Abstract: Archaeology in Sri Lanka: Challenges and Prospects for the Future

Lecturer: Nancy Wilkie

The island of Sri Lanka has been known by many names throughout its history: Ratnadipa, or the 'land of gems' in Buddhist Sanskrit literature, Taprobane among Greeks and Romans, Serendib to the Arabs, and Ceylon under the British Empire.  This small island, only 25,000 square miles in size, lies off the southern tip of India.  Early Iron Age culture was introduced to the island, presumably from South India, at the beginning of the First Millennium B.C., but few sites of this period are known, except for cemeteries with megalithic graves.  Archaeological work in Sri Lanka has concentrated instead on large monastic settlements which were established in the Early Historic Period, ca. 300 B.C. - 300 A.D. and mark the spread of Buddhist influence over the island. Little attention has been paid to secular sites, nor have the lower levels of most monastic sites been probed to determine the nature of earlier occupation.  Also neglected have been the remains of Hindu, Islamic and Christian sites and structures.  The challenge that lies ahead for the next generation of Sri Lankan archaeologists is the investigation of sites and regions that will provide a broader and more balanced picture of the island’s past.


Suggested Bibliography:

Nancy C. Wilkie, “Jewel of the Indian Ocean,” Archaeology (July/August 2002) 36-41. 

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