Monday, November 9, 2009

Prehistory of Sri Lanka

Legend and history are deeply intertwined in the early accounts of Sri Lanka: did the Buddha leave his footprint on Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada) while visiting the island that lay halfway to paradise? Or was it Adam who left his footprint embedded in the rock while taking a last look at Eden? Was the chain of islands linking Sri Lanka to India the same chain that Rama crossed to rescue his wife Sita from the clutches of Rawana, king of Lanka, in the epic Ramayana?

It is probable that the Ramayana has some fragile basis in reality, for Sri Lanka’s history recounts many invasions from southern India. Perhaps some early invasion provided the elements of the story of Rama and Sita, recounted throughout Asia.

Whatever the legends, the reality is that Sri Lanka’s original inhabitants, the Veddahs (Wanniyala-aetto), were hunter-gatherers who subsisted on the island’s natural bounty. Much about their origins is unclear. However, anthropologists generally believe that Sri Lanka’s original inhabitants are descendants from the people of the late Stone Age and may have existed on the island since 16, 000 BC. The first Sinhalese, originally from North India, arrived in Sri Lanka around the 5th or 6th century BC. Traders and fisherfolk from South India who visited Sri Lanka during the late centuries BC also made the island their permanent home. The intermingling of the new arrivals produced a harmonious multicultural society – a state that, unfortunately, did not continue in the centuries that followed.

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