The people and cultures of prehistoric Sri Lanka - Part Two

PERIOD I: Megalithic Period : 1300-300 BCE

by Dr. Siva Thiagarajah

(August 11, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian)
The Megalithic Period is datable between c.1300-130 BCE, and included finds of Black and Red Ware and other types of pottery, copper, bronze and iron. Earthenware Pots and pans were used in every day life, and the variations and the changes in shape, form, texture and format over the years is an indication of a peoples’ cultural progression. Because of the presence of undeciphered graffiti in the potsherds, some investigators assign this to a proto-historic period.

The Pennsylvania team has classified the pottery into three types. Type A pottery – the Early Red Ware, had smooth rims of a reddish colour (Roman red). Type B are the traditional Black and Red ware associated with the Megalithic Culture, similar to Mortimer Wheeler’s finds at Brahmagiri and Arikamedu. Type C were thick rimmed, thick bodied and shaped like large jars. These were smooth and devoid of any decorative patterns. The Early Red Ware as well as Black and Red Ware had graffiti marks on their necks (Orton,N. 1995). The structural form of the pottery and the nature of graffiti, a characteristic of the Megalithic Culture, closely resemble the pottery structure and its graffiti from Anuradhapura, Pomparippu, Divulwewa, and Makevitta (Sitrampalam, S.K. 1993:12).

Commenting on the Black and Red Ware, Vimala Begley stated that these resemble the pottery of South Indian Iron Age, and the people of Kantarodai have either descended from the same cultural milieu as the South Indians or had very close cultural contacts with them (Begley,V। 1973).

Early forms of iron nails and iron tools, as well as some copper and brass tools were found in this layer. Most notable among the brass artefacts were tridents, and a lance (Vel) with its head shaped like a leaf. Such artefacts are commonly found among the Megalithic burials of South India and indicate Megalithic religious practices, the fore-runner to latter-day Saivism. There were also kohl sticks made of brass as well as copper. It is of note that one of the Kohl sticks had the impression of a rice husk. (Sitrampalam, S.K. 1993: 11-12). It may be that rice husks were used as fuel during the smelting of copper.

The megalithic period also showed bones of birds, fish and animals including dogs and cattle suggesting they were domesticated. The large number of cattle bones implied its use for agricultural purposes. The presence of paddy husks indicated that rice was one of the cereals cultivated. Some bones of cattle showed clean-cut-ends using a sharp instrument indicating that they were consumed for food as well. Although no burials for this period has been identified at this site to-date, the presence of Black and Red Ware, iron, evidence of cultivation, and the presence of a large number of fields and tanks in this area taken together signify a prevailing Megalithic Culture (Sitrampalam, S.K. 1993: 11-13).

Anaikoddai is an important area near Kantarodai, where the prehistoric site covers an area of more than two square kilometres. The actual Megalithic burial mound occupies an area of two acres in the paddy field stretch at Anaikoddai. Earth scooped out from about half of this mound was used to fill a low lying land for the Navanturai housing scheme; the other half remains undisturbed. The state did not bother to protect this area.

Explorations of the mound showed evidence of a Megalithic Culture Complex with extended and urn burials associated with a large number of Early Carinated Black and Red Ware and iron artefacts. Near an urn a copper kohl stick was found. Conch-shells, crab-shells, animal bones, and heaps of grooved tiles were found in the vicinity. A Rouletted Ware sherd had two evolved Brahmi scripts stamped on it. The other surface finds included a number of iron slags, tools, oystershells, bones, polished and unpolished vertebra bones, fish bones and rubbing stones (Ragupathy, P. 1987: 66-67; Indrapala, K. 2006: 86)


To be Continued...