Department of Archaeology (Sri Lanka)

Last updated
Department of Archaeology
පුරාවිද්‍යා දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව  (Sinhala)
தொல்பொருளியல் திணைக்களம்  (Tamil)
Coat of arms of Sri Lanka.svg
Agency overview
Formed1890 [1]
Jurisdiction Sri Lanka
Agency executive
  • Anura Manatunga, Head of the Department [1]
Website OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg

The Department of Archaeology (Sinhala : පුරාවිද්‍යා දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව, romanized: Purāvidyā Depārtamēntuva, Tamil : தொல்பொருளியல் திணைக்களம், romanized: Tolporuḷiyal Tiṇaikkaḷam) is a non-ministerial government department in Sri Lanka responsible for managing the archaeological heritage.



On 7 July 1890 the Governor of Ceylon, Sir Arthur Gordon, appointed Harry Charles Purvis Bell as the first Archaeological Commissioner and Head of the Archaeological Survey of Ceylon. The Survey consisted of the Commissioner, a European assistant commissioner, a native assistant, a clerk, and three draughtsmen. The first task given to the Survey was the exploration, excavation, mapping and conservation of historical monuments at Anuradhapura. In 1895 the Survey commenced work at Sigiriya and in May 1900 at Polonnaruwa. Between 1902 and 1907 John Still (the author of Jungle Tide) served as assistant commissioner.

On 8 December 1912 Edward Russell Ayrton was appointed Archaeological Commissioner, having previously worked as the assistant commissioner under Bell. On 18 May 1914 Ayrton drowned at Tissa Wewa in Tissamaharama. The Archaeological Department all but closed down, with only a skeleton staff, during World War I, with a series of acting heads. It wasn't until the appointment of Arthur Maurice Hocart in 1921 that the Department became more active. Hocart recognised the need to train young Ceylonese to work in the department, and amongst his protégées was Senarath Paranavithana, who was sent in 1923 to Ootacamund to train under the Government Epigraphist in India. In 1925 Hocart took a year's leave and returned to England. In his absence M. Wedderburn acted as Archaeology Commissioner. Upon his return in 1926 Hocart appointed Paranavithana as the Epigraphical assistant. When Hocart retired in 1929 C. F. Windsor took the role of Commissioner and at this time the head office of the Archaeological Department was relocated from Anuradhapura to Colombo.

In 1932 when Windsor retired Senarath Paranavithana became the first Sri Lankan to be appointed as head of the Department. In 1935 Albert Henry Longhurst took over the role of Archaeological Commissioner and Paranavithana was his Epigraphical assistant. Longhurst was previously the Superintendent of the Archaeological Survey of India. During his tenure in Ceylon he concentrated on the conservation of monuments, particularly in Polonnaruwa. With commencement of World War II all the major works of the department were suspended and Dr Paranavithana was appointed as Commissioner. After the country gained its independence the Archaeological Department went through a significant phase of expansion, with its activities expanded to almost every district on the island.

When Paranavithana retired in 1956 the position of Commissioner was taken by Charles Godakumbura, a role in which he occupied until his retirement in 1967. Raja H. de Silva was then appointed as the new Commissioner.

Archaeological Commissioner

No.Archeological CommissionerYear (commence)Year (complete)
1 Stephen Montague Burrows 18841886
2 Harry Charles Purvis Bell 18901892
3R. W. Levers (Acting)18921892
4 Harry Charles Purvis Bell 18931912
5 Edward Russell Ayrton 19121913
6B. Constantine19131914
7 Herbert Rayner Freeman (Acting)19141918
8F. G. Tyrrel (Acting)19181920
9A. W. Seymour (Acting)19201921
10G. F. R. Browning (Acting)19211922
11 Arthur Maurice Hocart 19221924
12M. Wedderburn (Acting)19241925
13 Arthur Maurice Hocart 19251927
14E. T. Dyson (Acting)19271928
15C. F. Windsor19291929
16J. Pearson (Acting)19291930
17C. F. Windsor19301932
18 Senarath Paranavithana 19321934
19 Albert Henry Longhurst 19351939
20 Senarath Paranavithana 19401956
21 Charles Godakumbura 19561967
22Raja H. de Silva19671979
23Saddhamangala Karunarathna19791983
24Roland Silva19831990
25M. H. Sirisoma19901992
26 Siran Upendra Deraniyagala 19922001
27W. H. Wijayapala20012004
28Senerath Dissanayake20042017
29P. B. Mandawala (Acting)20172019
30Senarath Dissanayake20192020
31Anura Manatunga[]2021current

See also

Related Research Articles

Anuradhapura City in North Central Province, Sri Lanka

Anuradhapura is a major city in Sri Lanka. It is the capital city of North Central Province, Sri Lanka and the capital of Anuradhapura District. Anuradhapura is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka, famous for its well-preserved ruins of an ancient Sinhala civilization. It was the third capital of the kingdom of Rajarata, following the kingdoms of Tambapanni and Upatissa Nuwara.

Polonnaruwa Town in North Central Province, Sri Lanka

Poḷonnaruwa is the main town of Polonnaruwa District in North Central Province, Sri Lanka. Kaduruwela area is the Polonnaruwa New Town and the other part of Polonnaruwa remains as the royal ancient city of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa.

Ellalan King of Anuradhapura

Ellalan was a member of the Tamil Chola dynasty, also known as "Manu Needhi Cholan", who upon capturing the throne became king of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, in present-day Sri Lanka, from 205 BCE to 161 BCE.

Dakkhina Stupa

Dakkhina Stupa is a 2nd-century BC large brick Stupa in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. The Stupa was identified to have been built to mark the site of cremation of King Dutugamunu. The structure was identified in 1946 as Dakkhina Stupa by the eminent archaeologist Senarath Paranavithana.

Senarath Paranavithana

Senarath Paranavitana, was a pioneering archeologist and epigraphist of Sri Lanka. His works dominated Sri Lankan archaeology and history in the middle-part of the 20th century. He became the Archeological Commissioner in 1940, following H. C. P. Bell, and Don Martino de Zilva Wickremasinghe in that position.

M. J. Perera

Mapatunage James "M. J." Perera was a Sri Lankan civil servant with nine members in his family in Udumulla, Padukka. He created broadcasting history by being the first Ceylonese Director General of Radio Ceylon, the oldest radio station in South Asia, taking over the helm from John Lampson of the BBC.

Kingdom of Polonnaruwa

The Kingdom of Polonnaruwa was the Sinhalese kingdom that ruled the island of Sri Lanka and some other territories, from 1055 until 1232. Polonnaruwa as the captial, unified the island following the Kalinga-Arya war which led to the ascension of Parakramabahu I beginning the Polonnaruwa period.

Gal Vihara

The Gal Vihara, also known as Gal Viharaya and originally as the Uttararama, is a rock temple of the Buddha situated in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa in North Central Province, Sri Lanka. It was fashioned in the 12th century by Parakramabahu I. The central feature of the temple is four rock relief statues of the Buddha, which have been carved into the face of a large granitic rock. The images consist of a large seated figure, another smaller seated figure inside an artificial cavern, a standing figure and a reclining figure. These are considered to be some of the best examples of ancient Sinhalese sculpting and carving arts, and have made the Gal Vihara the most visited monument at Polonnaruwa.

Sandakada pahana, also known as Moon-stone, is a unique feature of the Sinhalese architecture of ancient Sri Lanka. It is an elaborately carved semi-circular stone slab, usually placed at the bottom of staircases and entrances. First seen in the latter stage of the Anuradhapura period, the sandakada pahana evolved through the Polonnaruwa, Gampola and Kandy period. According to historians, the sandakada pahana symbolises the cycle of Sansāra in Buddhism.

Polonnaruwa Vatadage

The Polonnaruwa Vatadage is an ancient structure dating back to the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa of Sri Lanka. It is believed to have been built during the reign of Parakramabahu I to hold the Relic of the tooth of the Buddha or during the reign of Nissanka Malla of Polonnaruwa to hold the alms bowl used by the Buddha. Both these venerated relics would have given the structure a great significance and importance at the time. Located within the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, it is the best preserved example of a vatadage in the country, and has been described as the "ultimate development" of this type of architecture. Abandoned for several centuries, excavation work at the Polonnaruwa Vatadage began in 1903.

Anuradhapura period

The Anuradhapura period was a period in the history of Sri Lanka of the Anuradhapura Kingdom from 377 BC to 1017 AD. The period begins when Pandukabhaya, King of Upatissa Nuwara moved the administration to Anuradhapura, becoming the kingdom's first monarch. Anuradhapura is heralded as an ancient cosmopolitan citadel with diverse populations.

Anuradhapura cross

The Anuradhapura cross is a form of the Christian cross symbol. It is the most ancient symbol of Christianity in Sri Lanka.

Sinhalese monarchy Monarchy of Sri Lanka (543 BCE - 1815 CE)

The Sinhalese monarchy has its origins in the settlement of North Indian Indo-Aryan immigrants to the island of Sri Lanka. The Landing of Vijay as described in the traditional chronicles of the island, the Dipavamsa, Mahavamsa and Culavamsa, and later chronicles, recount the date of the establishment of the first Sinhala Kingdom in 543 BC when Prince Vijaya, an Indian Prince, and 700 of his followers landed on the island of Sri Lanka and established the Kingdom of Tambapanni. In Sinhalese mythology, Prince Vijaya and followers are told to be the progenitors of the Sinhalese people. However according to the story in the Divyavadana, the immigrants were probably not led by a scion of a royal house in India, as told in the romantic legend, but rather may have been groups of adventurous and pioneering merchants exploring new lands.

Polonnaruwa period

The Polonnaruwa period was a period in the history of Sri Lanka from 1017, after the Chola conquest of Anuradhapura and when the center of administration was moved to Polonnaruwa, to the end of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa in 1232.

Lankatilaka Vihara

Lankatilaka Vihara is a Buddhist temple situated in Udunuwara of Kandy, Sri Lanka. It is located on Daulagala road approximately 4 km (2.5 mi) away from Pilimatalawa junction and a few kilometres from the buddhist temple, Gadaladeniya Vihara. It is considered as the most magnificent architectural edifice created during the Gampola era.

Kadurugoda Viharaya

Kadurugoda Viharaya is an ancient Buddhist temple situated in Chunnakam, Jaffna District, Sri Lanka. The temple is located in a small hamlet called Kandarodai and it is one of the few Buddhist temples remaining in Jaffna today. Currently this temple has been declared as an archaeological site in Sri Lanka and is maintained by the Sri Lankan army.

Doctor Charles Edmund Godakumbura was the Commissioner of Archaeology in Ceylon from 1956 to 1967.

Maligatenna Raja Maha Vihara

Maligatenna Raja Maha Vihara is an ancient Cave temple located in Malwatuhiripitiya village, Gampaha District, Sri Lanka. The temple is located on the Gampaha - Wathurugama Road and approximately 1.6 km (0.99 mi) away from the ancient temple Pilikuththuwa Raja Maha Vihara.

Albert Henry Longhurst was a British archaeologist and art historian, working in India and Ceylon.


  1. 1 2 "History of the Department of Archeology" . Retrieved 2015-11-29.