Urns help unearth the antiquity of the Sinhalese
Sri Lanka’s proud history dates back to over 2500 years and it may be correct to surmise that the country’s civilization is one of the oldest in the history of man.
This theory is supported by recent archaeological findings at Meegahahena in the Yatigalpotte area of Galewela on the Anuradhapura road. Excavations conducted recently in the area has unearthed an ancient burial ground spanning over 18 acres supposedly dating back to 2800 years. Archaeologists believe that there could be over 40,000 tombstones in this Meegahahena burial grounds.
Ancient burial grounds so far unearthed were found at Pomparippu, Kondadeniya and Ibbankatuwa in the Puttalam District. These burial grounds are now being conserved by the Archaeological Department. Excavations on 967 metres of land in this area have been completed and seven tombstones have been unearthed. Each of these tombstones were fenced in separately by four stone-slabs and covered with stone-slates. Also excavated were twenty two (22) earthenware urns believed to contain human ash and other articles about which scientific research could establish more details. One opinion is that these tombstones prove that there had been human settlements surrounding these areas during the years 450 BC-750 BC.
Accordingly, an official who participated in these excavations believes that the largest of ancient burial grounds thus far discovered was the Meegahahena burial ground. The necessity therefore arises that the public should be educated on the importance of conserving these areas mainly for their cultural value.
Another belief is that excavations done in Pahiyangala 3700 BC reveal that there had been a ritual of painting dead bodies with a mixture (gurugal).
Former Archaeology Commissioner Professor Siran Deraniyagala said that this type of burial has been widespread in Peninsula India and that an off-shoot of it was in Sri Lanka. Excavations have unearthed burial grounds dating back to 1000 BC and 500 BC. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned one site which has been dated is Ibbankatuwa, very close to the recent find.
One practice in ancient times was to expose the body to natural elements and thereafter selected bones collected and interred. Burying ashes in urns was another practice. In Sri Lanka ashes were buried in large urns and stone boxes which were covered with mounds of earth.
The mounds have not survived the passing years but the urns and boxes have. Professor Deraniyagala said that 40 such sites have been located in Sri Lanka and they were spread mostly in the North Central, North and Eastern areas; few in the South West and South near Hambantota and Kataragama; but the bulk of these are in the North Central, North and East and North-West.
Deraniyagala says that what is special about these graves are findings like beads, iron objects and small pottery which had purportedly been used for offerings for the dead. These burial grounds had been the earliest in the country and indicate that society was reaching a complex level with suggestions that a very advanced social society had existed.
Yet the mystery that surrounds these burial grounds is that evidence of settlements is yet to be found. The biggest mystery is “who are these people?”
According to Deraniyagala there are two theories – one, that there would have been a nomadic existence and two, that this particular society had its own mortuaring system. ” It all ties up to the sophisticated megalithic graves in South India and Andhra Pradesh”, says Professor Deraniyagala. However the dating is insecure. Research being an open area, Radio-Carbon dates have to be obtained at least from ten sites, preferably more to establish chronology. In India comparative work in research has been done.
There appear to be several views as to who the research authors are. Deraniyagala says that an American Scholar has done some research on human remains found in the Pomparippu site. The sample had been very small and bigger samples were needed to complete the research.
The American Scholar’s research had established that the human remains sample found was more close to the Sinhalese people.
The Daily News
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Map of Meegahahena burial grounds
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Travel Directions to Meegahahena burial grounds
The site lies on the private property of Y.M.W. Tennakoon and his sister Punchi Kumari on the southern slope of Beliyakande hill within the Yatigalpotte Grama Niladhari division. This area lies about 7 kilometers away from the Galewela town.