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Bellan-bandi Palassa

‘The Glade Strewn with Snails’ 

Considered one of the most significant pre-historic sites in terminal Pleistocene-Holocene Sri Lanka, Bellan-bandi Palassa is home to most of Sri Lanka’s pre-historic human skeletal remains including the famous Balangoda Man.



Importance and introduction

Sri Lanka’s evidence for prehistoric settlements dates as far back as 130,00 BP, 300,000 BP and possibly even as far as 500,000 NP (Deraniyagala 1998), which means that the earliest reliably dated skeletal remains of prehistoric humans in all of South Asia come from Sri Lanka. According to Deraniyagala (1998), remains recorded from sites dating to after 37,000 BP are much more complete. Recent excavations in Potana, Pallemalla, Pomparippu, Varana, Haldummulla, and Yapahuwa provided valuable evidence of the continuous occupation of those lands from the prehistoric to the protohistoric times. These anatomically modern prehistoric people in Sri Lanka have been dubbed the ‘Balangoda Man’ due to the fact that the Mesolithic ‘Balangoda Culture’ was first defined in sites in the Balangoda area. They are now considered to be the first colonisers of Sri Lanka.

Bellan-bandi Palassa was first discovered by Arthur Delgoda of Morahala, and excavated over several seasons in the late 1950s and early 60s by P.E.P. Deraniyagala. These excavations yielded 13 flexed human burials, faunal remains, as well as stone artefacts that provided the foundation for comparative assessments of ethnic origin.



Bellan-bandi Palassa is located on the right bank of the Walawe River, above the bed of the Bellan-bandi stream, inside the Udawalawe National Park in Ratnapura. The site is at an altitude of 381m and is located at the ecotone between the Wet and Dry Zones.

The archaeological strata are deposited above the horizontally-joined Precambrian crystalline limestone which has been exposed through erosion of the streambed. Re-excavation of the 1970 trenches done for environmental analysis was conducted in 2005. Twelve context divided into five phases were identified in the field.

Excavations in 1971 attempted to elucidate the stratigraphic and chronological context of the site. While radiocarbon measurement yielded a date of ca. 2,070 years BP, it was considered to be too young and contaminated. Meanwhile, a thermo-luminescence measurement on fired quartz crystal directly associated with one of the burials gave a date of 6,500 ± 700 years BP. This too, however, was considered too young.

A complete male sub-adult mandible with highly worn-out teeth from the collection of remains discovered following the 1956 excavation of the Bellan-bandi Palassa Mesolithic open-air site. 

Snails Cave - Man’s Delicacy

Image 4 1 e1480678959701The influence of the upper Pleistocene hunter-gatherer lifestyle on the surroundings can by deduced through the evidence discovered at Bellan-bandi Palassa as well as the environmental change on their lifestyles. From the faunal remains of his meals, we were able to surmise that the Balangoda man was definitely a carnivore.

The Balangoda Men seemed to enjoy snails as well. These were tree snails of the Acavus species and not the land snails saddled with conical shells, that seemed to have been eaten by the Balangodans.

Snails are known to multiply rapidly and are commonly seen in the wet rainforests. Being easy to gather, like mushrooms, these snails provided a healthy amount of animal protein. This made them the obvious choice for these prehistoric humans.

Their diet of snails included species such as Acavus Waltoni, Acavus Roseolabiatus and Acavus Prosperus, as well as aquatic snails of Paludomus species like P.Solidus, P. Nodulosus and P.Loricatus and a type of swamp snail – Pila Globosa.

A large number of snail shells belonging to the Acavus species with man-made piercings in their body whorl means it was likely that they were strung together with pieces of vine for easy transportation, storage, and cooking.

This solved issues of carrying handfuls of live snails back to their occupation site and also aided in storage and rendering these snails immobile. They could also have done this to subject the snails to forced fasting in order to rid them of their gut content which in turn made them edible. A string of such snails could also easily be cooked on a flame or on charcoal.


  • Deraniyagala, S.U. and Kennedy, K.A.R. (1972) Bellan Bandi Palassa 1970: A Mesolithic burial site in Ceylon. Ancient Ceylon. Journal of the Archaeological Survey Department of Ceylon, 2: 18-47.
  • Man Meat, Snails, Snakes, And Other Stone Age Delicacies Published Fri 2nd December
  • 2016 by Asiff Hussein.
  • Bellan-bandi Palassa, Sri Lanka: Formation processes of a Mesolithic open-air site identified through thin section micromorphology Ian A. Simpson1, Nikos Kourampas1, H. Nimal Perera2, 3.
  • Deraniyagala, P.E.P, 1963. An Open Air Habitation Site of Homo sapiens balangodensis, Spolia Zeylanica 30(1): 87-121.


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A H A S - P O K U N A   

In the Sinhalese language (spoken in Sri Lanka), “Ahas” means “Sky” and “Pokuna” means “Pond” or “Pool”. Ahaspokuna is so named in reference to the lake here, high up in the hills, that is only fed by rain water. A former settlement that sprung up on its shores was subsequently also named “Ahaspokuna”. Today, the jungle tide has washed over where people once lived and the camp provides a wilderness retreat for those in search of something different.
Ahaspokuna by Eco Team


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