Excavation Division

This Division was established in 1968 in order to conduct research on the whole of Sri Lanka's archaeological heritage.

The role of the Excavation Division can be briefly classified as follows;

Research Excavations

  • Prehistoric
    • Prehistoric Research Excavations
    • Early Historical Period
  • Historic
  • Rescue or urgent excavations
    (Eg: excavations carried out after evaluating damages to archaeological objects)
  • Excavations carried out on behalf of special national needs (Excavation of monuments)
    (Excavations carried out prior to the conservation of Sacred sites such as stupas)

Post Excavation Analyses

  • Analysis of excavated material.
  • Writing reports
  • Compilation of archival reports
  • Storage
  • On completion of the excavation report, storage of all excavated material and handing them over to the Museum Division for research and exhibition work.

History of Excavations in Sri Lanka

The first methodical excavation of the Department of Archaeology had been carried out by Mr. S.M. Burrows in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa during 1884 to 1886. Subsequently, the exploration and excavation activities were undertaken mainly in Anuradhapura and Sigiriya with the guidance of Mr. H.C.P. Bell in 1890. Similarly archaeological excavations in Anuradhapura and other areas of the island were carried out under the supervision of Mr. E.M. Ayrton (1912-1914) and Mr. Raja De Silva (1983)

Mr. E.M. Hocart who was appointed as the Commissioner of Archaeology in Sri Lanka in 1926, carried out excavations using the method of stratification, in places such as Mathota, Pomparippu, Anuradhapura inner city and Ambalantota.

Prehistoric Research Excavations

The Excavation Division, through its research, has scientifically proved that our prehistoric heritage dates back to 125,000 years. In this aspect, red soil sand deposits along the Northern, Southern and North Western sea belts of Sri Lanka are significant. The excavations carried out in 1972 at Bundala and Pathirarawela have revealed two stages of prehistoric human settlements.

  1. Stone tools used hominids who lived during the middle early stone age, approximately 125,000 years ago, have been discovered. However human remains have not been found.
  2. Approximately 28,000 years ago, of human Settlements. It belonged to the middle stone age, Remains of humans and animals have not been found. However, a large number of micro stone tools has been found.

Research on modern humans has been conducted within prehistoric caves. Proven facts of pre-historic humans of Sri Lanka have been discovered from the cave settlements. Detailed information on means of  rituals, methods of feeding  and technology of modern humans who lived 40,000 years ago has been discovered.

This research has been initially carried out in 1979. Excavations were carried out in three caves.

  • Batadomba Cave at Kuruwita
  • Fa Hien Cave at Horana
  • Alu Lena Cave at Kegalle

“The Prehistory of Sri Lanka" by Dr. Siran Deraniyagala, "New Light on the Prehistory of Sri Lanka” by Dr. W.H. Wijayapala, embodies  the results of these excavations. Further excavations have been carried out at Batadomba Lena, Kitulgala Beli lena and Bellanbendi pelessa in order update the existing information. “Prehistory of Sri Lanka” by Dr. Nimal Perera, 2010, under the Bar International Series 2142 in England, embodies information of the modern man who lived in rock caves particularly in the low country wet zone, from the Pliestocene up to the Mid Hollocene. Thus the modern researches reveal that the cave settlements in Sri Lanka date back to 40,000 years before present. It was also discovered that  tropical rain forests existed during this period. Evidence about the earliest man who lived in South Asia have been discovered from Batadomba Lena and Pahiyangala. Very valuable information has been the discoveries made regarding the technology of microliths, rituals and the food patterns of the prehistoric man, are of extreme importance.

In discussing the existence of the modern man, archaeologist consider the "Out of Africa", theory, extremely important. The modern man appeared in East Africa about one hundred thousand years ago. About 80,000 years ago, a group of the modern men proceeded to Europe through Seenahi peninsula where as another group proceeded to Australia through Asia. Scientists believe that the Southern Access Route was of major importance. From Seenahi, these men migrated to Australia along the Arabian coast through Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia. Therefore, the oldest evidences of the modern man have been discovered in Sri Lanka.

According to the research undertaken hitherto, prehistoric information of Sri Lanka consists of several contexts.

  1. Iranamadu soil formation - These are spread along the Northern, Southern and Northwestern coasts.
  2. Rock caves - available throughout the island, but predominant in Kegalle, Ratnapura and Kalutara districts in the southwestern region of the low country wet zone.
  3. Prehistoric open air sites - Bellanbendipelessa. Excavations undertake in 2005 have revealed that the site dates back to 13,000 years.
  4. Reddish brown soil zone - Is indigenous to the Dry zone. This is spread over one hundred thousand sites. It has been scientifically concluded that the citadel of Anuradhapura is approximately 5000 years old.
  5. Prehistoric sea shell Deposits - Excavations carried out at the prehistoric site of Miniethiliya in Hungama have established that the site is approximately 2,800 years old.
  6. Matota - This represents the final stage of the stone age. It has been scientifically established that the place is 1800 year old.

The pahiyangala excavation project in Horana, 2007 started with the intention of up dating the information relating to caves in Sri Lanka. The Basic aim of the project was to update the excavation undertaken by Dr. Wijayapala in 1986 using modern technology. Four soil stratas discovered for the first time were analysed in detail. It was identified that the soil stratas had extended to more than one hundred in number. This project is carried out with the research contribution of Professor Ion Simpson of the Geo Physics Department of Starlin University in Scotland. The Following studies have been undertaken.

  • Detailed study of soil
  • Analysis of thin soil layers
  • Analysis of pollen
  • Study of microliths
  • Microlith technology
  • Analysis of animal remains

Protohistoric Research Excavations

This represents the period between the prehistoric and the historic period. It reflects advanced cultural characteristics. Although no evidence has been found regarding the use of letters in Sri Lanka during this period, there is evidence on advanced pottery technology, taming of animals, use of iron and crop cultivation. According to the researches conducted hitherto this period extends from 1300 B.C. up to 250 B.C. This period is known as the protohistoric iron age and a very significant feature of this period was the expansion of funerary culture, Findings from the excavations at Pomparippu, Yapahuwa, Kokebe, Yatigalpotta (750 B.C.), Ibbankattuwa (700 B.C) Kalotuwa (250 B.C) and Ranchamadama (1300 B.C.) bear evidences to prove this effect. It has been established that this culture prevailed upto the last stage of the early historic period.

Early Historic Age

Very important places during the period.

  • Citadel of Anuradhapura
  • Tissamaharama
  • Kantharodei

Citadel of Anuradhapura

The Citadel represents the historic period from 5th century B.C. up to 11 A.D. The citadel of Anuradhapura has been named a World Heritage City by the UNESCO of the citadel. Excavations was initially undertaken  by Dr. Siran Deraniyagala in 1969. A detailed report on this excavation has been published in “Ancient Ceylon.

They were about;

  • Culturally distinguishable periods
  • Technology relating to clay utensils and the use of iron.
  • Means of livelihood
  • Town planning.

The intention of this excavation was the archaelogical establishment of the historical position of Ruhuna. The history of Ruhuna has been dated back to 1000 years in the pre-Christian era. Embodying the research findings, Volume I and II  of 'Ancient Ruhuna' has been already published whereas Volume III is scheduled to be published by the end of 2011 and Volume IV, in 2012.


Kantharodei is also a very important place. Here, the excavations were undertaken for the first time by Mr. P.E.P. Deraniyagala in 1940. Subsequently Wimala Beggley and Bennet Bronson of the University of Pensylvania conducted research work here as a Cooperative Excavation Research Project, in 1972.

The main objective of this research was to have an idea on soil deposits of Kantharodei which were contemporary to those in the citadel of Anuradhapura. According to the excavating technology available at the time, only meager information could be obtained. However, it was discovered that the place had had its origin in the 5th century B.C. In order to alleviate the discrepancies, the Department of Archaeology has planned a scientific excavation to be undertaken in 2011. The principal objective of this planning is to discover the sequence of deposits of the period of original settlements in the early historic period and the subsequent settlements as well as to decide scientifically their chronological order.

Excavation of Monuments

Before conserving a religious monument such as a stupa, as a national prioroty, the Department of Archaeology practises the policy of conducting a systematic research excavation in revealing facts about the original period of the construction of the stupa as well as the subseqnent periods of its renovation.

01. Excavations in Sandagiriya Stupa at Tissamaharama
  In view of the haphazard conservation work, there appeared unforeseen cracks in this stupa. As this was a need of the country, prior to commencement of the conservation work, research excavations in the stupa were undertaken with a view to find the period of original construction of the stupa and the periods of subsequent renovations. As a result, very significant cultural and historical facts could be found. Remains of animals consumed as food by the then man and stone implements used by him have been discovered which bear testimony that the place was a prehistoric human settlement. In the absence of samples suitable for scientific dating, dates could not be decided scientifically. A subsequent gap between the human settlements and black and red ware clay utensils belonging to the year 900 BC. have been discovered while an idea on the iron technology that prevailed during the period has also been obtained. Archaeological evidence has been discovered to the effect that this stupa was constructed by King Mahanaga as mentioned in the Chronicles. The research conducted has scientifically established that this stupa belongs to 2nd century B.C.
02. Kota Vehera At Deliwala
  The excavations revealed evidence to prove that the original stupa belongs to the 2nd century B.C. Another special feature found here is the well preserved relic chamber. Among the large number of antiquities that were discovered, cloth , glass beads and a small replica of a chetiya covered with a cloth embossed with pearl beads were of special interest. On the invitation of the Department of Archaeology, Mrs. Judith Cameron, and expert on textiles at the National University of Australia, is currently conducting chemical research on these cloth which have been identified as silk.
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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