to the Son of Veera Keppatipola

Legend states that the son of Veera Keppatipola after his execution in 1818 was taken under British Missionaries and educated at this school where he lived in the hostel and had died due to a fever and was cremated within the school premises. In recent times a monument has been built to mark the spot where he is rumoured to have been cremated. This is right next to the old Na tree. There are no written records to prove this stated Mr. De Silva.

The writer would wish to thank the Principal Mr. D. A. D. Vanaguru for granting permission to document the historic sites within the school and is happy to note that he is keen in preserving these ancient monuments; and also to Mr. Saliya De Silva for the guided explanation of the monuments.

The Outer City Tunnels

There were two tunnels leading from the outer-city built by Alakeshvara for defensive purposes. One being a small tunnel only sufficient for people to walk through and the other tunnel is said to be large enough for a horse to ride. Both these tunnels appears to have started in the outer-city behind the outer moat and fortifications and opened up at a tunnel junction in Pita Kotte with the small tunnel leading further south and opening at the ditch passed the Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya.

The smaller tunnel which had two sections began from the west of the main land pass and the first section opening up at the tunnel junction and the second section opening up further south. The Portuguese historian De Couto mentions an incident where during one of the sieges of Kotte by Rajasinghe of Seethawaka, that a Portuguese foraging expedition had discovered the forces of Rajasinghe hiding in the jungles outside the land pass and had used a tunnel to attack the rear of Rajasinghe’s army which caused much damage due to the surprised attack. This shows that the small tunnel was in existence during the times of the Portuguese. The larger tunnel is said to have begun from the eastern corner of the outer rampart and opened up at the tunnel junction.

The Tunnel Junction

Interestingly this tunnel junction could still be found in the premises of the Kotte Ananda Sastralaya and is one of the most unique archaeological remains of Kotte. The Kotte Ananda Sastralaya is one of the most prominent schools in Kotte and could be arrived at by taking the small road to the left of the Gal Ambalama in Pita Kotte junction. The ruins are found within the school premises.

Photograph by Mr. Prasad Fonseka
Photograph by Mr. Prasad Fonseka

There are two large structures which are cut out of living cabook rock or laterite and what is most interesting is that these are found below the ground level. Once entered from the main gate of the school one could find to the right an area demarcated by a fence and within that gaze in amazement at the two massive structures in the ground. The entire area is about 10×5 meters and about 2 meters below the ground level. There are about 12 steps to get to the base level. The first structure is cut in the shape of a stupa and the second is a tall rectangular shaped structure with a decorated entrance portico extending outwards. The entrance portico is carved with a Makara Thorana and one could enter from here and exit from another opening in the rear. No tunnel could be found at present inside the structure which is a circular cavity with a pillar in the centre for support and one could barely stand inside. This structure is decorated right round with impressions of pillars and other designs.

Entrance to the chamber in the second structure. Note the Makara Thorana on the entrance portico.

The archaeological reports date this site to the 16th century and state that the crown of the Sinhala Kings was believed to have been engraved on top of the entrance portico. This site was known to exist well into the 20th century as it and archaeological reports of 2011 states that this was covered by mud, exposing only a small section. Proper excavations were conducted in 2014 which revealed the real magnitude of this site. Although the excavations conducted here revealed no tunnel, a scan using Ground Penetrating Radar had revealed anomalies in the earth which could be the tunnel. Although no archaeological evidence can be found to prove this as the tunnel junction, its location being below the ground level and surrounded by trees makes it an ideal tunnel exit which would have given perfect cover for escapees.

Red circles show the proberbal outer-city tunnel entrances and exits. Yellow shows the path of the outer-city tunnel with the Red square the tunnel junction

The exit of the smaller tunnel is said to be through a ditch south of the Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya but no visible location is found today.


  • Fonseka Prasad, KOTTE: THE FORTRESS, 2015.
  • De Silva, L.M.V., ‘We are Many Centuries Old’, Sri Jayawardenapura Maha Vidyalaya 168th Anniversary Celebration, 1990.
  • කෝට්ටේ නියාමක සැලසුම් ව්‍යාපෘතිය, නියමු සැලසුම් ඒකකය, පුරාවිද්‍යා දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව, 2010.
  • කෝට්ටේ කෞතුකගාර අලුත්වැඩියාව 2010, අවිචිඡ්ද වැඩ, බස්නාහිර පළාත පුරාවිද්‍යා අංශය, 2011.


The next article would explore the ramparts and moats of the fort…