It is proven that Sri Lanka was inhabited around 125,000 years ago. That was by Homosapiens who traversed the Indian ocean who evolved to become the modern human. After that, Homo Sapiens divided into small groups and lived in different parts of the country. They adapted to different environmental conditions and geographic features in the areas they lived. Due to the long term inhabitation, their culture and living patterns also formed within those groups which have led to the Sri Lankan culture today.

Based on those cultural evolutions, human existence in Sri Lanka is divided into three main eras. We will be discussing the features of the first era which is the pre-historic era (Prāg Aithihāsika Yugaya) of Sri Lanka in this post.

Prehistoric Era Homo sapiens

What is Pre Historic Era?

The era which existed before the records of any literary source is commonly referred to as the prehistoric era. Within the prehistoric era, we can observe two main cultural eras. One of them is the stone age which lasted a very long time and the other one is the era in which people lived a life where plant-based foods were more used for diets. They also started using metals and began to live in permanent residencies.

In the Sri Lankan context, these two eras are referred to as Prāg Aithihāsika Yugaya and Pūrva Aithihāsika Yugaya. As a heads up, we will be focusing on the Stone Age or the Prāg Aithihāsika Yugaya.

Evidence of the Pre-historic Era

In this era, people used to hunt animals and gather food while walking around in a vast geographical area. There are two main locations that we can observe the features and evidence of the stone age in Sri Lanka.

The first one is the gem mines located in Rathnapura, Sri Lanka. The evidence is found about 90 feet below ground level. There is a gravel layer called “Illama” and on this, historians have found stone tools that were probably used by the pre-historic people and some bones of animals who are now extinct. It has been revealed that this Gravel Layer is formed by the washed away components of the hill country in Sri Lanka during the heavy rains in the Pleistocene Era.

In addition to that, there is also a similar gravel layer mixed with clay in the semi-arid areas of Sri Lanka. Historians have named this “Iranamadu Formation”. Also, it has been proven that this formation happened during the Pleistocene era. There has been evidence for the existence of the prehistoric era in the Iranamadu Formation also.

Distribution of Settlements according to different climates

There are 8 zones where prehistoric inhabitants had lived. They are,

  1. Lowland Arid Zone
  2. Lowland semi-arid region
  3. Lowland dry zone
  4. Lowland Intermediate Dry Zone
  5. Mountain Dry Intermediate Zone
  6. Lowland Intermediate Wet Zone
  7. Wet mountain zone
  8. Wet highland region

These zones are based on the annual rainfall that a specific zone receives. The difference of the rainfall makes direct effects on the animals and foliage of the zone. Due to that, the technology and the food patterns of the prehistoric people differ from zone to zone.

For example, The inhabitants of the lowland wet zone had Land-dwelling oysters as one of their main diets. This situation is not visible in the lowland arid zone. There, inhabitants hunted animals like deers and monitors etc.

Time Period of Pre-historic Era

Pahiyangala Cave Sri Lanka

There have been evidence found from Pathirajawela area in Hambanthota, Southern Province, Sri Lanka about the prehistoric era. That was from the Iranamadu Formation which is situated 45 feet, below the ground level.

When performing optically stimulated luminescence test, it has been proven that these evidences dates back 125,000 years. This proves that Sri Lanka has inhibited roughly 125,000 years ago.

Bundala, which belongs to the same district has offered some proof of the prehistoric era also. That is from the area called, Wellegangoda, Bundala. The stone tools found there has dated back around 80,000 years. These were found 24 feet below the ground.

In fact, the stone age has persisted the longest in the evolution of the Sri Lankan Culture. That is, from about 125,000 years to 1800 B.C. This fact is also backed up by many locations found throughout the country. For example,

  • Pahiyangala – 38,000 years
  • Kuruwita batadobalena – 28,000 years
  • Sigiriya Pothana – 5,800 years
  • Henagahapu gala – 3,370 years

As this article is getting a little longer than our usual, we will end the post from here hoping to see you in the next part of our series Prehistoric Inhabitations of Sri Lanka. In that, we will talk about the features of these pre-historic settlements and the lifestyle of the people.

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