Trails of a Vanishing Nation; The Sinhalese

The Sinhalese are the first to inhabit and civilize the fertile lands of Lanka. Archaeological evidence comes in great aid when researching the earliest history of Sri Lanka and this article will present some of the significant archaeological findings to recognize the earliest footsteps of the Sinhalese.

The history of the oldest known human settlement in Sri Lanka dates back to 125,000 years the present. There is a lacking of literature sources or inscriptional records which belongs to this period.

There was an established civilization already existing in Sri Lanka when the Aryan groups started to migrate during the 6th century BC. Aryan migrations occurred far before the 6th century BC. The Sinhalese inhabitants of Sri Lanka had developed an agricultural culture by the 6th century BC. Archaeological evidence proves this. So it is time to give up the idea that ‘Vijaya’ landed with his men and ‘taught’ the Sinhalese about ‘culture’ and ‘civilization’. There is enough evidence to say that Homo sapiens walked on this land since the Palaeolithic period. The Balangoda culture, which is the Microlithic period of Sri Lanka was spread in the Horton plains, Punarin (The northern part of the island), and Mankulam, Miniha gal Kanda. There are remains of the Microlithic period found in these sites, which are dated from 28,000 BC to 9500 BC. Many artefacts have been discovered from Sri Lanka that has been identified as belonging to the Palaeolithic period.

Artefacts belonging to the Mesolithic period have been discovered in various locations in Sri Lanka, and they can be dated as belonging to the period of 15000 BC to 10000 BC.

A Megalithic culture (800 BC- 100BC) was spread in almost all over the island. Some of the sites are Pomparippuwa, Guru gal hinna, Kathira weli, Padiyagampola, and the banks of river Walawe. During this period the Sinhalese produced and used iron, red and black ware, established settlements, irrigation and agriculture.

Archaeological evidences in a chronological order
Bundala (Pathiraja wela) – 125,000 years BP human settlements

Pahiyangala (Balangoda) – 31,000 years BP Homo sapiens settlements and human remains (Mesolithic period)

Kuruwita Batadombalena (a cave site) – 28,000 years BP

108 sites were identified in Sri Lanka with evidence of a human settlement as old as 500,000 years BP to 5000 years BP.

The oldest known evidence of agriculture in Sri Lanka was found in the Horton plains, which is 20,000 years BP to 15,000 years BP. Evidences of Oats and Barley are found here.

Anuradhapura Salgahawaththa excavations revealed that from the 8th century BC there was an urban civilization in Anuradhapura, with its inhabitants using iron, domestication of horses, paddy cultivation and producing pottery. These are characteristics of early urban civilizations.
It is clear that the earliest inhabitants of Sri Lanka who are the early ancestors of the Sinhalese have a history which is 125,000 years of antiquity.

It is a fact that the Aryans migrated from the northern or central Asian plains to many parts of Asia and then to Sri Lanka too. By the time they arrived, Sri Lanka was a land with a civilized human civilization, its inhabitants used to cultivate their own food, knew agriculture, and irrigation methods, produced and used iron and pottery, and had their own burial rituals and beliefs of an afterlife, organized burial grounds, domesticated horses, and even produced beautiful bead jewellery.

Therefore, it is baseless to hand over the responsibility for the urbanization of Sri Lanka to some foreign migrators by ignoring such clear archaeological evidence. By the time Aryans migrated, Anuradhapura, the pride of the Sinhalese, had already upgraded into a state of an urban centre.

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