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Sri Lanka archaeologists should dig into pre-history; solve South Asia puzzles: PM

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s archaeologists should explore deeper into Sri Lanka’s pre-history and there were great puzzles of South Asia also to be solved, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said.

Most the current knowledge about ancient Sri Lanka went back only to the Anuradhapura period, but the history beyond that was largely unknown.


"Now we have to look beyond," Wickremesinghe said at ceremony marking the 125th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s archaeology office.

"Thanks to the Department of Archaeology we have a good knowledge of history. While we continue work on this area we must do more research into our pre-history."

"We have found some evidence of pre-history. But many people do not know of our pre-history."

He said Siran Deraniyagala, a retired archaeological chief, has been appointed a consultant of the archaeological office as part of the efforts to delve into pre-history.

Already digs have revealed some evidence about hunter-gatherer societies.

Sri Lanka’s Department of Archaeology was set up by British rulers.

Wickremesinghe said though today there was great knowledge of ancient cities like Dambadeniya or Yapahuwa in the first part of the 19th century there was no such knowledge, but only some folklore.





"Only among some of our priests who read the ola leaf books there was some knowledge," Wickremesinghe explained.

Historical Chronicle

He said the Venerable Chief Priest of Pelmadulla had told the Government Agent of Sabaragamuwa George Turner that there was the Mahavamsa (a historical chronicle written by Buddhist priests) could be found in Mulkirigala, which was then translated to English.

"Then people like Willehm Geiger also translated. At the time there was debate whether the chronicle were just stories. Then corroborative evidence was found.

"The Britishers who explored the jungles of Rajarata found the evidence. They reported that there were ruins like big hills."

Students of history say the findings of British historians and others were later used by nationalists to create dissention and hate among people in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

Meanwhile Wickremesinghe said during this time the Archaological Survey of India was also started.

"One of the reasons was the Mahavamsa of Sri Lanka," he said.

Beloved of the Gods

Wickremesinghe said (James) Princep, a contemporary of Turner, had done work on India’s ancient languages.

"They found a pillar (edicts of Ashoka) with inscriptions which mentioned a king called ‘beloved of the gods’. Who was this?

The connection was made when George Turner made a presentation at the Royal Asiatic Society in Calcutta and Princep was able to progress with his work, Wickremesinghe said.

The Archaeological Survey of India was headed by Alexander Cunningham who is held in great esteem by the people of that country as the ‘father of Indian archaeology’.

Wickremesinghe said in Sri Lanka Governor Hercule Robinson (1st Barron of Rosmead) had ordered that a research be done on ruins found in Sri Lanka.

Rosmead Place in Colombo is named after him.

"Later Governor (William) Gregory gave the responsibility of starting the Archaeology Department to Mr S M Burrows," Wickremesinghe said.

Then H C P Bell, a civil servant, was appointed as the first commissioner.

Students of history say Gregory’s Road in Colombo was named after the Governor who started the Department of Archaeology. During the last regime, his name was removed from the road.

Meanwhile Wickremesinghe said Bell did a great service to the country.

"We know lot about our early period because of him," he said. "After that there were several commissioners. Some were British, some were Sri Lankans. Special mention must be made of Senarath Paranavithana."

Wickremesinghe said during his school days Senarath Paranavithana and Charles Godakumbura came to give lectures at his school.

Paul Pieris Deraniyagala had then done a lot of research into pre-history.

"I remember going to these lectures with my mother," Wickremesinghe said. "We must remember with gratitude the contribution made by many of these persons. Some of them got sick in the jungles, some died. But by 1930 to 35 we knew what our history was."

He many governments backed the Archaeological Department. In 1978, President J R Jayewardene, who had a great interest in history started the ‘Cultural Triangle’ project and expanded the work of the department. Faculties of Archaeology were started in several universities.

Regional Mystery

Even in India the well-known history was limited to about the Maurya Empire (300 BC – around Sri Lanka’s Anuradhapura period), Wickremesinghe said.

"So we have to pay special attention to pre-history. Who were the original people’s of Sri Lanka?" Wickremesinghe questioned.

"Many archaeological mysteries of South Asia has not been solved," Wickremesinghe said. "One the main puzzles in the Mohenjo-Daro civilization (Indus Valley civilization in present-day Sind, Pakistan).

Mohenjo-Daro civilization dates back up to 2,500 BC compared and belongs to the so-called Bronze Age, compared to the later Iron Age which dates from around 1,000 BC or younger.

These people belonged to the Indo-Aryan language group.

In Sri Lanka there is folklore about older peoples including Kuveni and also Ravana.

Students of history say after the Maurya Empire and later, Gutpa, Sena and Pala Empires leapt out of the subcontinent and fanned out of much of South East Asia setting up Hindu-Bhuddist civilizations displacing the original inhabitants mostly Austronesians.

The Bhuddist and Hindu monuments stand side-by-side in countries ranging up to Vietnam and Indonesia showing the spread of the Hindu-Bhuddist cultures across the Asian continent.

Students of history say in Europe much had been discovered about Bronze age cultures such as Mycenaean Greece (1300BC) and other cultures going beyond 2000BC.

These include the Minoan civilization of Crete and also ancient Britain from around 2,500 BC (Wessex culture and related discoveries) which were contemporaries of Mohenja-Daro and Harappa cities.

British and European archaeologists have made discoveries going as far back as 2,900 and beyond about the so-called ‘Beaker Culture’ of Europe.

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