A guide to Prehistory and Sites of Sri Lanka


Prehistoric time line of Sri Lanka

770,000 BC – Fire is used in China by Peking man
700,000 BC – Humans in Lanka
Archeologists claim that Sri Lanka would have been inhabited by the humans by about 700,000 BC at a time when India and Sri Lanka was bridged.
200,000 BC – Beginning of Middle Paleolithic Period
“Paleolithic” means “Old Stone Age.” This was the earliest period of the Stone Age. The Lower Paleolithic predates Homo sapiens, beginning with Homo habilis and the earliest use of stone tools some 2.5 million years ago. Homo sapiens originated some 200,000 years ago, ushering in the Middle Paleolithic. Sometime during the Middle Paleolithic, humans also developed language, music, early art, as well as systematic burial of the dead.
123,000BC- Oldest human found in Lanka ( see here )
The evidence stems from excavations conducted in coastal deposits near Bundala. These people made tools of quartz (and a few on chert) which are assignable to a Middle Palaeolithic complex
120,000 BP – Modern Homo sapiens appears in Africa.
Pathirajawela in the Deep South – The oldest Lankan human’s remains and his stone tools were recovered in Pathirajawela in Deep South, near Ambalantota, by a student from Bundala Central School. This Lankan had lived 20,000 years before the Niandathal inhabited the earth. It has been estimated, at an international average, that the population density for Lanka, at the time was 0.8-1.5 per Sq Km in dry zone and 0.1 in wet zone. They had lived in groups of 1-2 families, not in large groups due to scarcity of food. With this proof of pre-historic settlement in Lanka, Patirajawela also exposed a flake and stone tool industry belonging to 125,000 to 75,000 BC. This meant that the Lankans had already started their long journey towards civilization.
80,000 BC- Lions, Rhinoceroses and Hippos from an excavation in Ratnapura District
Archaeologists have found the remains of animals. That included a hippopotamus with six incisor teeth, a rhinoceros, and a lion. Along with these animal remains, stone artifacts comprising, typically, large choppers and flakes of quartz and chert, have been found. However, apart from a human calotte from a gem pit near Ellawala, no human remains have been discovered yet from the Ratnapura.
80,000 BC – 2nd oldest human found in Lanka, Bundala in the Deep South
These people made tools of quartz (and a few on chert). Apart from such tools, no other remains had survived the ravages of time and tropical weathering.

35,000 BC – Fa-Hien cave , has yielded the earliest evidence of anatomically modern man in South Asia

3rd oldest Lankan human proves world’s oldest proof of consumption of rice, Kurahan, salt

Female body-remains found in Yatagampitiya near BulathSinhala, proved the consumption of rice, kurahan, and salt. The Archaeologists named her Kalu-Menika. It was proof that 20,000 years before the world, Lankans have gone agricultural. It was also the first anatomically modern human found in whole of South Asia.Pahiyanagala is also the largest natural cave in South Asia. Over 150 feet in height, 282 feet long, Pahiyangala can accommodate over 3000 humans. In 600 AD, the visiting Chinese monk Fa-Hien lived here for sometime.
28,500 BC – Batadomba Lena near Kuruvita, the Balangoda man, stronger & taller
These remains, and the following Belilena and BellanBendi Palassa , have been subjected to detailed analysis. These anatomically modern prehistoric humans in Sri Lanka are referred to as Balangoda Man. Some males were 174 cm tall, and some females were 166 cm tall. This is considerably taller than the present-day Sri Lankans. The bones also are robust. They had thick skull-bones and prominent brow-ridges, depressed noses, heavy jaws and short necks. The teeth were conspicuously large. These traits have survived among the Veddas and certain unmixed Sinhalese. Balangoda Man is regarded as the original Lankan.S. U. Deraniyagala, Former Director-General of , Sri Lanka, says that such geometric microliths have traditionally been considered the hallmark of the Mesolithic period as first defined in Europe . The earliest dates for the geometric microlithic tradition in Europe being around 12,000 BP. Hence it came as a surprise when such tools were found as early as 31,000 BP at Batadombalena and even at other sites, like the two coastal sites in and at Belilena
28,500 BC – Lankans live in Mannar, Horton plains to Bundala, in two family units
By this time Lankans were settled in every corner of Sri Lanka, from the damp and cold High Plain’s such as Maha-eliya (Horton Plains) to the arid lowlands of Mannar and Vilpattu, to the steamy rainforests of Sabaragamuwa. Their camps were small, rarely exceeding 50 sq.m in area, thus suggesting occupation by not more than a couple of families at most. This life-style could not have been too different from that described for the Vaddas of Sri Lanka, the Kadar, Malapantaram and Chenchus of India, the Andaman lslanders and the Semang of Malaysia. They had been moving from place to place, on an annual cycle of looking for food.
28,500 BC: Lankans have started business between the coast and the hills
Beads of shells have also been discovered deep inside the country. Discovery  of marine shells in inland sites such as Batadomba-lena , points to an extensive network of contacts between the coast and the inland.
28,500 BC- Lankans have burial customs
Balangoda Man had a custom to bury his dead underneath his camp floor. He selected certain bones for this purpose. At Ravana Ella cave and  Fa Hien Lena , red ochre had been ceremonially smeared on the bones.
28,500 BC- Geometric microliths (believed to be first used by the Europeans in 12,500BC) are found in Batadomba Lena in the tool kit of Balangoda Man, 16,000 years earlier than Europe first used it.
The tool kit of Balangoda Man is distinguished by the occurrence of geometric microliths, comprising small (less than 4 cm long) flakes of quartz and (rarely) chert fashioned into stylised lunate, triangular and trapezoidal forms. Such geometric microliths have traditionally been considered the hallmark of the Mesolithic period as first defined in Europe. The earliest dates for the geometric microlithic tradition in Europe are around 12,000 BC. Hence it came as a surprise when such tools were found as early as 28,500 BC at Batadomba-lena , 28,000 BC at two coastal sites in Bundala and over 27,000 BC at Beli-lena. Sri Lanka has yielded evidence of this sophisticated technological phase some 16,000 years earlier than in Europe. However, the geometric microliths were discovered in various parts of Africa, such as Zaire and southern Africa, from periods in excess of 27,000 BC. Europe was late in manifesting this techno-tradition due to as yet undefined reasons.
27,000 BC- Beli Lena at Kitulgala
There is evidence from Beli-lena that salt had been brought in from the coast at a date in excess of 27,000 BC.
15,000 BC – Horton plains
Agro subsistence strategy 7000 years before the world did. There is pollen evidence from the Horton Plains for herding and the farming of barley and oats by 15,000 BC and also around 8,000 BC. The new evidence from the Horton Plains is of great importance. Ghar-i-Mar and Aq Kupruk in Afghanistan and Mehrgarh in Pakistan were known to have had a Neolithic subsistence strategy by 7,000-6,000 BC. There is tentative evidence of herding in northern Rajasthan by 7,000 BC, of rice and pottery at Koldihwa, U.P. in India by 5,000 BC, and perhaps cereal management/farming in the Nilgiri Hills of South India by 8,000 BC. Therefore Lankans had proof of Agro subsistence strategy 7000 years before the world did.
15,000 BC – SuriyaKanda near Ambilipitiya, use of necklaces & needles
The female body parts recovered by archaeologists proved the use of needles (made of rabbit bones), and necklace made of a see-thru material like glass but as hardy as plastic. The Archaeologists have named her Nimali.
13,000 BC – The discovery of the remains of two pre-historic humans and other artifacts in a cave in Alawala , Gampaha
This recent discovery has also unearthed tools to butcher animals, A shark tooth ornament and remains of breadfruit seeds called Kekuna.
10,500 BC –  Alu-lena near Attanagoda , Kegalle More human remains were discovered here.
8,000 BC / 7,000 BC – In northern Mesopotamia, now northern Iraq, cultivation of barley and wheat begins.
6,500 BC – Bellan-Bendi Pelessa near Embiliyapitiya – Secret of the Strong Bones
Bellan-Bandi Palassa near Embiliyapitiya is an open-air site of human remains. The well-preserved evidence from these caves showed that Lankans were having a very wide range of food-plants and animals. Prominent among them were canarium nuts, wild breadfruit and wild bananas. It also showed that Lankans ate almost any type animal, from elephants to snakes, rats, snails and small fish. This well-balanced diet must be the secret behind the robusticity of the human skeletal remains. The degeneration of the bone, caused by a specialized starchy diet and a sedentary life style, was yet to come.
6,300 BC – Dorawaka-Kanda cave near Kegalle
Geometric Microlithic industry & pottery The transition from the Mesolithic Balangoda Culture to the protohistoric early Iron Age has not been adequately documented in Sri Lanka. The relevant deposits have been destroyed due to the extraction of fertilizer from prehistoric cave habitations. Recent excavations in the cave of Dorawaka-kanda near Kegalle could resolve this problem. According to the excavator, W.H. Wijayapala, there are indications at this site of pottery (together with stone stools) being used as early as 6300. By this time, Dorawaka-lena shelter had proved a geometric microlithic industry. It also proved a cereal and acrude red pottery by 5,300 BC, and Black and Red Ware by 3,100 BC.
6,000 BC – Lankan city on Mahamevuna Uyana, Proof of Horses
35 feet under the present Mahamevuna Uyana in Anuradapura , the remains of a huge city dated to 9000-6000BC was uncovered by Archeologists in 2001 AD. It was proof that Lankans had used Horses before the North Indians such as prince Vijaya came in 483BC.
6,000 BC – PalleMalala site , first proof of a pre-historic shell midden in the country, fireplace, grinding stone, burial room, Rough clothing
A group of pre-historic Lankans set up camp at a dried-up lagoon in Hambantota. There they lived, hunted and fished for food and buried the dead under the very same ground. They hunted sambhur, deer and wild boar with crude stone and sharpened bone tools. The meat was roasted over an open hearth. Fish and reptile meat was a common diet. The bones were ground on a large flat stone to extract the marrow. The skins were dried to make rough clothing. Animal remains found in the living floor belonged to as many as 50 species including deer, hare, mouse, wild boar and kulumeema (Bos indica). A primitive grinding stone and vestiges of a fireplace, probably for roasting mollusc’s, have been found. A meter below the living floor was the burial floor. Seven adult skeletons have been found buried. A shell midden is a mound of shells created when pre-historic humans threw the shells of animals such as oysters and mussels after they had consumed them in a particular spot. There would have been at least 15 people originally dwelling at this single site, considering the size of the shell midden.
6,000 BC – PalleMalala site indicates the origins of MahaSona beliefs
The discovery in the burial floor, of the skull of a wild boar with its tusks intact, next to a human skull suggested some kind of a burial ritual. In Sinhalese folk traditions, Mahasona has been depicted as having the head of a boar. Veddas still have this practice as the kirikoraha ceremony, using the head of a boar, and offering tribute to Kande Yaka, the Vedda’s god of hunting.
6,000 BC – Similarity of PalleMalala man with the rest of the world
Lankan is in the forefront of the human development The lifestyles of the stone age Lankan could not have been any different from others who lived elsewhere in the world. There are striking similarities in the stone tools found anywhere in the world belonging to the same age. Burial practices too appear to have similarities. The human bodies found in Pallemalala have been buried in a curious folded position where the knees and elbows had been folded towards the body in burial. Similar burials in ‘folded’ position have been unearthed from sites elsewhere in the world as well. This proved that the Lankan was in the very front of the race for the human progress. There has been frequent migration between the landmass that was Sri Lanka at the time and the Indian  continent, across the Palk Strait. That probably helped the Lankan to check what the other humans were doing.
4,000 BC – A pre-historic grave
Archeologists had found a  pre-historic grave site near IbbanKatuwa Weva in Dambulla
3,500 BC – The boat that could carry over 150 passengers, is found in Lanka
On Attanagalla Oya, a ferry capable of carrying over 150 people, was discovered. This proved the existence of a well-established water-based transport system.
3,000 BC – Sigiriya is considered the AlakaMandava of the Ravana times
Historians and Archeologists claim that Sigirya must be the Alaka Mandava of Ravana, based on oldest archaeological evidence found on site.
3,000 BC – Stonehenge construction begins. In its first version, it consisted of a circular ditch and bank, with 56 wooden posts
1,000 BC – End of stone age and the beginning of Iron Age
900 BC – Remains of extensive human settlements at Anuradhapura
The three major sites at Anuradhapura in north-central Sri Lanka have been intensively excavated by the Archaeological Department, checked by the University of Cambridge, and over 75 radiocarbon dates are available for this settlement. There is an excellent chronology starting from 900 B.C. In this layer (early Iron Age), we found large quantities of artifacts, which are characterised by the use of iron, horses, cattle, high-grade pottery, and possibly cultivation of rice.The settlement was fairly large, at least 10 hectares in size. It was not a small village. We have no mechanics of knowing why such a settlement should have started in the first place. For it is the only major settlement of this period that has been found in Sri Lanka. Further investigation will undoubtedly reveal other large settlements of this period. This culture developed progressively and expanded into city life by 700 B.C.
Primary Source : http://www.nexcorpsl.com

Prehistoric sites in Sri Lanka

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