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Sigiriya Before and Beyond Kasyapa

Sigiriya Before and Beyond Kasyapa By Ama H. Vanniarachchy

Sigiriya, the mysterious Lion’s Rock is no doubt the crown jewel of Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage. Considering its uniqueness and its ‘Outstanding Universal Values,’ Sigiriya was declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982. Its archaeological, historical, cultural, and environmental value is not limited to the close vicinity of the rock and the fortress. The surrounding area of Sigiriya is a sensitive area considering its density of archaeological remains and the heritage of local culture. The wildlife and vast forests spread around Sigiriya are also highly sensitive and play a vital role in maintaining the significance of Sigiriya. 

The history of Sigiriya dates back to prehistoric times. If one connects the archaeological sites surrounding Sigiriya including Mapagala, Millagala, Ramakale, Pothana, Pidurangala, Kimbissa, Inamaluwa, Dambulla, Ibbankatuwa, Kandalama, Kaludiya Pokuna, and the many man-made tanks around the area, along with all the other ancient temples in the vicinity it is evident how the historical value of Sigiriya is not limited to the rock fortress alone. 

It was an ancient capital city, which means the surrounding area was the catchment area (a catchment area is the area from which a city attracts a population that uses its services which includes human settlements, monasteries, irrigation works, agricultural lands, and production sites) of the ancient kingdom of Sigiriya. 

Before Sigiriya became the capital city…

Sigiriya’s history dates back far beyond the 3rd century BCE. Through archaeological research work in and around Sigiriya, it is proven that the human settlements of the area date back beyond the historic period of the country. Among these many findings there are stone tools, bone tools, remains of humans, animals and plants. 

According to Prof. Senaka Bandaranayake the surrounding area of Sigiriya was occupied by our ancestors from between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago, although the earliest dates available from present investigations go back to about 5,000 BCE. 

Prof. Senake Bandaranayake writes in his book, Sigiriya – City, Palace, Gardens, Monasteries, Paintings, “The earliest evidence of human habitation within the environs of the main rock is in the Aligala rock shelter, which lies immediately to the east of the Sigiriya rock. This is a major prehistoric site with an occupational sequence starting nearly 5,000 years ago and extending up to early historic times.  It is also one of the sites associated with early iron production in Sri Lanka, dating from around 900 BCE.”

The genius further writes that the earliest monuments in the Sigiriya region are megalithic cemetery sites, one example of which is Ibbankatuva, near Dambulla. They provide evidence of the presence of early farming and iron producing communities in Sigiriya and its environs, from about 1,000 BCE onwards. 

Prehistory of Sigiriya Aligala

The first archaeological research conducted at this place was in 1988 and the first excavation was reported in 1989.  Stone tools, grinding stones and animal remains were excavated here. The animal remains and plant remains are believed to be remains of food consumed by the prehistoric people who once lived at this place. Human remains such as bones, teeth and jaws were also unearthed at Aligala rock shelter. 


Apart from Aligala rock shelter, Pothana is another site where evidence of a prehistoric human settlement was found. Pothana is located not more than 7 kms far from Sigiriya rock and is close to the Pothana tank. The monastery at Pothana is rarely visited by people as it is not much known to the public. The road to access this place is not easy at all and adding to it there are no sign boards guiding the traveller to this highly important historical place. The irony is that it is easy to access the tourist hotels located extremely close to this place with eye catching sign boards hanging all over the place. 

The visit to Pothana cave site is a tiring journey. There are two caves located here. The length and height of these caves are reported as below:

Cave 1: Length – 12m / Height – 7.3m

Cave 2: Length – 4.3m / Height – 4m

A team of archaeologists conducted an excavation at Pothana cave in the year 1991. The Post Graduate Institute of Archaeology (PGIAR) led this excavation. During this excavation, they discovered more than 40,000 animal bone fragments and stone tools were unearthed. Archaeologists identified these remains as belonging to the Mesolithic Period of Sri Lanka and dated them old as 6,000 BP (Before Present). 

The most significant discovery at Pothana is the human skeletons unearthed during these excavations. These human skeletons date to the prehistoric period and according to radiocarbon dating they could be dated to 4,000 BP. Researchers believe that the human settlements in Pothana shared similar characteristics of the contemporary prehistoric settlements in Batadombalena, Bellan-bandi Palassa, Fa Hien Lena and Beli Lena. These were hunter-gatherer populations that spread across the island. 

Microlithics (stone tools) in Pidurangala…

In 1987, Microlithic (stone tools) were discovered at a cave located in Pidurangala. 

Proto-history of the area…

There is evidence of proto-historic human settlements in the vicinity too. During this time our ancestors evolved into an agricultural society from a hunter-gathering community. It was revealed through archaeological research that millet and rice cultivation, irrigation, expanded village settlements, and production of iron occurred during the time around 1,000 to 300 BCE in the vicinity of Sigiriya.

Iron production in the Sigiriya area 

Our ancestors produced iron during ancient times. This was actually the reason for the cultural evolution or the transition (technological and then cultural) that occurred during the proto-historic period. 

In this process of producing iron and resulting in technological evolution, Sigiriya and its vicinity plays a crucial role. Sigiriya is the core region not only in producing iron but also as the centre of distributing iron across the country’s human settlements. 

It is recorded that there are 35 iron production sites in the surrounding area of Sigiriya and some of these places are known as major industrial centres that played a very crucial role in ancient Sri Lankan civilisation. It was locally produced iron and then steel that accelerated the development of the country’s technological, cultural, and economical aspects. 

It is clear that since prehistoric times Sigiriya was occupied by humans. These were hunter-gatherers who lived in cave shelters and hunted animals and gathered food from the forest.  As they evolved into a further developed culture, which we call the proto-historic period, human settlements expanded further. These humans had advanced belief systems, burial rituals, agriculture, irrigation, and iron production. Ibbankatuva is one such burial site belonging to this period of Sri Lanka’s history. Animal and plant domestication was practiced by these people who lived in these settlements. 

Afterwards, during the 3rd century BCE when the country was experiencing a vast cultural change due to the advance of Buddhism and the Mauryan culture and Aryan migrations of the 6th – 3rd centuries BCE, this area further developed. Human settlements expanded. The large number of man-made tanks of this area is another evidence of the place’s agricultural development. Cave shelters and rocks were developed into Buddhist monasteries. Pidurangala, Kaludiya Pokuna, and Dambulla are examples of such early Buddhist monasteries of this area. Considering all these facts it is clear that all these sites were interconnected with each other and with the capital city, with trade cities and harbours of the country via roads.

 Kasyapa would not have chosen this place as his capital city if this was merely an abandoned rock hidden far beneath the dense jungle. He chose the place as it was politically, socially and culturally important. After the demise of Kasyapa, Sigiriya continued to be as a strong political center of the Sinhala kingdom, and later converted into a Buddhist monastery. 

Most of the parts of the Sigiriya rock fortress and the vicinity are not subjected to extensive archaeological research work including excavations and surveying. Not only Sigiriya rock itself but also the surrounding area’s historical background still remains yet to be discovered.

(Pix courtesy The Sigiriya Museum published by the CCF and the Ministry of Culture and The Arts in 2011 Sigiriya – City, Palace, Gardens, Monasteries, Paintings by Senake Bandaranayake, published by the CCF in 2005)

The original article was published on


Uncategorized, Kashyapa, Pothana, Sigiriya, Sri Lankan archaeology, SRI LANKAN HISTORY 

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