by Tissa Gunatilake
Valuable evidence of pre-historic human activities dating over 43,000 years old have been found from the site of the Pahiyangala cave in Bulathsinhala, archaeologists say adding that this could be of the oldest human habitation in Asia.
Supervising officer of the Pahiyangala site excavations, Deputy Director General of Archaeology, Dr Nimal Perera said that some tools made of stone and animal bone were also recovered during the excavation. Among them were beads made of shark bones, a tooth of tiger-shark, fragments of tools and implements made of mouse deer, barking deer, porcupine and others.
Excavations on this site commenced three months ago by Lankan Archaeologists with the participation of an international team of archaeologists led by an English Professor in Archaeology, Ian Simpson. They had dug one and half feet deeper than previous excavations of the site.
Excavations carried out in 1986 by Dr W. H. Wijepala had found evidence that homosapiens lived in the cave some 37,000 years ago. The evidences had been dated through carbon dating in the USA.
Dr Perera said that the current excavations were deeper than previous and according to immediately available dating techniques the latest find is believed to go further into the prehistoric past upto 43,000 years.
Archaeology officer of the site, O. C. Oshan said that the oldest established pre-historic data had been found from Niah caves of Borneo and the latest Pahiyangala evidence may be older.
The evidence would be sent abroad for dating. It would be dated by using Optically Stimulated Luminescence or (OSL) technique which is also known as optical dating. It is a method of determining how long ago the samples were last exposed to daylight. It is useful to geologists and archaeologists who want to know when such an event occurred.
The Pahiyangala cave lies 400 feet above sea level. At its entrance, the cave is 175 feet high and over 200 feet long. It is believed that 3000 people can be easily accommodated in this cave. The natural tunnels running inside the caves are now blocked and not accessible. The cave has been divided into four sections of which the left side is the largest and is the centre. There is a deep pit dug out by the Archaeological Department for an excavation. In that pit archeologists had earlier found five human skulls which were identified as 37,000 years old by carbon dating in USA. Some weapons made of stone and animal bones were also recovered during the excavation. It has been found out that these were used to kill monkey, deer, porcupine and others. They have also consumed acavus, a species of edible snail and wild breadfruit.
Biologically, this cave dweller known as Pahiyangala Manawaya (Pahiyangala Man) had a short vertebral structure, wide jaw bones , a large palette and big grinding teeth.
The name of the cave is derived from the name of the Chinese Bhikkhu Fa- Hsien, who visited the cave in the 5th century. According to available evidence, both historical and archaeological, Fa- Hsien was determined to climb the sacred Mountain `Sri Pada` and pay homage at the Buddha`s foot print. His pilgrimage to Sri Pada lasted several months because the route to the peak was through Bulathsinhala, Kalawana, Nivitigala, Ratnapura and Gileemale.
On his journey, it is believed that he had lived several months in the Pahiyangala cave and a vessel which was supposed to have been used by him was discovered during the excavations.
Pahiyangala caves lie in Yatagampitiya, a remote village about 5 km away from Bulathsinhala (40Km along Piliyandala-Horana road), in the Kalutara District