Unearthing our ancient culture | Daily News

Unearthing our ancient culture

Excavations in the Ibbankatuwa megalithic tombs site reveal traditions and lifestyles in ancient Sri Lanka

Culture is a term that describes the entire way of life shared by a group of people. Cultural richness includes diversity in anything that has to do with how people live: music, art, recreation, religion or beliefs, language, dress, traditions, stories and folklore, ways of organisation, ways of interacting with the environment, and attitudes toward other groups of people.

Sri Lanka too has inherited a rich culture over centuries. The Ibbankatuwa megalithic cemetery site which belongs to the Megalithic pre-historic era, is yet another indication of the rich culture of ancient Sri Lanka.

The Ibbankatuwa megalithic tombs site is an ancient burial ground located near Ibbankatuwa Wewa (Tank) in the Galewela Divisional Secretariat. The site is located 500 metres from the Kurunegala–Dambulla road, approximately five kilometres before Dambulla town.

This historical site is believed to belong to the megalithic prehistoric and proto-historic periods of Sri Lanka, estimated to be around 2,700 years ago (700 BC), and considered as one of the several ancient burial sites that have been found in the country. The prehistoric period of Sri Lanka ranges from 250,000 –1,000 BC.

The transition period between the end of the prehistoric period and the commencement of the historic period is known as the proto-historic period and the Ibbankatuwa megalithic cemetery is believed to have been constructed in this period. Hence, currently, the tomb site has been designated as an archaeological-protected site in Sri Lanka.

The Ibbankatuwa tomb site was first identified in 1970 by the Archaeological Department which carried out radiocarbon dating tests of the remnants found in the site revealed that these tombs dated back to the 700– 400 BC period. After that, a number of archaeological excavations were carried out from 1983 to 1984, and again between 1988 and 1990, under the supervision of the Archaeological Department.

“With those excavations, it has been found that 42 cemetery sites are situated close to each other. The first excavation was carried out in 1970 and then in 1983, 1988 and 1990. Further excavations are to be carried out as it is believed to have a few more cemetery sites. Even though the site spreads over approximately a six-hectare (15-acre) plot of land, excavations have been conducted on a small area so far,” an Archaeological Department officer attached to the tomb site said.

The findings of the Ibbankatuwa cemetery site indicate that there was a developed dwelling in the area in the past. This ancient Ibbankatuwa settlement is located about 150 metres southwest of the Dambulu Oya river bank and approximately 200 metres east of the eastern edge of the cemetery.

The tomb complex covers an area of about one square kilometre with 42 clusters of tombs and each cluster contains about 10 tombs. Each tomb is enclosed with four stone slabs and covered with another slab on the top. According to burial customs of those times, clay pots containing ashes of the deceased were placed in these tombs.

“It has been revealed that ashes were enclosed in clay pots of different shapes and placed in the tomb which was covered by four stone slates on the four sides. Then it was covered with another stone slab on the top. Human bones and other paraphernalia such as equipment used by them have also been found on this site,” an archaeologist said.

“Two distinct burial customs – urns (bodies were placed in urns and interred) and cists (ashes were enclosed in various shapes of clay pots) – have been identified,” he added.

According to archaeologists, cremated remains with items to be used by the deceased in the afterlife, as was the custom at that time, have been found at the site in large terracotta urns and cists. The findings include a variety of clay pots, iron, copper and gold artefacts, beads and necklaces. It is significant that certain gemstones found in some necklaces are not naturally found in Sri Lanka and therefore, it indicates that they may have been imported.

Archaeological sources revealed that Dr. Senarath Paranavithana who examined the inscriptions on the clay pots found at this site had said that they are similar to the inscriptions that appeared on the clay pots of the Mohenjo-daro and Harappa civilisations.

The centuries-old cemetery shows that even in ancient times, the dead were respected and moreover, there was a tradition of a cremation. It is important to note that the structures used at the Ibbankatuwa cemetery are similar to the ones we use in today’s cemeteries.

It can be observed that several families have been living on this site for a quite long period.

Therefore, action should be taken to provide them with alternative land and settle them elsewhere to carry out further excavations and find out more about our ancient culture.


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