History of the Department of Archeology

The Department of Archaeology commenced its duties 1890. However, the ground-work related to archaeological activities took place many years before, during the governance of Sir Hercules Robinson. In 1868, seven years after the initiation of a archaeological survey in India, the Ceylon Government (now Sri Lanka), appointed a Committee to obtain information regarding the ancient architectural works of Ceylon. In 1871, an excellent series of photographs of the principle structures of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa was taken with the financial and other assistance provided by the Government of the Island.
In the year 1873, Governor Sir William Gregory issued instructions for a complete survey to be undertaken. Therefore, a site survey of ancient Anuradhapura began during this year. The pioneering work carried out by J.G. Smither, titled “Architectural Remains of Anuradhapura”,  comprising information of dagabas and certain other ruined structures, was released in 1894.

Between 1875-1879 a partial search of ancient inscriptions and original records was carried out and they were collected under Government Authority, by Professor P. Goldschmidt who became the founder of Sinhalese Epigraphy. E. Muller and Maha Mudaliyar. L.W. de Zoysa continued this work.

During the years 1884-1886, Mr. Burrows (of Ceylon Civil Service) was assigned the responsibility of supervising the archaeological matters related to monuments and other antiquities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. The thick jungle had to be cleared. Old roads were restored. New roads were constructed. Schemes for further excavations were drawn up. Exploration was encouraged by supplying information regarding archaeological sites and objects. A local Museum was opened to house the “Curios” (then called) and preserve the sculptures and paintings that had escaped destruction by the ravages of time and the rapacious hands of  vandals.

Much work had been done thereafter by way of preliminary investigations. On the 07th of July, 1890, Sir Arthur Gordon, then Governor of Ceylon, directed Mr. H.C.P. Bell (of Ceylon Civil Service) to commence archaeological operations of the North Central Province. This marked the official birthday of scientific archaeology in the Island.

Mr. H.C.P. Bell commenced his duties by dividing the field of Archaeology into various sections. However, his main duties dealt with exploration. Thus the archaeological excavations revealed artefacts of exceptional value. Attention continued to be paid to rock inscriptions as well as the study of rock inscriptions. Explorations undertaken at Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa yielded results of exceptional interest. The discovery of murals in 1897 at Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa proved most rewarding. In 1898, a Commission was appointed to consider the whole field of Archaeological activities.

Archaeological activities of Sri Lanka, can be categorized into two periods of time. The initial period is the Colonial period whilst the latter is the Independent period. The Colonial period was administered by British officers where as  the Independent period was managed and administered by Sri Lankans. The first Sri Lankan to be appointed the head of the Department was Dr. S. Paranavithana.

The list of Heads of the Department of Archaeology

             Name of the Officer
1884-1886     Mr. S.M. Burrows     
1890-1892     Mr. H.C.P. Bell     
1892              Mr. Levers (Acting)     
1893-1912     Mr. H.C.P. Bell     
1912-1913     Mr. R. Ayrton     
1913-1914     Mr. B. Constantine (Acting)     
1914-1918     Mr. H. R. Freeman (Acting)     
1918-1920     Mr. F.G. Tyrrel (Acting)     
1920-1921     Mr. A.W. Seymour (Acting)     
1921-1922     Mr. G.F.R. Browning (Acting)     
1922-1923     Mr. A.M. Hocart     
1923-1924     Mr. A.M. Hocart                        Mr. F. Bartlett (Acting)
1924-1925     Mr. M. Wedderburn (Acting)     Mr. E.R. Sudbury (Acting)
1925-1927     Mr. A.M. Hocart     
1927-1928     Mr. E.T. Dyson (Acting)     
1928-1929     Mr. C.F. Winzer (Acting)     
1929-1930     Mr. J. Pearson (Acting)     
1930-1931     Mr. C.F. Winzer (Acting)     
1931-1934     Mr. S. Paranavitana (Acting)     
1934-1939     Mr. A.H. Longhurst     
1940-1956     Dr. S. Paranavitana     
1956-1967     Dr. C.E. Godakumbura     
1967-1979     Dr. R.H. de Silva     
1979-1983     Dr. Saddhamangala Karunarathna     
1983-1990     Dr. Roland Silva     
1990-1992     Mr. M.H. Sirisoma     
1992-2001     Dr. S.U. Deraniyagala     
2001-2004     Dr. W.H. Wijayapala     
2004-2017 June            Prof. Senerath Dissanayake     
2017 June-2020 Jan     Prof. P.B. Mandawala(Acting)     
2020 Jan-2020 Dec      Prof. Senerath Dissanayake
2021 Jan-to date           Prof. Anura Manatunga
Department of Archaeology
Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha,
Colombo - 07, Sri Lanka.

Phone : +94 11 2692840, +94 11 2692841
Fax : +94 11 2696250
Email : info@archaeology.gov.lk
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