Prehistory of Sri Lanka​

Sri Lanka officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, is an island country in South Asia, located in the Indian Ocean to the southwest of the Bay of Bengal and to the southeast of the Arabian Sea. The island is historically and culturally intertwined with the Indian subcontinent, but is geographically separated from the Indian subcontinent by the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait. The legislative capital, Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, is a suburb of the commercial capital and largest city, Colombo.

Sri Lanka’s documented history spans 3,000 years, with evidence of pre-historic human settlements dating back to at least 125,000 years. It has a rich cultural heritage and the first known Buddhist writings of Sri Lanka, the Pāli Canon, date back to the Fourth Buddhist council in 29 BC. Its geographic location and deep harbours made it of great strategic importance from the time of the ancient Silk Road through to the modern Maritime Silk Road

Sri Lanka was known from the beginning of British colonial rule as Ceylon. A nationalist political movement arose in the country in the early 20th century to obtain political independence, which was granted in 1948; the country became a republic and adopted its current name in 1972. Sri Lanka’s recent history has been marred by a 30-year civil war, which decisively ended when the Sri Lanka Armed Forces defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009.

The current constitution stipulates the political system as a republic and a unitary state governed by a semi-presidential system. It has had a long history of international engagement, as a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the G77, and the Non-Aligned Movement. Along with the Maldives, Sri Lanka is one of only two South Asian countries rated “high” on the Human Development Index (HDI), with its HDI rating and per capita income the highest among South Asian nations. The Sri Lankan constitution accords Buddhism the “foremost place”, although it does not identify it as a state religion. Buddhism is given special privileges in the Sri Lankan constitution.

The island is home to many cultures, languages and ethnicities. The majority of the population is from the Sinhalese ethnicity, while a large minority of Tamils have also played an influential role in the island’s history. Moors, Burghers, Malays, Chinese, and the indigenous Vedda are also established groups on the island.

Evidence of human colonization in Sri Lanka appears at the site of Balangoda. Balangoda Man arrived on the island about 34,000 years ago and have been identified as Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who lived in caves. Several of these caves, including the well-known Batadombalena and the Fa-Hien Rock cave, have yielded many artifacts from these people who are currently the first known inhabitants of the island.

Balangoda Man probably created Horton Plains, in the central hills, by burning the trees in order to catch the game. However, the discovery of oats and barley on the plains at about 15,000 BCE suggests that agriculture had already developed at this early date.

Several minute granite tools (about 4 centimeters in length), earthenware, remnants of charred timber, and clay burial plots date to the Mesolithic stone age. Human remains dating to 6000 BCE have been discovered during recent excavations around a cave at Varana Raja Maha Vihara and in the Kalatuwawa area.

Cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka and has been found in Ancient Egypt as early as 1500 BCE, suggesting early trade between Egypt and the island’s inhabitants. It is possible that Biblical Tarshish was located on the island. James Emerson Tennent identified Tarshish with Galle.

The protohistoric Early Iron Age appears to have established itself in South India by at least as early as 1200 BCE, if not earlier (Possehl 1990; Deraniyagala 1992:734). The earliest manifestation of this in Sri Lanka is radiocarbon-dated to c. 1000–800 BCE at Anuradhapura and Aligala shelter in Sigiriya (Deraniyagala 1992:709-29; Karunaratne and Adhikari 1994:58; Mogren 1994:39; with the Anuradhapura dating corroborated by Coningham 1999). It is very likely that further investigations will push back the Sri Lankan lower boundary to match that of South India.

Archaeological evidence for the beginnings of the Iron age in Sri Lanka is found at Anuradhapura, where a large city–settlement was founded before 900 BCE. The settlement was about 15 hectares in 900 BCE, but by 700 BCE it had expanded to 50 hectares. A similar site from the same period has also been discovered near Aligala in Sigiriya.

The hunter-gatherer people known as the Wanniyala-Aetto or Veddas, who still live in the central, Uva and north-eastern parts of the island, are probably direct descendants of the first inhabitants, Balangoda man. They may have migrated to the island from the mainland around the time humans spread from Africa to the Indian subcontinent. Around 500 BCE, Sri Lankans developed a unique hydraulic civilization. Achievements include the construction of the largest reservoirs and dams of the ancient world as well as enormous pyramid-like Stupa (Dagaba in Sinhalese) architecture. This phase of Sri Lankan culture may have seen the introduction of early Buddhism. [citation needed]

Early mythical history recorded in Buddhist scriptures refers to three visits by the Buddha to the island to see the Naga Kings, snakes that can take the form of a human at will.

The earliest surviving chronicles from the island, the Dipavamsa, and the Mahavamsa say that tribes of Yakkhas (demon worshippers), Nagas (cobra worshippers) and Devas (god worshippers) inhabited the island prior to the migration of Vijaya.

Pottery has been found at Anuradhapura bearing Brahmi script and non-Brahmi writing and date back to 600 BCE – one of the oldest examples of the script