19th Ave New York, NY 95822, USA

An Ancient Burial Culture Found in Sri Lanka


An Ancient Burial Culture Found in Sri Lanka


After the Mesolithic burial practice of flexed positioned inhumations, a new way of burying dead is reported from several locations in Sri Lanka, of which the oldest examples go back to the early part of the third millennium BCE. The disintegration of the Mesolithic culture in the country is assigned to the early second millennium BCE and the new thinking on funerary practice had emerged alongside it at the terminal phase of the previous culture. The latter is represented by free-standing, oblong-shaped earthenware structures human corporeal remains inside clay vessels were interred. Contrary to the general Mesolithic practice of burying deceased singularly in cave interiors, the new way stands as graveyards containing several individual burials. Those cemeteries represent symbolic-cumritualistic behaviour of the community who succeeded the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. The geographical distribution of the identified cemeteries shows a sharp contrast with their chronologies. Eleven cemeteries are reported from three physiographic zones and six have been excavated during the last 10 years and the results have been scientifically dated. This paper discusses this new burial culture through a wider sociopolitical perspective with reference to their chronological framework.


Recovery of the evidences pertaining to burying deceased in the prehistory in Sri Lanka goes back to the late nineteenth century. Sarasin and Sarasin (1908:90) has excavated several fragments of human bones in Nilgala cave and concluded on their prehistoric origin signifying one of the earliest examples of prehistoric inhumation. The new burial practice is represented by man-made earthenware structures, which first came to light in early fifties. P.E.P. Deraniyagala has reported a single example of that tradition from Bandattara in Matara District (fourth mile post in Matara-Akuressa road) of the Southern province in 1952 (Deraniyagala 1952). It was an accidental find therefore no further investigation has been carried out on the findings. Similar structure was also come to light during the excavation in the Megalithic cemetery in Ibbankatuva of Dambulla in the Central Province in 1990 (Bandaranayake 1992). It had emerged at the northern edge of the excavation trench and subsequently misleadingly considered as a cremation platform used by the builders of the stone cists at the site. This earthenware burial culture has drawn serious attention after the recovery of a site containing similar earthen ware funerary structures in a remote village of Ranchamadama of Sabaragamuva province in 2007. It was followed by a series of findings from different localities in wet upland (WU) wet lowland (WL) and intermediate climatic (IC) zones. Some of the recovered sites have been systematically investigated (Fig 1). Jayarathne has summarized the findings elsewhere (Jayaratne and Jayaratne 2018)

Table. 1 A table showing the known burial sites and the current status of

Ranchamadama Cemetery An ancient burial ground consisting of claymade funerary chambers was excavated by a team headed by the first author of this essay during the months of June and July 2007. This site lies in a village called Ranchamadama situated about 10km northwest of the Embilipitiya town in the North western border of the South and South western dry zone of the country. The burial ground was located in a valley boarded by two low height mountain ridges of Mirisvalpota and Bandarahinna which are the foothills of the Rakvana-Bulutota Massifs (Fig. 2). This burial ground is situated in the Ranchamadama government school premises. it comprises 7 individual earthen burial structures and a single urn burial. (Fig.3). Several other funerary structures appear to buried underneath the foundations of the school buildings at the location.

Funerary Structures

The funerary structures had been constructed using burnt clay lumps of irregular size. These clay lumps are cubical in shape and
bonded together utilizing a raw clay paste. All these structures were planted on the limestone bedrock that is about one meter below the surface. What the architects of these funerary structures had done was firstly demarcate the ground plan of the structure that was intended to be built including the size and shape and then excavating the demarcated area down to the local bedrock lying a depth about one meter below the surface. Then the walls had been constructed from the bottom level of the pit along its edges. This method provided a stable surface for the walls as necessary to hold a considerable weight of the burnt clay lumps. Each structure has an oblong shape with the width at one end always greater than its other end. It shows similar characteristics of shape with that of the present day funerary casket. We infer that this setting was an intentional act that symbolized a particular idea relating to the ritual performed in association with the cremation of the corporeal remains of the
deceased, which is still unknown. A detailed observation proves that the walls of the structures were made following the piling
up of an assemblage of sun-dried bricks. A thin clay lining could be very clearly observed in between each brick suggesting that they were tightened together using a clay plaster. The sun-dried bricks used are irregular in shape. The average width of the walls does not exceed 10cm. They were constructed perpendicularly on the sandstone bedrock of the site. A thick layer of wood charcoal found at the bottom of some

Fig.1 The spatial distribution of canoe burials (clay-cist) in Sri Lanka
Fig.2 A map showing the general topography of the area around Ranchamadama

of the structures suggests that a burning event had occurred there (Fig. 4). Lack of signs that shows a proliferation of heat to a greater distance suggests that there was a discrete and controlled fire. A hole (7cm in diameter) created in one of the walls of two
structures (numbers 2 and 8) and a fragment of a terracotta pipe found inside structure 2 would have been used as an air-inlet to the interior during the cremation. The diameter of the air in-let shows a flow of limited volume of oxygen in to the funerary
structure which is inadequate to support an intensive fire. Perhaps the low intensity of firing would have been the reason for the
walls of the funerary structures were not demonstrably affected by the temperature. The climax of the ritual performance
was the deposition of the ashes of the deceased methodically as recommended by their ideological norms. What was
archaeologically observable is a dense accumulation of potsherds at the bottom with finely made microlithic blades (quartz).
Those were placed inside the earthenware vessels deposited in the funerary structures. The number of earthenware vessels
deposited in each structure varies and it seems that the variance had depended on several factors. Perhaps the availability
of the interior space could have been the practical reason and if not the social status of the deceased would have been a
decisive factor (Fig.5). After paying the last respects to the deceased, the earthenware structures had been filled. The excavation
has shown the fill was a mixture of soil with a large proportion of burnt clay lumps. It provides a clue to another activity that had
happened related to the ritual performance. It is assumed that those burnt clay lumps are the residue of a clay roof placed on the
funerary canoe at least during the time of the cremation. The upper edges of the side walls of the canoes are slightly bent inwards and it might have been the remnants characteristic of the temporary roof kept on the top of the structure while the ritual was performed. It seems that the roof had been dismantled when the cremation was over.

Fig.3 Excavated area of the canoe burial site at Ranchamadama government school premises.

A particular direction of orientation of the funerary structures is not explicit. The distribution of structures collectively suggests that there was no intention in the builders to follow any particular direction of orientation of the funerary structures. Perhaps the directional significance imposed upon the funerary rituals in early Sri Lanka the earliest recorded example of the west-east oriented funerary structures was reported from Ibbankatuva megalithic cist burial in the central province dated to the 450 BCE, would have been a result of the influx of an organized religious idea related to the major South Asian religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, at least since the early part of the first millennium BCE (Paranavitana 1970).

Funerary structure 1 (Fig.6)

Length: 2 m Width: 0.7m (maximum) Height: 0.55m (maximum) Volume: 0.57m3 Orientation: NW-SE (32Ÿ west from north)
This is located in the western boundary of the excavation area. Approximately 25% of the structure is submerged into the stone
foundation of the laboratory building of the school. The wall in the northern side of the structure was pulled inwards, perhaps due
to an external pressure. A part of the parallel side walls has been broken off while laying out the water line to the laboratory. The
eastern part of the structure has been badly disturbed by treasure hunters. A big hole measuring about 20cm in diameter is visible
at that part of the structure. Other parts of the interior were intact when the excavation was carried out. Rim sherds collected from
the interior space show that 6 earthenware pots had been placed inside the structure.

Fig 4. A detailed photograph of Funerary Structure 2 which contains a thick layer of wood charcoal
Fig. 5 A table showing the relationship between three variables i.e (i) volume of each canoe (ii) number of pots deposited and (iii) associated vessels shapes of the Ranchamadama canoe burial site.
Fig .6 A detailed photograph of Funerary Structure 1.

Funerary structure 2 (Fig.4)

Length: 2.36 m Width: 0.84m (maximum)Height: 0.70m (maximum) Volume: 1.042m3 Orientation: SW-NE This is one of the well preserved funerary structures remaining in the site. A special feature observed here was a hole (c.9 cm) that appeared on the southern wall. It was at a point 58 cm below the upper level of the structure. During the excavation, a piece of a burnt clay pipe (diameter 8.5cm and the diameter of the hole 3.5cm) was recovered from the interior. It would have been fixed into the hole visible on the southern wall at the time when the funerary structure was in use. The total number of fragmented pots

Funerary structure 3 (Fig.7)

Length: 2.87 m Width: 0.55m (maximum) Height: 0.70m (maximum) Volume: 0.87m3 Orientation: NE-SW (42Ÿ to east from north) This is the largest individual funerary structure found at the site. For some reason the parallel walls were slightly pushed towards the interior at the centre. The total number of earthenware pots reported from the interior is 18.

Funerary structure 4 (Fig.8)

Length: 2.5 m Width: 0.65m (maximum) Height: 0.55m (maximum) Volume: 0.89m3 Orientation: N-S This structure had been looted and the artefacts that remained are considerably de-contextualized. A sign of a robber pit is still visible towards its centre. Only a single rim shred and 332 body shreds have been reported from the interior. The total weight of the earthenware shreds collected is 1.479kg. The entire collection comprises the plain red ware type.

Funerary structure 5 (Fig.9)

Length: 1.48 m Width: 0.62m (maximum) Height: 0.35m (maximum) Volume: 0.32m3 Part of this structure is submerged into the foundation wall of the adjacent school building. The earthenware assemblage recovered from the interior comprises 13 rim shreds, 7 neck pieces and 229 body shreds. The total number of identified earthenware pots reported from the interior of the funerary structure is 9.

Funerary structure 6 (an urn burial) Fig 10

This is a location of a single urn burial. The only remaining evidence of that is a part of an earthenware vessel. It is an earthenware tray. Several quartz implements were also

Fig. 7 A detailed photograph of Funerary Structure 3.

found in association with this location.

Funerary structure 7 (Fig. 11)

Length: 2.64 m Width: 0.95m (maximum) Height: 0.35m (maximum) Volume: 0.74m3 This is situated close to the structure number
5 in the immediate west of it. It had been disturbed during the construction of the nearby school building. The total number of

Fig .8 A detailed photograph of Funerary Structure 4.
Fig .9 A detailed photograph of Funerary Structure 5.

earthenware pots that was deposited inside the structure is 12.


The artefacts recovered from those 7 individual funerary structures are 3 fold. (i) fragments of earthenware vessels and a piece
of terracotta pipe (ii) Microlithic implements (quartz & chert) and (iii) Beads (terracotta).

Fig.10 A detailed photograph of Funerary Structure 6 (an urn burial)

Detailed descriptions of those artefacts are presented in the following section.

Stone implements (Fig.12)

Total individual specimens of stone implements recovered are 1334 except the fragments classified as debitage. Basic classification was conducted following the visible technological attributes on the specimens. Each implement was
subjected to a thorough observation under a microscope of 10x/20 magnification. Statistical calculations have shown that
the length of the individual implements consisted in the assemblage does not exceed 55 millimeters. Median value of 34.6mm
suggests that the entire assemblage can be divided into two size categories while taking the median value as a mid-point.
Indexing of the technological attributes suggests several technological preferences. Unifacial trimming, percussion-flaking and form trimming were the most favored techniques that (only three hafted specimens are present) prevailed, as proved by the attribute index. Majority of the specimens in the assemblage is made out of quartz (cryptocrystalline) that has a microcrystalline structure. Quartz used for the stone implement industry in Ranchamadama was derived from a local source as suggested by the findings of several row lumps of microcrystalline quartz on the slopes of the Uda Ranchamadama hill situated nearby (see section 3 below). Very few chert implements present in the assemblage are also associated with a locally available deposit situated about 0.75 meters southwest of the cemetery.

Pottery – Only three ware categories of earthenware exist in the excavated assemblage, namely (a). Plain Red Ware (b). Black and Red ware (BRW) and (c). Buff ware. The occurrence of the two latter categories is comparatively low. Close observations carried out on the BRW suggest that they were crudely manufactured and only confined to a few large vessels. Some of the plain ware vessels carry paddle marks on the exterior surface. Total major rim types present are 7 including 84 sub types (Fig.13)

Ancient house floor in Uda Ranchamadama (Fig.14)

The location selected for the excavation is situated on a slope of a low height mountain about 2000 feet above the mean sea level.
It is situated about 3 kilo meters northwest to the Ranchamadama cemetery. Uda Ranchamadama alias Udahagoda (lit. a hamlet in the upper terrace) as the location is known to the villagers, was the only location situated at such a high elevation in the area that had a hamlet. A dense scattering of ancient potsherds even including BRW

Fig .11 A detailed photograph of Funerary Structure 7.
Fig .12 Some of the finest stone implements (quartz) excavated from the burials in Ranchamadama
Fig. 13 Form A-E of the rim shreds excavated in Ranchamadama.

suggest that the history of the settlements on the summit of this hillock was not of recent occurrence, and could be extended at least as far back as the early first millennium CE. Local topography of the immediate surroundings of the excavated location
has a slope gradient of approximately 10 degrees from north to south. This slope gradient was formed through continuous
erosion of the high elevation further north of the terrain. Removal of the top soil has shown the previous flattened surface of the
original earth of the terrain. Two recent man-made features visible at the site are; (a). a Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa) planted
in the year 1928 and (b). a semi-permanent shelter functioned as a village temple called Sri Jayabodharama viharaya constructed
in 2008. It was noted that the construction activities of the latter had disturbed the archaeological content of the subsurface of
the site to a certain degree. It was decided to investigate the site in order to understand its relationship with the cemetery excavated

Layout, methodology & stratigraphy

A trench measuring 9.60x 8.60 meters was excavated to a maximum depth of a meter down to the bedrock. Two soil layers were
excavated. Layer 1 is a dusty deposit (7.5 YR 4/4, loose compaction, sand (42%) /silt (58%) composition) that has been formed as
a result of erosion. Maximum thickness of this layer is 0.32 meters at the thickest point of the excavated area. The cultural materials present (ancient potsherds, fragments of 19th century porcelain) in this layer have an allocathonus origin. Especially the ancient potsherds that appeared in this layer were derived from the subsurface as a result of digging shallow pits by the village farmers for Banana cultivation. Layer 2 is an undisturbed deposit overlaid

Fig.14 A ground plan of the excavated ancient house-floor in Uda Ranchamadama

on the bedrock. It has a hard compaction (10YR 4/4 (brown) and clay (77.27%) / silt (22.72%) composition. The rich content
of artefacts in this layer suggests that the original occupational level of the site was associated with this level. Prominent
artefacts recovered are ancient potsherds including BRW, several specimens of finely made stone implements (quartz and chert)
and clay beads. An ancient house floor that was unearthed in this layer was the major man-made feature recovered during this
year’s excavation.

Excavated house floor

A scattering of rubble stones unearthed has been identified as an ancient house
floor. It emerged in the eastern sector of the excavation trench. The remains consist of a thick rubble pavement overlaid on

Fig .15 A painted pot excavated from Uda Ranchamadama: after conservation

the bedrock. The dimension of this rubble pavement is 10.20 x 6.80 meters. Four postholes (30cm diameter) are situated about 1
meter away from the rubble foundation in the northern sector which is identified as the backyard of the house, that would have
been the remnants of the wooden pillars which held the roof of the kitchen. Rubble pavement was not extended up to that area.
Depth of the eastern side of the trench is 28cm at its south western edge. The house floor has two levels i.e. the lower level in
the front portion and the upper level in the rare portion. The level difference between these two is 70cm. A rubble foundation that
was used to partition the interior space of the house is still intact. Excavation of this structure has yielded a set of different utility
artefacts as mentioned in the sections above.

Table 2. Calibrated 14C dates of the excavated burial sites in Sabaragamuva and Uva Provinces


Stone implements – the total number of individual stone implements recovered is 32 [30 quartz and 2 chert implements.
All of them were deposited in a single context (layer 2). The assemblages of quartz implements comprise finely made specimens
which correspond to a diverse technological domain. The chert implements recovered are comparatively larger than the
rest of the implements in the assemblage. Pottery – Three ware types are available in the assemblage namely (a) Plain red
ware (b) Black and Red ware (c) Red painted on white buff ware. Total number of 9 individual forms of vessels has been

Painted pottery (Fig.15) – A collection of painted potsherds has been recovered from the bottom level of the trench. Red lines
(strait) painted on a white surface are the major characteristic of this type. Production technology of these shreds was standardized as suggested by their high quality paste and texture. The collection is confined to buff ware. Two types of the vessels are represented in the collection. This special type has been designated in this article as the ‘Galpaya Ware’ after the first discovery in 2008 at site 15 in Galpaya of the Rathnapura District (v. Somadeva et al 2008). Galpaya

Painted pottery (Fig.15) – A collection of painted potsherds has been recovered from the bottom level of the trench. Red lines
(strait) painted on a white surface are the major characteristic of this type. Production technology of these shreds was standardized as suggested by their high quality paste and texture. The collection is confined to buff ware. Two types of the vessels are represented in the collection. This special type has been designated in this article as the ‘Galpaya Ware’ after the first discovery in 2008 at site 15 in Galpaya of the Rathnapura District (v. Somadeva et al 2008). Galpaya ware is synonymous with buff colour earthen vessels red painted on exterior (line design) surface and ash colour painted on the surface of the bottom.

Designs on potsherds – One of the specific characteristics observed in the assemblage of potsherds are the presence of linear designs which are not familiar with the later traditions (Fig.16). Intricacy and the aesthetic quality of such have a high esteem but
the main problem remains the understanding of the source of inspiration of that kind of sensory perception. Careful manipulation of these designs may suggest that utility value of them is overwhelmed by the demand of an aesthetic appeal rather than a socioanthropological embededness.

A terracotta figurine – A single piece of artistic expression found is a broken terracotta figurine. It is a sculpture that has two arms projected on both sides from a stem like short cylindrical body and finally turned upward (Fig.17). The present sculpture had a
single arm remaining intact and the other one has been broken. The tips of these arms are slightly and bluntly pointed. The fabric of the sculpture is medium textured. This sculpture could be compared with a similar object found in Kayatha perod II dated to 1300 BCE (Sankalia 1974:432). The latter was identified as a representation of a bull. Clay disk – Total number of clay disks found was eleven. Most of them are fragmented and deposited in context 2. No significant external characteristic exists on these

Fig.16 Different designs depicted on the excavated potsherds.

identified as a representation of a bull.

Clay disk – Total number of clay disks found was eleven. Most of them are fragmented and deposited in context 2. No significant external characteristic exists on these clay disks. Computation of dimensions of each disk (diameter vs thickness) shows a statistical relationship (0.72%). significance. Available sample is not adequate for a further analysis.

Fig .17 The terracotta figurine (probably a manifestation of a stylized bull) excavated from the interior of the ancient house floor at Uda Ranchamadama
g .18 Fragments of the iron objects excavated from the ancient house floor at Uda Ranchamadama.

Metal objects – In comparison with the stone implements, presence of the metal objects is meagre. 4 pieces of metal objects (iron)
are badly corroded except the broken kohl stick. Fragments of the iron objects (Fig.18) perhaps belonged to several knifes that had
been used for domestic purposes. Several pieces of iron slags were also reported from context 2. Laboratory analysis is underway
to establish the relationship between the slags and the iron implements recovered. Faunal remains – Most of the faunal remains
excavated are fragmented into small pieces. Some of them carry cut marks and it suggests the use of a sharp iron object to process meat. Three species (Sambhur [Cervus unicolor], Spotted deer [Axis axis] and Wild boar [Sus scrofa]) have been
identified from the assemblage (Welianga and Ranasinghe 2010:183). Grind stones and pestles (Fig.19)- Three grind stones (granite) and two pestles have been recovered from inside of the house floor. Surface characteristics suggest that all of them are highly utilized.

A petroglyph – A black colour water-born pebble stone (gneiss) was recovered from the inside of the excavated house floor
(context 2). It was well rounded (but not globular) and has seemingly a crescent type appearance (width 21mm, length 17mm
and thickness 12mm) forming two surfaces. The peculiarity of this pebble stone is it carries a line crossing its mid-point on one
of the surfaces. This could be identified as a petroglyph but its functional domain in obscure.

Fig .19 Photograph of the grind stones and pestles excavated from Uda Ranchamadama

Excavation at Haldummulla Cemetery

A location of archaeological importance was identified in late December 2009 in Haldummulla of the Haputale Divisional
Secretary’s territory of the Badulla District in Uva province. This location is on a minor road leading to the Tamil school of Haldummulla. The place was first observed on 23rd December 2009 and identified as a burial site which is almost similar to the
one that was excavated in Ranchamadama. (Somadeva 2010; Somadeva 2014). Initially parts of a single clay canoe were found
exposed due to the erosion of the tar-layer of the existing road. The excavation was initiated in the year 2010. (v. Somadeva 2010). Fieldwork was carried out for a period of six weeks since 14th August 2010.

The Site

Funerary structures are situated at a location of a rolling terrain of the southern slope of the central highland (Fig.20). The
approximate elevation of the area around the present site is 1010m MSL. The existing slope angle of 42º suggests a localised
aggradational environment dominated by the continuous erosion and sometime the occurrence of destructive landslides
towards an eastern direction. According to the information provided by the local inhabitants, this road was a foot-path before
it was widened in order to make access to the newly constructed Tamil school in 1970s. The road functioned as one of the
main access paths to the Soragune Devala (Shrine devoted to the God Skanda) which is a highly venerated sacred space since 18th
century. The surrounding landscape of the location was subjected to intensive recent modifications during the process of widening of the road. Use of heavy machinery for ground levelling had made destructive consequences to the funerary structures in the sub-surface. The surface of the banks on either side of the road consists of a low density scattering of artefacts including
ancient potsherds and burnt clay lumps that could be identified as the remnants belonging to the burials.

Fig .20 Excavated Funerary Structures in the public road extended to the Government Tamil School in Haldummulla
Fig.21 Funerary Structure 1 in Haldummulla


There is no complex stratigraphy observed at the excavated location. Only two soil horizons were recorded. The upper layer
is a deposit that has two morphological characteristics. It has a sedimentary characteristic which was enhanced by the
slope gradient of the terrain. The content derived from the decomposition of the leaf fall and the accumulation of cow-dung is
the other constituent of this layer. Ancient potsherds found here would have been occurred due to the disturbances at the site
during the road construction. The second layer is the basal one that was developed through the weathering of the parent rock.
This layer is devoid of any cultural material. The burial structures were planted in this layer. Interface between these two soil layers is very clear.

Funerary structures (Cluster ‘A’)

Excavation has yielded two clusters of earthenware funerary structures. Cluster A is situated at a middle level of the slope
in the midst of the road leading to the Tamil School. Cluster B is at a location bordering the school premises to the left of
the road. Cluster A – This cluster consists of three individual funerary structure (no. 1, 2 &3) constructed a few meters apart.
Orientation of all the canoes is north-south. Careful study suggests that this placement was intentional as a precaution from the
predictable hazards caused by the flow of rain water in the slope where the structures were constructed.

Funerary structures 1 (Fig.21)

This is the largest in the cluster (L.2.95m x W.0.98 x D.0.50m). Close observations suggest that the distal end was damaged
during the road construction. However the charcoal layer on the bottom is less affected by such activities. An assemblage of ancient potsherds was recovered from the interior of this structure. Earthenware recovered includes Black and Red ware and Plain Red ware shreds. In comparison with other clay canoes excavated in Ranchamadama, one of the peculiar characteristics observed in this structure is the void space reserved at the proximal end of the interior. Neither the fire nor vessel deposition was involved with this space. Purpose of this act is unclear.

Fig .22 Funerary Structure 2. It was damaged during the construction of the road where it is situated.

Funerary structures 2 (Fig. 22)

(L.1.95m, W.0.8m, D.0.52). This had been destroyed through various activities during the recent times. Most obvious and
crucial among them was digging a trench to systematize the drainage as a part of the road construction by the local government
authorities. Interior space was totally destroyed and only remaining parts are its walls on the southern side.

Funerary structures 3 (Fig. 23)

(L.1.85m, W.0.9m, D.0.43m). Distal end of this structure has been destroyed by the road workers. Excavation of the interior space has revealed an accumulation of modern garbage including fragments of liquor bottles. A small pit observed at the proximal end of this canoe is a hole dug out by treasurehunters. Several potsherds of urns deposited in the interior were discovered. Cluster B – Another two earthenware funerary structures observed at a place situated about 75 meters east to cluster A. These two were remaining in-tact by the side of the same road and just in front of the Tamil school (orientation north-south). Due to the time constraints only a single structure in the cluster was excavated.

Fig .23 Funerary Structure 3 damaged of by the construction of drainage system

Funerary structure 1 – (Fig. 24)

(L.1.43m, W.0.58m, D.0.55m). This is a relatively small funerary structure in comparison with the other excavated burials. The characteristic feature observed during the excavation was a log of burnt wood remaining on the bottom of the structure. Except quartz stone implements several natural stones that were of a metallic origin were also discovered from the interior. It appears that such stones were purposely deposited together with the stone implements.


Except 36 kg of ancient potsherds excavated, the other artefacts excavated are (a). stone implements (quartz) and (b). a fragment of iron.

Funerary structures from Beragala

This is a location that was identified at a gravel road leading to the village Kalupahana in Beragala. Two earthenware funerary structures were identified. Excavation was carried out in order to safeguard the archaeological content as they are in an endangered condition. Walls of two earthenware funeral structures were exposed in two independent locations in this gravel
road situated about 100 meters apart. Both these structures had been exposed during the process of lay outing the gravel road in
a recent period. It seems that the upper level of the burial canoes had been covered with a soil mass that has 2 to 4 meters thickness before they were exposed by the heavy machineries. The mass deposition of soil would have been result of continuous soil erosion generated from the upper levels of the surrounding landscape.

Structure 1 (Fig. 25)

This is the larger (L.2.95m x W.0.98 x D.0.50m) in comparison with the other. Close observations suggest that the width of the distal end of the canoe is smaller than that of the proximal end. However a most peculiar characteristic observed during
the excavation was the lack of evidence pertaining to cremation of corporeal remains inside the canoe as experienced
in Ranchamadama and Haldummulla cemeteries. Charcoal was available in the interior but the density is not adequate
to prove that there was a cremation. The charcoal found there would have been carried with the burnt corporeal remains
from another place. If so, such a practice shows us an important phase of evolution of the funerary custom that had been associated with those burials. An assemblage of ancient potsherds was recovered from the interior of this structure.

Funerary structures 2

This structure (L 225cm,W. 75cm) is situated about 38 meters southwest of canoe Orientation was east-west. According to the information furnished by the villagers it was looted by someone. Unconsolidated soils in the interior suggest a recent filling.

Fig .24 Another Funerary Structure situated close to the Tamil School in Haldummulla

Was there a hierarchy?

The burials are a rich source of information for archaeologists. Various characteristics of such, for instance, the diversity and the
selection of grave goods, the posture of the corpus deposited and its orientation provided some important clues to understand the way that the ancient people had conceptualized their afterlife and their customs of treating different social status including power, age and gender. The salient factors reflecting diversity among the individual funerary structures in Ranchamadama are their sizes and the number of earthenware pots.

Fig .25 Excavated Funerary Structure in Beragala.
Fig.26 A graph showing the relationship between the volume of the Funerary Structures and the individual pots deposited inside the each Funerary Structure.

deposited inside each structure. Three burial canoes that had been disturbed by treasure hunters were excluded from the analysis. The relationship between two variables of the burial canoes i.e. volume of the interior space and the number of pots deposited in each funerary structure show that the association between these two variables was not a random occurrence (Fig.26). The existence of the two urn burials deposited in shallow pits provide an explicit indicator of a ‘difference’ contrasting with the burial canoes. This difference would have occurred either due to difficulties to access the resources and/or the technology and the difference of perspective towards the dead. Two urn burials excavated show simplicity of appearance and material content, perhaps a passive reflection of a social difference of the community that used the burials. To carry forward this hypothesis needs a series of absolute dates.


Three burial sites recovered from Kalaotuvava (135. ± 51 cal. BCE) (Perera 2000) and Dummalasuriya (86–345 CE) Nikavalamulla (384 BCE -170 CE) (Dissanayake 2009) are belong to slightly later periods. It may suggest that this burial tradition originated in the hilly regions where the oldest burials are scattered and had drifted towards the valleys in the later periods.


Bandaranayake, S. 1992. The Settlement Patterns of the Protohistoric- Early Historic Interface in Sri Lanka. South Asian Archaeology1989, Papers from the Tenth International Conference of South Asian Archaeologists in Western Europe, Musee national des Arts asiatiques, Guimet, Paris, France, 3-7July 1989. Monographs in World Archaeology No.14. C. Jarrige (Eds.), 15-24pp. Madison Wisconsin: Prehistory Press.

Deraniyagala, P.E.P. 1952. A Curious Clay Cist from South Ceylon – Prehistoric or Medieval? Ceylon Today, November 1952 Vol. I No. 3, The Ceylon Government Information Department.

Dissanayake, R. 2009. Meti Oru Susana ha Shavopachara Puravidyava: Puravidya Pashchath Upadhi Ayathanaya magin sidukala Ruwanwella Nikawalamulla Kenim viyaprutiya, (In Sinhala) (Clay Canoe burials and mortuary Archaeology: Ruwanwella Nikawalamulla Excavation Project conducted by the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology) A preliminary report, Available
in the Library of the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology, Colombo.

Jayaratne, D.K. and J.D.K. Jayaratne 2018. An ancient clay canoe burial tradition in Sri Lanka. Proceedings of the International Conference on the Humanities and the Social Sciences (ICHSS) – 2018, 285-289pp. Peradeniya: University of Peradeniya.

Paranavitana, S. 1970. Inscriptions of Ceylon Volume 1, part1. Colombo: Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka.

Perera, N. 2000. Excavation of Early Historic Clay Cist Graves at Attanagalla Kalotuwawa in Gampaha district. (unpublished manuscript), Excavation branch. Colombo: Department of Archaeology.

Sankaliya, H. D. 1974. The Prehistory and Protohistoryof India and Pakistan. Poona: Deccan Collage.

Sarasin, P. and F. Sarasin 1908. Ergebnisse Naturwissenschafilicher Forschungen auf Ceylon. 4: die Steinzeit auf Ceylon. Wiesbaden: C.W. Kreidel.

Somadeva, R. and N. de Silva 2008. The Galpaya Survey Report of the first field season 2006.Occasional paper No. 1, (May 2008).
Colombo: Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology.

Somadeva, R. 2010. Archaeology of Uda walve Basin. Occasional Paper No. 2 (2010), Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology. Colombo: Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology.

Somadeva, R. 2014. The Archaeology of Mountains Holocene Adaptations of Prehistoric Hunter-gatherers. Occasional Paper No. 3
(2014), Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology. Colombo: Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology.

Welianga, W. and S. Ranasinghe 2010. Analysis of Faunal Remains.., in Archaeology of Uda Walava Basin (R. Somadeva Eds.), 183-185 pp. Occasional Papers No.2 (2010), Colombo: Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology

Related Posts

error: Content is protected !!