Status of Speleology in Sri Lanka; from 4th Century AD to 21st Century
Weliange W.S1, Armstrong Osborne2, Pathmakumara Jayasingha3, Dandeniya R.S4 & Prageeth Algiriya1
1Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology, University of Kelaniya
2The University of Sydney, NSW 2006
3Research Laboratory, Central Cultural Fund, No 11, Colombo 07, Sri Lanka
4 BGJF Consultancy Services, 35A ½, Sunethradewi Road Kohuwala, Nugegoda, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is an island characterized by mostly Precambrian metamorphic and Miocene limestone rocks and has a very high density of caves. Speleology, the scientific study of caves, has been identified as an important discipline that should be done parallel to the other archaeological research. The earliest written records on caves are evidenced by cave inscriptions date back to the 3rd century BC and also found in historical books such as Deepawamsa (4th Century AD), Mahawamsa - the Great Chronicle (5th Century AD) and in the Vamsatthapakasini which is an elaboration of the Mahawamsa. Since then various historical legends have mentioned about caves. It is recorded that foreign scholars had made expeditions to caves from the early 19th century. Explorations and excavations done in the middle 20th century have added more information to the cave literature. In the late 20th century several international expeditions took place for exploring Sri Lankan caves. In 2009 the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology, University of Kelaniya (PGIAR), started researching Sri Lankan caves with the collaboration of the University of Sydney, Australia. So far we have investigated around 20 caves located in wet, intermediate and dry zones. It was well noticed that geology and climatic factors prevailing on a particular area affect the formation of caves of Sri Lanka. The common formation processes identified are weathering and erosion of bed rocks and amalgamation of boulders on the gneissic terrain. We introduced the first ever classification for caves in the country based on lithology, morphology and genesis. Speleotherms in gneissic caves which are mostly siliceous were found to be very unique. Also it was recorded that the cave fauna consisted of mainly insects, but mammals such as michrochiropterans, amphibians and reptiles were also found. Sri Lankan cave sediments have played a major role in the reconstruction of paleo-environmental changes and in the context of prehistory of the country. Speleological research is going to be a part of studies of biodiversity and geology. Therefore, several new fields such as cave mapping, cave ecology, cave geology and cave tourism are branching off as cave research is progressing.
Key words: cave fauna, cave geology, speleology, Sri Lanka