Kitulgala Beli Lena Pre Historic Site (කිතුල්ගල බෙලි ලෙන)

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Prehistoric Beli Lena Caves lies upon a steep path on the hillside inside from a ledge that looks down over a breathtaking view of rubber plantations of Kitulgala estate close to Kitulagala, 2000 feet above sea level. This Huge Cave has been home to the prehistoric ‘Balangoda Man’ (Homo sapiens balangodensis) where 16,000 year old skeletal remains have been found. Fa Hien-lena has yielded the earliest evidence (at ca. 37,000 BP) of the ‘Balangoda Man’ followed by Batadomba-lena at 31,000 and 18,000 BP.

These caves have also yeiled other artifacts such as prehistoric tools belonging to the 30,000 BP. Batadomba-lena caves have yielded tools going back to 31,000 BP. These are important findings to the whole of Asia as these tools are considered to have first originated in Europe around 12,000 BP. However, these findings have proved that the Sri Lankan ‘Balangoda Man’ was at the same stage of development 19,000 years before the Europeans.

According to S. U. Deraniyagala, ex Director-General of Archaeology, Sri Lanka

… 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 (ibid:266-70,688-94). 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 BP. Hence it came as a surprise when such tools were found as early as 31,000 BP at Batadomba-lena, 28,000 BP at two coastal sites in Bundala and over 30,000 BP at Beli-lena. Sri Lanka has yielded evidence of this sophisticated technological phase over 19,000 years earlier than in Europe. However this apparent anomaly has been resolved by the discovery of geometric microliths in various parts of Africa, such as Zaire and southern Africa, from contexts in excess of 27,000 BP, thereby suggesting that Europe was late in manifesting this techno-tradition due to as yet undefined reasons…..

To Reach Belilena turn at Kitulgala Temple on Iyanwatta road to reach the school. You need to trek about 1 kilometer to reach the cave.

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Map of Kitulgala Beli Lena

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Travel Directions to Kitulgala Beli Lena

Route from Colombo to Kitulgala Beli Lena
Via : Awissawella – Kitulgala
distance : 100 km
Travel time : 2.5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map

Beli-Lena Caves – Journey into the past

by Arundathie Abeysinghe
Sunday Observer

There have been human settlements in Sri Lanka dating back 25,000 years, according to archaeologists. The ape man known as Balangoda Manawaya had lived in caves in many parts of Sri Lanka; Beli lena, Batadomba lena, Bellanpendipellessa, and Pahiyangala are some of these.

The Beli lena caves (cave of shells) also known as Balangoda Manawaya’s caves reveal an important landmark in the history of human paleontology as they reveal remains of primitive man.

About 15 years ago, archaeologists found the skeleton of a child dated as being 28,500 years old.

When viewed from the foot of the hill, the caves seem a long way up, surrounded by giant stones and a pure rockface. But there is a comfortable path of stones to reach the caves without much exertion. The caves go way back inside and for those who like adventure, the exploration of the dark caves is a must.

As we went there a few days after the rains, we were drenched by the sheet of water that fell across the front of the caves as we clambered up the rocks to the entrance. The view from here is simply breathtaking.

Situated within the Kitulgala estate, these caves were discovered in 1969 by the then Director of National Museums P. E. P. Deraniyagala, father of present archaeological Commissioner Shiran Deraniyagala.

At the time of discovery, the caves were occupied by some monks (there are some monuments of a monastery within the caves even at present) but they left the place when the Department of Archaeology decided to excavate the site to find evidence of pre-historic human habitation.

During the excavation, shells, (this is why the caves are thus named), pieces of bones of various shapes and some stone tools were found at the site. As these caves are situated about 85 kilometres away from the sea, there is speculation that these shells would have been used for trade. Smaller shells with deposits of rock salt (found within the site even at present) prove that salt was brought from the coast.

How to get there: At Kitulgala town turn left (there is a board indicating the direction) and drive about 9 kilometers and walk about 3 kilometers through a tea estate. The journey has to be in a four-wheel vehicle.


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