Born in Ratnapura on 1 March 1942, Siran Upendra
Deraniyagala was the third son of the famous Dr. Paulus Edward Pieris Deraniyagala, Director of National Museums and Sri Lanka’s foremost naturalist and Mrs. Prini Eknaligoda Molamure. Siran Deraniyagala is representative of distinguished family ancestry, his paternal grandfather was a famous historian and civil servant/administrator and patriot Sir Deraniyagala Paulus Edward Pieris Samarasinghe Sriwardhana.
Siran Deraniyagala first began his schooling at St. Thomas’ Preparatory School, Kollupitiya, followed by a residency at its Bandarawela branch as a boarder aged nine. His secondary schooling was at St. Thomas’ College Gurutalawa and Mt. Lavinia. At age 15 he departed for London where he completed his GCE Advanced Levels in Greek, English and History in 1959. That same year, at age 17, he was the youngest entrant to the prestigious Trinity College of Cambridge University. On completion of his BA in Architecture and Sanskrit from Cambridge University in 1963, on the advice of Sir Max Mallowan and Sir Mortimer Wheeler, he enrolled at the Institute of Archaeology in London (now University College London) under the guidance of Professors Kenneth de Burgh Codrington and Frederick Zeuner. Deraniyagala completed the postgraduate diploma in 1965, at just 23 years of age. His outstanding intellect and overall performance won him the prestigious Gordon Childe Prize of the Institute of Archaeology which was awarded to the two outstanding all-round students of the year. His MA from Cambridge University followed.
Upon his return Deraniyagala joined the Department of Archaeology of the Government of Sri Lanka in 1968 as the Assistant Commissioner heading the new Excavation Branch. He was in charge of research excavations, both prehistoric and historical, throughout the Island (1968-1983).
In 1973 Siran Deraniyagala was granted a fellowship for doctoral studies at the Department of Anthropology of Harvard University. During his five years at Harvard from 1973 to 1978 he had almost individual supervision under the renowned prehistorian Professor Hallam Movius, who was assisted by Prof. C.C. Lamberg Karlovsky and Dr R. Tringham. He submitted his doctoral thesis to Harvard University in 1988, ‘The Prehistory of Sri Lanka: an Ecological Perspective, 1st edition (Deraniyagala 1988), is considered to be the first comprehensive in-depth account of the prehistory of Sri Lanka. A slightly revised 2nd edition, was published by the Department of Archaeology in 1992 under the same title.This landmark work surveyed almost the entirety of knowledge available on prehistoric archaeology in Sri Lanka at the time of writing and soon became a go-to reference work for South Asian prehistory.
In 1983, Deraniyagala relinquished his position as Assistant Commissioner of the Excavations Branch. In 1983, just seven years before the centenary of the Department of Archaeology in Sri Lanka, archaeological research was stimulated by the cabinet appointing Deraniyagala as Adviser in Excavations.
While serving as special Advisor, Deraniyagala was appointed as the Director-General of the Department of Archaeology of the Government of Sri Lanka in 1992 succeeding Mr. M. H. Sirisoma; he led the department until 2001 whereupon he retired from public service. Deraniyagala's position as Director-General of the Department of Archaeology placed him at the helm of Sri Lanka's apex institution for the management of its archaeological heritage.
His outstanding career as archaeologist chronicled by his numerous appointments and honours: Fellow of the American Archaeological Association (1991), Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences of Sri Lanka (1991), Corresponding Member of the German Archaeological Institute (1995). Member of the Permanent Council of the Union International des Sciences Prehistoriques et Protohistoriques (1996), Honorary Life President of the United Nations Association of Sri Lanka (1997), Vice President of the ICOMOS Sri Lanka (1998-1999), President of the Sri Lanka Council of Archaeologists (1998-2002). Honorary D.Sc. awarded by Sabaragamuwa University (1999), Honorary D.Litt. awarded by Peradeniva University (2001), Gold Medal of the Sri Lanka Council of Archaeologists (2004), and designated Deshabandhu in the national honours list by the President of Sri Lanka (2005).