|10 January 2011
The ancient settlements of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka had a long history of settlement. The wet zone was the first to be inhabited. There are irrigation works and caves of the early period in the Bintnne division of Uva and around Mahiyangana, Uraniya, and Dambane. Dams to several streams on the Hambantota-Wellawaya and Moneragala-Pottuvil roads indicate cultivation.
In the Dry Zone, Richard Leslie Brohier noted that Vilachchiya, Anuradhapura had been irrigated and inhabited since prehistoric times. It had remnants of ancient tanks and rudimentary ponds. At Talawe, to increase the water supply the ancients blocked the Jaya Ganga river, and established a feeder channel - known as the Talawe ela - leading to a large tank at Talawa. From there water was flowed along the natural stream called Talawa oya and was diverted by anicuts to the reservoirs on the banks in the lower reaches of the valley. There are large abandoned tanks in this area.
Anuradhapura had ancient villages each covering about three hectares, from about 1100 BCE. By 10th Century BCE these settlements were using iron implements and manufacturing copper alloy artifacts. Rice was grown and there was cattle and horses breeding. There is evidence of high quality pottery, notably black and red ware. Anuradhapura excavations indicate that there were domestic chicken of a variety now extinct. The 1984 excavations showed glass beads dated to 7th-8th Century BCE as well as black Ganges Valley pottery.
Mantota was first occupied in the late Mesolithic period. Ancient food remains indicate that the diet at the time included molluscs, nails, fish, crabs, turtles. Recent excavations at Pilapitiya on the Kelani river showed that it had been a developed settlement by fourth or third Century BCE.
Lyn de Alwis noted that the remains of stupas in jungle belt, between the Menik ganga and Kumbukkan oya indicate a flourishing civilization. At Yala there is Lunu atu galge, a rock cave approx 200 feet long and as much as 30 feet wide and had evidently housed many families in ancient times. It had been partitioned with brick walls to form about a dozen rooms. The carving on the drip ledge must have been a stupendous feat, since the cave is at top of the arc at a height of some 100 feet above ground. Raj Somadeva says the present excavations at Tissamaharama indicate settlements from 9th to 7th Century BCE.
Before the construction of Veheragala reservoir, Sri Lanka's Central Cultural Fund looked for archaeological remains in the area. The study showed that the upper and lower sections of Menik Ganga river would have had a developed civilization. There is evidence of a tank based agricultural community. Bundala region between Hambantota and Tissa and the perimeter of the Yala sanctuary in Minihagalkanda, showed evidence of prehistoric humans 125,000 years ago.
Edited from Daily News (10 January 2011)
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