Ibbankatuwa Ancient burial ground lies five kilometers before the Dambulla town on the Kurunegala-Dambulla Road. An archeological Department board will indicate the turn off from the main road. The site is reached by traveling about 500m in to this road.
The area where the tombs have been found is about 15×15 metres. About 10 tombs have been unearthed and each tomb is separated by four stone slabs and covered by another slab on the top. This Early Iron Age burial ground has been dated to 750 BC to 400 BC.
Excavations have revealed that each tomb containing personal belonging such as clay pots, beads, necklaces, etc, similar to the practices in ancient Egypt pyramids. The gemstones found in some necklaces are only found in India indicating links to India during this time.
Despite this well laid out burial grounds, no proof of any settlement in this area has been found. In contrast Anuradhpura was a highly populated town exceeded over 50ha (125 acres) in 700-600 BC but no Early Iron Age cemetery which can even remotely linked has been found. Thus it is speculated that this could belong to a small special group of people who lived in this area.
The site was developed in to a tourist attraction in 2017 and was formally open to the public.
- Prehistoric Sites of Sri Lanka
- Ancient Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka
- Other Places of Interest Within Close Proximity
Map of Ibbankatuwa Ancient Burial Site
The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites.
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Travel Directions to Ibbankatuwa Ancient Burial Site
Route from Colombo to Ibbankatuwa Ancient Burial Site
|Via : Kurunegala|
distance : 160 km
Travel time : 3.5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Ibankatuwa  : Where Our Ancients Rest
About five kilometers before Dambulla at Ibbankatuwa on a shady road that leads to the Ibankatuwa wewa is found a cist burial ground or a resting place of some of our very ancients.
This is one of the several ancient burial sites that have been discovered in Sri Lanka believed to be from the pre historic and proto historic periods of Sri Lanka.. These ancient burial sites have revealed two distinct burial customs. Urn burials, where the dead were placed in huge urns and interred and cist burials where the ashes of the deceased were interred in large tombs hidden under the ground.
According to Archeological research pre historic period of Sri Lanka ranges from ca 250,000BP – 1,000 BC. The transition period between the end of the pre historic period and the commencement of the historic period is known as the proto historic era
According to historic and archeological research the proto historic iron age period of Sri Lanka was a result of an extension and fusion of specially a South Indian culture that was acquainted with the use of iron, black and red pottery, paddy cultivation and domestication of horse. Proto historic artifacts have been found from Anuradhapura (900 – 800 BC) Ibbankatuwa (600 – 400 BC) and Yapahuwa (300 BC)
A systematic burial system was one of the distinctive features of the proto historic period.
Excavations at the Ibankatuwa site has revealed ritual practices and artifacts belonging to the proto historic period. These include cist burials and a crematory.
The findings record that the Ibbankatuva complex covers an area of about 1 square km and contains 42 clusters of cist tombs. It has been estimated that each cluster contains about 10 tombs. A number of these tombs were found intact, with the capstones in place.
Large terra-cotta urns containing cremated remains and grave goods have been found in many of the tombs. Cremated remains have also been found within the cists as well as in the area between the cists. It is recorded that the grave goods found included a variety of pottery, iron, copper and gold artifacts. Bead material made of onyx, agate, carnelian, quartz glass and terra-cotta have also been found. Some of these it is supposed may have been imported. Thus indicating , that the Ibbankatuva people had established trade relations with the foreign lands.
Scholars believes that the excavations at Ibbankatuva revealed a possible distinction on a Socio-economic basis. Accordingly the largest cist burial excavated at Ibbankatuva has yielded gold and imported beads, besides a symbol inscribed on the capstone while smaller burials (moderate-sized cists) have revealed less pots than those of the larger burial as well as terra-cotta beads probably made locally and iron and copper.
Yet another burial at Ibbankatuwa has revealed a crematory containing merely the human ashes.
It is also believed that the Ibbankatuva dwellers may have engaged in agricultural activities including rice cultivation. The discovery of a small artificial reservoir to the east of the cemetery, is quoted as evidence. Further, a few husks of edible rice have been found at the site.
Scholars also believe that there may have been a connection between the cemetery and the cave complex at Dambulla situated a short distance of 3 km from Ibbankatuva. The caves are known to be amongst the early Buddhist monastic settlements. Some caves contain inscriptions of an very early period and have been dated to 3rd century B.C. – 1st century A.C.
It is interesting to visit the site at Ibbankatuwa, although devoid of huge and impressive edifices. Yet sites like Ibbankatuwa have shed new light on the island’s prehistory and early history.
Ibankatuwa  : Unearthing Sri Lanka’s Past
Of the cist burial sites, the most thoroughly investigated so far has been at Ibbankatuva, first identified by the Archaeological Department in 1970.
As a result of a number of excavations carried out in late 1983 and early 1984 and again between 1988 – 1990, the Ibbankatuva complex may today be considered the best investigated proto-historic burial complex in the country to date. The site has been carbon-dated to a period ranging from 700 – 400 B.C.
According to Raj Somadeva, Senior Lecturer, Post Graduate Institute of Archaeology. (PGIAR) University of Kelaniya, the Ibbankatuva complex covers an area of about 1 square km and contains 42 clusters of cist tombs. He estimates that each cluster contains about 10 tombs. Most of the excavations have been confined to one of the central clusters, namely cluster 21 which contains a total of 19 cists. A number of tombs were found intact, with the capstones in place.
Large terra-cotta urns containing cremated remains and grave goods have been found in many of the tombs. Cremated remains have also been found within the cists as well as in the area between the cists. Somadeva, who has been intimately connected with the excavations notes that the grave goods found included a variety of pottery, iron, copper and gold artefacts. Bead material made of onyx, agate, carnelian, quartz glass and terra-cotta have also been found.
As Somadeva notes, the first three minerals do not occur naturally in Sri Lanka and appear to have been imported from India, indicating that the Ibbankatuva folk had established trade relations with the mainland. Iron was evidently produced locally as iron slag has been discovered at the site.
Somadeva believes that the Ibbankatuva folk had reached a state where some sections were distinguished on a Socio-economic basis. He points out that the largest cist burial excavated at Ibbankatuva has yielded gold and imported beads, besides a symbol inscribed on the capstone while smaller burials (moderate-sized cists) have revealed less pots than those of the larger burial as well as terra-cotta beads (probably made locally) and iron and copper. Yet another burial has revealed none of these items, containing merely the ashes of the deceased.
Somadeva also believes that the Ibbankatuva dwellers may have engaged in agricultural activities including wet rice cultivation. As evidence he points to the discovery of a small artificial reservoir to the east of the cemetery. The reservoir, less than 46 metres away from the cemetery is of a crude style and evidently obtained water from rain and from the rainwater gushing down from a nearby mountain slope.
Somadeva also points out that considering the fact that there existed some level of social stratification implying a prosperous community that had surplus food production it is not unlikely that they practiced agriculture. Further, he notes that a few husks of edible rice (oryza sativa) have been found at the site.
Somadeva connects the distinct symbols or letters incised on the capstones to the graffiti marks occuring in the Black and Red Ware pottery of the early burial complexes such as Pomparippu. He also believes that a symbol found in one of the capstones is connected to a Brahmi letter having the phonetic value “60” found in an inscription at Kandalama, Dambulla. He also postulates a connection between the cemetery and the rock shelter complex at Dambulla situated 3 km north-east of Ibbankatuva.
The complex which is amongst the largest of the Buddhist monastic settlements of the early historic period contains numerous lithic inscriptions in Prakrit (middle Indo-Aryan, the ancestor of the modern-day Sinhala speech) which are dateable to c. 3rd century B.C. – 1st century A.C.
It is possible that the cist burial folk were an early Aryan-speaking people, perhaps the ancestors of the present-day Sinhalese, as is suggested by the epigraphic evidence. Besides cremation was an ancient Indo-Aryan custom.
It is not known what the connection between the urnfield folk and those practicing cist burials was although the two belong to different environments ” the former based largely in the coastal area and the latter primarily concentrated in the Red Earths Zone of the North Central plains ” there may have existed some socio-cultural relations between the two.
The excavations so far conducted represent only a fraction of the burials found in the island. Many more need to be excavated. Others perhaps may be lying silently beneath the sands, long forgotten by man.
Progress in excavation has been slow and it may take many more years to uncover the country”s past in greater detail. Then perhaps we would be able to get a better idea of the ethnic composition and social life as it existed in ancient Lanka