Megalithic Cemeteries and Land Use in the Yān Oya River Basin of Sri Lanka
Keywords:cemetery studies, Iron Age, protohistoric, megalithism, sedentism
Megalithism is a cultural phenomenon associated with mortuary rituals. Societies that practise megalithism construct burials and memorials using stone slabs in memory of the dead as a form of ancestor worship. Archaeological evidence shows that the remains of these cultural practices that originated during the Neolithic period, occur in various geographical zones around the globe. Across peninsular southern India and Sri Lanka megalithism is observed, reflecting the cultural identity of Early Protohistoric-Iron Age communities of South Asia and practised even today, in certain parts of India. In Sri Lanka, the Yān Oya macro region of the North Central Dry plains is a geographical region where megalithism is prevalent and visible on the landscape. Megalithic groups appear to have widely dispersed across the Yān Oya river basin from the early quarter of the 1st millennium BCE to the early quarter of the 1st millennium CE with their adaptive strategy contributing to the formation of the cultural landscape of the region. In this paper, the megalithic cultural complex in the Yān Oya macroregion is discussed using evidence from archaeological surveys and excavations, with a focus on territorial expansion, resource exploitation and land use pattern. Archaeological evidence points to a series of three patterns or phases where the megalithic community in the region developed from a nomadic or semi nomadic pastoral subsistence to a sedentary village based agro-pastoral subsistence.
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