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Archaeology and cosmopolitanism in early historic and medieval Sri Lanka.

Coningham, R.A.E. and Manuel, M.J. and Davis, C.E. and Gunawardhana, P. (2017) 'Archaeology and cosmopolitanism in early historic and medieval Sri Lanka.', in Sri Lanka at the crossroads : from antiquity to modernity. London: UCL Press.


Whilst the Early Historic and Medieval periods of Sri Lanka are often presented as a golden age of Sinhalese and Buddhist achievement, there is also substantial evidence for a multiplicity of communities residing within the island during that time. This is unsurprising, given the island’s location on trade routes spanning the Indian Ocean, linking its communities with East Africa, the Middle East, South-east Asia and China. The physical evidence of this trade is clear from excavations within the island's ancient capital Anuradhapura and its major port, Mantai, with their assemblages of fine Chinese ceramics, glazed and bitumen-coated vessels from Mesopotamia, and semi-precious stones from Afghanistan (Carswell et al. 2013; Coningham 2006). The spread of Buddhism into the island also forged strong regional links with communities in northern India but, at the same time contributed to increasing differentiation between communities in the south of the Subcontinent. Indeed, tensions were also evident within and between the island’s Buddhist sects, which led to conflict on a number of occasions. Archaeological research in the hinterland around Anuradhapura has also identified a variety of competing, yet complementary ritual foci, indicating that whilst Buddhism may have been regarded as the official religion of the island, other traditions and belief systems were strong and pervasive (Coningham & Gunawardhana 2013). These divisions may have often been superficial or have had ‘fuzzy’ boundaries in the past, yet they have been used to legitimate colonial and post-colonial religious and political inequalities. Despite these uncertainties, Sri Lanka's place at the heart of international trade routes, linking East and West is undisputable, creating an island of diverse communities and traditions, and prospering in the process.

Item Type:Book chapter
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Publisher statement:This chapter is in a book published under a Creative Common 4.0 International license (CC BY 4.0). This license allows you to share, copy, distribute and transmit the work; to adapt the work and to make commercial use of the work providing attribution is made to the authors (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). Attribution should include the following information: Zoltán Biedermann and Alan Strathern (eds.), Sri Lanka at the Crossroads of History, London, UCL Press, 2017. 10.14324/111.9781911307822
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:17 February 2015
Date of first online publication:07 June 2017
Date first made open access:No date available

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