Renowned Prehistorian Dr. Siran Deraniyagala passes away

Dr. Siran Deraniyagala, a renowned Sri Lankan Prehistorian and former Director-General of the Archaeology Department, has passed away at the age of 79.

Born in 1942, Dr. Deraniyagala received his school education at St. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia. He then completed his BA and MA degrees in Architecture and Sanskrit from Cambridge University.

Pursuing postgraduate studies in archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology in London, he qualified with distinction and was awarded the prestigious Gordon Childe Prize, as one of two best all-round students in all fields of archaeology.

He joined the Archaeological Survey Department of Sri Lanka in 1968 as Assistant Commissioner in charge of scientific excavations.

Subsequently, Dr. Deraniyagala reoriented excavation and research strategies of the Department that were until then carried out on an ad hoc basis. He introduced a research design, plans for infrastructure and human resource development in the excavation division and in 1969 undertook the epoch-breaking excavation at the Citadel of Anuradhapura. This was the first scientific stratified excavation undertaken on this Island and it set the pattern for the next generation of field archaeologists in Sri Lanka.

The excavation at the Citadel revolutionized much of traditionally accepted theories on the emergence of civilization in Sri Lanka, conclusively pushing back the beginnings of the earliest village culture, the introduction of metals and plant and animal domestication on the island to 1000 BC. Dr. Deraniyagala’s investigations at the Citadel have revealed that this is one of the largest urban archaeological sites in pre-modern South Asia. This site now functions as a promising state-of-the-art research and training centers for archaeology in the region.

During his tenure as Assistant Commissioner, Dr. Deraniyagala commenced a systematic reinvestigation of the prehistoric technology and culture of Sri Lanka. He pioneered a new research strategy and launched a long-term study of this significant period in our history hitherto little understood and little known.

Dr. Deraniyagala then preceded to the USA for his doctoral research at Harvard University and in 1988 his magnum opus; The Prehistory of Sri Lanka: an Ecological Perspective was completed. This monumental work on cultural palaeo-ecology amounting to over 1500 pages, has been hailed by Harvard professors as a landmark in the archaeology of South Asia as a whole, which has incidentally transformed their concept of Sri Lankan prehistory.

In 1992 his thesis was published as Memoir 8 of the Archaeological Department and is acclaimed as one of the primary source books on South Asian prehistoric archaeology.

During his tenure as the Director-General of Archaeology (1992 to 2001), Dr. Deraniyagala prepared an agenda restructuring theoretical, applied and management archaeology at the professional level by coordinating several ‘thrust’ programs for this purpose. He was responsible for the introduction of a radial shift in the Antiquities Ordinance in 1998 and it vested greater power with the Director-General of Archaeology and formalized Archaeological Impact Assessments.

In the course of his academic career, Dr. Deraniyagala had carried out fieldwork in England, India, the Netherlands and France.

During his administrative career, he held several positions in the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and the Department of Archaeology and also directed over 20 national and international archaeological projects in Sri Lanka. He has represented Sri Lanka at several international meetings on policy formulation and learned gatherings.

Dr. Daraniyagala has disseminated his knowledge by publishing over 40 research articles in some of the most prestigious learned journals in the world. He was also the President of the Sri Lanka Council of Archaeologists. – ada derana

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