The Beli lena caves : Journey into the past by Arundathie Abeysinghe

The Beli lena caves :   Journey into the past by Arundathie Abeysinghe

The Beli lena caves : 

Journey into the past

by Arundathie Abeysinghe

There have been human settlements in Sri Lanka dating back 25,000 years, according to archaeologists.


The ape man known as Balangoda Manawaya had lived in caves in many parts of Sri Lanka; Beli lena, Batadomba lena, Bellanpendipellessa and Pahiyangala are some of these.

The Beli lena caves (cave of shells) also known as Balangoda Manawaya's caves reveal an important landmark in the history of human paleontology as they reveal remains of primitive man.

About 15 years ago, archaeologists found the skeleton of a child dated as being 28,500 years old.

When viewed from the foot of the hill, the caves seem a long way up, surrounded by giant stones and a pure rockface. But there is a comfortable path of stones to reach the caves without much exertion. The caves go way back inside and for those who like adventure, the exploration of the dark caves is a must.

As we went there a few days after the rains, we were drenched by the sheet of water which fell across the front of the caves as we clambered up the rocks to the entrance. The view from here is simply breathtaking.

Situated within the Kitulgala estate, these caves were discovered in 1969 by the then Director of National Museums P. E. P. Deraniyagala, father of present archaeological Commissioner Shiran Deraniyagala.

At the time of discovery, the caves were occupied by some monks (there are some monuments of a monastery within the caves even at present) but they left the place when the Department of Archaeology decided to excavate the site to find evidence of pre-historic human habitation.

During the excavation, shells, (this is why the caves are thus named), pieces of bones of various shapes and some stone tools were found at the site.

As these caves are situated about 85-kilometres away from the sea, there is speculation that these shells would have been used for trade.

Smaller shells with deposits of rock salt (found within the site even at present) proves that salt was brought from the coast.


How to get there: At Kitulgala town turn left (there is a board indicating the direction) and drive about 9 kilometres and walk about 3 kilometres through a tea estate. Journey has to be in a four-wheel vehicle.

    Sunday Observer, 6 February 2005