Published on May 23, 2013
The history of Sri Lanka begins around 30,000 years ago when the island was first inhabited. Chronicles, including the Mahawansa, the Dipavamsa, the Culavamsa and the Rajaveliya, record events from the beginnings of the Sinhalese monarchy in the 6th century BC; through the arrival of European Colonialists in the 16th century; and to the disestablishment of the monarchy in 1815. Some mentions of the country are found in the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the books of Gautama Buddha’s teachings. Buddhism was introduced in the 3rd century BC by Arhath Mahinda.
From the 16th century, some coastal areas of the country were ruled by the Portuguese, Dutch and British. Sri Lanka was ruled by 181 kings from the Anuradhapura to Kandy periods. After 1815 the entire nation was under British colonial rule and armed uprisings against the British took place in the 1818 Uva Rebellion and the 1848 Matale Rebellion. Independence was finally granted in 1948 but the country remained a Dominion of the British Empire.
In 1972 Sri Lanka assumed the status of a Republic. A constitution was introduced in 1978 which made the Executive President the head of state. The Sri Lankan Civil War began in 1983, including an armed youth uprising in 1987–1989, with the 25 year-long civil war ending in 2009.
Prehistoric era of Sri Lanka
The earliest archaeological evidence of human colonization in Sri Lanka appears at the site of Balangoda. Balangoda Man arrived on the island about 34,000 years ago and have been identified as Mesolithic hunter gatherers who lived in caves. Several of these caves, including the well known Batadombalena and the Fa-Hien Rock cave, have yielded many artifacts from these people who are currently the first known inhabitants of the island.
Balangoda Man probably created Horton Plains, in the central hills, by burning the trees in order to catch game. However, the discovery of oats and barley on the plains at about 15,000 BC suggests that agriculture had already developed at this early date.
Several minute granite tools (about 4 centimetres in length), earthenware, remnants of charred timber, and clay burial pots date to the Mesolithic stone age. Human remains dating to 6000 BC have been discovered during recent excavations around a cave at Varana Raja Maha vihara and in the Kalatuwawa area.
Cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka and has been found in Ancient Egypt as early as 1500 BC, suggesting early trade between Egypt and the island’s inhabitants. It is possible that Biblical Tarshish was located on the island. James Emerson Tennent identified Sri Lanka with Galle.
The protohistoric Early Iron Age appears to have established itself in South India by at least as early as 1200 BC, if not earlier (Possehl 1990; Deraniyagala 1992:734). The earliest manifestation of this in Sri Lanka is radiocarbon-dated to c. 1000-800 BC at Anuradhapura and Aligala shelter in Sigiriya (Deraniyagala 1992:709-29; Karunaratne and Adikari 1994:58; Mogren 1994:39; with the Anuradhapura dating corroborated by Coningham 1999). It is very likely that further investigations will push back the Sri Lankan lower boundary to match that of South India.
Archaeological evidence for the beginnings of the Iron age in Sri Lanka is found at Anuradhapura, where a large city–settlement was founded before 900 BC. The settlement was about 15 hectares in 900 BC, but by 700 BC it had expanded to 50 hectares. A similar site from the same period has also been discovered near Aligala in Sigiriya.
The hunter-gatherer people known as the Wanniyala-Aetto or Veddas, who still live in the central, Uva and north-eastern parts of the island, are probably direct descendants of the first inhabitants, Balangoda man. They may have migrated to the island from the mainland around the time humans spread from Africa to the Indian subcontinent.
Around 500 BC, Sri Lankans developed a unique hydraulic civilization. Achievements include the construction of the largest reservoirs and dams of the anci