Recorded history or literary fiction!
has been defined as “the time during the development of human culture
before the appearance of the written word”. (wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn)
It is also described in similar words in many of the dictionaries and
history books. It is recorded that the term was first used by Paul
Tournal who originally coined the term Pré-historique in describing the
discoveries he had made in the caves of Southern France. It came into
use in France in the 1830s to describe the time before writing, and the
word ‘prehistoric’ was introduced into the English language by Daniels
Wilson in 1851, according to data available on Wikipedia. We also use
Protohistory for the period which immediately antedates history.
The term Prehistory and Protohistory are becoming outdated now, as
with all the new technology available, and with the new thinking that is
emerging, we could have a more accurate and a better picture of man
before he invented writing. It is possible to have more accurate data on
our “pre-history”, than what we can gather from the written records of
Written documents may not be accurate or completely truthful. But
archaeological evidence cannot lie, if properly investigated, analyzed
and studied. There could be different interpretations of available data,
but with more evidence unearthed everyday, doubts could be cleared.
In his book “Prehistory”, Colin Renfrew, the world renowned
archaeologist, has given a broad overview of prehistory — human
existence that predates the development of written records—outlining the
development of the field of prehistory, or prehistoric archaeology, and
discussing the revelations that have resulted from progressively more
sophisticated analyses of archaeological remains.
Thus we could say Prehistory is becoming an open book today and what
is left for us is to decipher it.
This is what came to my mind as I began reading “Prehistoric Sri
Lanka, Late Pleistocene rock shelters and an open-air site” by Dr Nimal
Perera. (BAR International Series, 2010). May be it is time to drop the
term Prehistory and call the entire history of Mother Earth as simply
“History”, without any distinction.
Modern humans had appeared 190,000 years ago in Eastern Africa, and
true language had evolved between 50,000 to 30,000 BC, written language
had developed only about 6000 years ago. Since writing was known in the
Mediterranean region from about this period, it is possible that it was
known and probably used in our country too. Yet, the earliest written
recorded history available to us today is Dipawamsa, followed by the
Both books tell us that true civilized people arrived in our country
only 2500 years ago, from the Eastern part of India.
This is just an example of the written word having often misled and
misinformed us, clouded our thinking and distracted us from what had
really happened in the past. We owe it to P E P Deraniyagala and S U
Deraniyagala who opened the new books for us, and the writing has been
taken up by the younger generation of archaeologists like Nimal Perera
and Raj Somadeva.
Today we can read about men and women who had lived in Sri Lanka for
the past 40,000 years. We know where they lived, how they lived, what
they ate, and about the tools they had used.
The archaeologist today can tell us their story from studying the
scraps of food, the tools and other artifacts found in the caves, burial
sites and ancient settlements.
Dr Siran Deraniyagala believes that man had lived in Sri Lanka for
the past one million years.
Deraniyagala has claimed that geometric microliths found at
Batadomba-lena are about 33,000 years old, which could indicate that
Balangoda Man was technologically far advanced than the European man
because such tools found in Europe had appeared only about 14,000 years
Premathilake had found management of barley and oats on Maha Eliya
(now we call it Horton Plains) around 15,000 B.C, which is much earlier
than what has been found in India, and more recently Somadeva suggests
that there is a possibility that the Lankan man had perhaps learnt the
use of iron long before his Indian counterpart had.
But archaeology is not about an attempt to boost one nation’s
achievements over another’s, or about who was the superior race.
Based on all this knowledge, we should try to improve our lot today,
we should try to learn from the mistakes made by our ancestors, and
learn the proper use of all they had discovered and invented.
We should learn to use this knowledge in a proper manner for the
benefit of man and nature, and not misuse and abuse it, which will
eventually lead to the annihilation of mankind from the face of Mother
Earth. This is how we should read Renfrew, Deraniyagala, Perera and