Beginning and Evolution of Archaeological Museums.

In addition to educating the public on targets and aims of the Department, the need arose to exhibit antiquities collected by the Department of Archaeology to the public who visited the archeological sites. When the head office of the Department was shifted from Anradhapura in 1930, ancient coins which were in possession of the Department were handed over to the Colombo Museum, Certain stone carvings in possession of the Department were exhibited in the stone carvings section of the museum.

Stone carvings and clay items which were remaining at Anuradhapura were kept in display in two separate rooms in 1931 but viewers found it difficult to view them as the rooms were in two separate locations. Hence, in 1932 all the exhibits were arranged in one hall. By this time the Department felt that there should be a separate museum in Anuradhapura. The Department could find more and more antiquities very frequently but even by 1950, the Department of Archaeology could not take any attempt to establish a museum.

As stated by Dr. Senarath Paranvithana, during the correspondence made with the then Government Agent of Kurunegala, he had no objection of giving his official quarters to establish a museum. The department had its first public exhibition at Beddagana excavation site from 8th to 12th June 1949.

Establishment of archaeological museums took place in 1940s. Their peak period started in 1950. At the inception, they were known by the term “Puravidu Bhavana” (Archaeological Mansion). From the inception of the department up to 1940, the number of antiquities discovered by the department was very large. Until the establishment of the Archaeological Museum at Anuradhapura more elegant antiquities were handed over to the National Museum and the other antiquities were kept in the archaeological laboratory and stores while some others were haphazardly heaped at the sites where they were found. Hence, in 1947, Dr. Senarth Paranavithana pioneered the establishment of Puravidu Bhavana in Anuradhapura.

The term “Puravidu Bhavana” was in use upto 1952 when it was changed to Archaeological Museum

The Archaeological Museum at Dedigama bears testimony to the justification of exhibiting antiquities in the sites they were found which is the policy currently followed by the Department against the previous policy of exhibiting them in one centre removing them from their orginal sites (which reveal the actual position they held in the ancient culture).

With the inauguration of Archaeological museums the concept of regional archaeological museums evolved. Accordingly in 1962, the Ruwanweli Seya Museum was established under the title Naranwita Sumanasara Museum of stone Carvings. The Polonnaruwa Museum was established in the Public Services Sports Club Hall at Polonnaruwa in 1962. The Jaffna Museum which was maintained by the Department of National Museums was handed over to the Department of Archaeology which maintains it now.

Subsequently, the Kandy Museum was established in 1965, Sigiriya Museum in 1966 where as the Yapahuwa Museum had been initiated in 1966. The establishment of the Archaeological Museum for the Eastern Province took place in 1970. By 1979, archaeological museums were scattered all over Ampara, Isurumuniya, Mahiyangana, Kataragama and Ambalantota. Up to now there has been a rapid increase in the number of museums which are under control of the Department of Archaeology.

The Main objective of this exercise is to provide facilities for the public to gain knowledge and entertainment by following the principles of conservation, preservation, documentation and maintenance of antiquities of cultural value discovered by explorations, excavations and by communicating truly and actively to the public the knowledge, education and entertainment by means of preserving the objects, events and activities of the past.

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Department of Archaeology
Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha,
Colombo - 07,
Sri Lanka.
Phone : +94 11 2692840, +94 11 2692841
Fax : +94 11 2696250
Email :

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