Surgery in an ancient kingdom

This article was originally published on The Sundaytimes paper on October 30, 2011.

Kumudini Hettiarachchi reports, Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara

The most recent “surgical” first in Sri Lanka to hit the headlines is a liver transplant from a live donor just weeks ago. Skilled surgeons, modern technology and well-equipped hospitals are prerequisites to perform complex surgery in this advanced 21st century.

Veteran archaeologist Prof. Leelananda Prematilleke, however, leaves the modern behind and takes a walk down the corridors of time to 12th Century Polonnaruwa. Not only was there a fully-functional hospital but it also had both medical equipment and surgical instruments over 800 years ago.


The 12th century hospital at Polonnaruwa


Prof. Leelananda Prematilleke


Prof Arjuna Aluvihare


The micro- balance and its box: Could be the smallest of its kind in the world


Forceps with long handle


Scalpel with wooden handle
Scissors with thick metal handle


A well-preserved spoon


Attached toilets and baths at the hospital

Surgery in an ancient kingdom

“The finds at Polonnaruwa are unique,” says Prof. Prematilleke, for it is the only hospital site from around the world in archaeological terms that a number of surgical instruments have been unearthed in addition to medical equipment.

When the Sunday Times meets Octagenarian Prof. Prematilleke, formerly Head of the Department of Archaeology of the Peradeniya University and Founder-President of the Sri Lanka Council of Archaeologists, the memories flow back to excavations by his students under his guidance in Polonnaruwa in 1981.

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