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Exploration and Documentation Division


  • To identify the archeological heritage of Sri Lanka through exploration
  • To document movable and immovable archaeological properties in Sri Lanka
  • To implement the provisions of the Antiquities Ordinance
  • To implement the provisions of the cultural properties act
  • To protect the archaeological heritage of Sri Lanka

Main functions of the Exploration Division

  • To conduct special and urgent explorations
  • To declare archaeological reserves
  • To declare archaeological reserves and protected monuments
  • To prevent the destruction of antiquities
  • To conduct archaeological impact assessment surveys
  • To collect geographical information with regard to archaeological sites and monuments and prepare maps
  • To conduct oceanic explorations
  • To plan the exploration of the ancient irrigational heritage and to ensure its  protection
  • To plan activities to be carried out
  • To provide solutions to problems regarding archaeological sites and monuments in various districts and maintain files related to quarries

Conducting Special and Urgent Explorations

It is of utmost importance to identify archaeologically significant locations to carry out activities such as conservation, exhibition, research or excavation. Ancient sites and monuments are documented in detail and reports  are compiled in addition to making reports of sites that need to be reported urgently owing to urgent needs.

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Necessary steps are taken in terms of the provisions of Antiquities Ordinance No. 9 of  1940. Details are given in sections 33, 34 and 35. Section 33 of the Antiquities Ordinance specifies the details of archaeological reserves.

The  Commissioner of Archaeology may with the approval of the Commissioner of Lands or if approval is refused by the Commissioner of Lands, with the approval of the Minister in charge of the subject of lands, declare by notification published in the gazette, any specified area of that land to be an archaeological reserve for the purpose of this ordinance. Any area of state land reserved for archaeological purpose before the date on which this Ordinance comes into operation, whether by notification in the gazette or otherwise, should be deemed as an archaeological reserve.

Under Section 33 of the Antiquities Ordinance, any person (other than the Commissioner of Archaeology or a person acting in accordance with his orders) who  clears for cultivation or cultivates only part of an archaeological reserve or fells or otherwise destroys any tree standing on any such reserve  or otherwise encroaches on any such reserve, shall be guilty of an offence after summary trial before a magistrate. This course of action is possible only with lands regarding which settlements have been reached or government acquired lands.

Where no appeal  has been preferred against the conviction of any person of an offence under  Section 34, or where an appeal has been preferred, after the final judgment or order of the court of Appeal or the Supreme Court, as the case may be, affirming the conviction, the Magistrate may on the application of the Commissioner of Archaeology make order to eject the person convicted from the Archaeological reserve and handover the possession of the reserve to the Commissioner of Archaeology or his representative. The fiscal or peace officer shall make due return to the Magistrate’s Court  of the manner in which he executed the order.

The fiscal or peace officer or any officer authorized by either of them, may use such force as may be necessary to enter the archaeological reserve, to eject the person convicted and to deliver possession of the archaeological reserve to the Commissioner of Archaeology or his representative. Sections 33, 34 and 35 of the Antiquities Ordinance number 09 of 1940 specify the relevant procedures with regard to the acquisition of Archaeological site.

When a land is identified as having antiquities on it, such land, be it state or private owned, may be declared an archaeological reserve with a view to preventing unauthorized cultivations, settlements and constructions and to assure it’s sustainability.

  1. Identification of the Site
    • Obtaining an observation report from the regional office
    • Sending for the relevant plans and survey plans
  2. Ascertaining from the Divisional Secretariat Office, whether the land is a state or private land,
    • In the event of a private land, ascertaining the ownership of the owner
    • In the event of a state land, enquiring about the relevant land
    • Sending for the plans and survey plans of the land from the said institution
    • To acquire a private land, the owner's consent must be obtained
    • He/ she has to be paid compensation
    • For the above purpose, a valuation report must be obtained from the relevant Divisional Secretariat
    • The Divisional Secretary has to issue a survey order
    • Upon obtaining the valuation report from the Divisional Secretariat, approval must be obtained from the Secretary to the Ministry through the Head of the relevant institution
    • For this, the relevant forms must be filled
    • If it is valued at one million rupees or less, the approval of the relevant Minister, and beyond that the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers must be obtained
    • Subsequently, the Divisional Secretary has to pay compensation and prepare the draft in all three languages, to declare that the relevant land is an archaeological reserve
    • The draft, thereafter, has to be sent to the Legal draftsman and then have it printed by the Government printer
    • If a protest is lodged, it too must be accommodated
    • In the event of a State land, the approval of the Commissioner General of Land must be obtained following an agreement with the institution that owns the relevant land
    • Then, it should be declared an archaeological reserve in the above way
    • If there are unauthorized settlers on such a state land, they have to be evicted upon an eviction order

In the case of  some state lands for which compensation has to be paid, the same procedure, set out above must be followed.

The following are the relevant government institutions

  • Divisional Secretariat
  • Provincial Council
  • Pradeshiya Sabha (Local Government bodies)
  • Mahaweli Authority
  • Department of Commissioner of lands
  • Department of Land Reclamation
  • Department of Forest Conservation
  • Department of Wildlife Conservation
  • Ministry of Land

Declaring of Ancient Monuments

  • In terns of Sections 16, 17 and 18 and 19 of the Antiquities Ordinance number 9 of 1940, the Minister in charge of the subject may declare ancient monuments by notification published in the Gazette.
  • In terms of the Provisions of the Antiquities (amendment) Act No. 24 of 1988, ancient erections with historical and archeological value which are over 100 years of age are declared as ancient monuments.
  • Under sections 16 and 17 of the Antiquities Ordinance of 1940 ancient buildings on State lands or ancient trees growing on state or private land, may be declared as ancient monuments to provide safety and protection to such buildings and trees.
  • Ancient constructions on private lands may, in terms of the section 19 of the ordinance, be declared as protected monuments upon calling of objections.
  • Section 21 states that formal approval of the Department of Archeology is inevitable to carry out any work of restoration, addition or conservation on those sites once they are declared as archeological monuments.
  • Any person who destroys, damages or distorts a declared monument, shall be guilty of offence under this ordinance and be liable to a punishment, following a trial before a magistrate, of  a fine not less than 50,000 rupees and not exceeding 250,000 rupees or a jail term not less than 2 years and not exceeding 5 years or both. The law further defines that an offender may not be granted bail until the date of closure of the trail.
  • Orders have been made under section 24 (1) of the above ordinance with the objective of preventing threats to the antiquities and archeological value of the declared monuments, taking into consideration the sites and their neighboring environment. Further within a prescribed distance of 400 meters, the erection of buildings, quarrying, mining 01 blasting may be banned.

Within the last few years, a large number of incidents of destruction of antiquities, by treasure hunters, was  reported to the Department of Archaeology. Therefore, this division was established under the Exploration and Documentation Unit, in January 2008, to conserve artifacts for future generations.

Conservation of artifacts cannot be done solely by the Department of Archaeology. The support of the public and most significantly, the Police Department is essential in making this a reality. Hence, make the task of conservation of Antiquities more effective, a police unit was established to work closely with the division that works against the destruction of artifacts on 04.03.2008.


  1. To educate people in order to eliminate misconceptions with regard to treasures, since destruction of antiquities cannot be prevented  through laws alone
  2. To identify the organized groups that destroy or rob antiquities and to take legal actions against them
  3. To act immediately on information and complaints received from the public on about destruction of artifacts
  4. To co-ordinate between archaeology offices and police stations regarding destruction and theft of artifacts
  5. To prepare reports to be produced to the police and to the courts with regard to individuals against whom legal action have been initiated for the destruction or theft of artifacts

This police unit which is open on all 24 hours for complaints and information from the public, comes under the Crime Division of the Police Headquarters and is located in the premises of the Department of  Archaeology

From 04.03.2008 to 31.12.2008, 208 incidents of destruction and theft of artifacts have been reported to this police unit and from 01.01.2009 to 15.06.2009, 110 such incidents were reported.

Either on orders from courts or on information from the public or the head office, the police station of the relevant area inspects the sites and the respective reports are sent to the Exploration and Documentation Division through the regional archaeology office. On the instructions of the Director General of Archaeology or the Director in charge of the Exploration and Documentation Division, relevant reports are compiled by this special unit to prevent destruction of artifacts and are issued to the police or court under the signature of the Assistant Director in charge of Exploration / Documentation Division.

When an incident of a destruction of theft of an artifact or such an attempt is witnessed, you can inform it to the following address. The special police unit to prevent destruction of artifacts operates on all 24 hours.

Special unit in preventing destruction of Artifacts,
Exploration and Documentation Unit,
Department of Archaeology,
Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha,
Colombo 07.

It is mandatory for an archaeological impact assessment to be obtained with regard to any proposed development project to be carried out on a land of over 0.25 hectares in extent.

The archaeological impact assessment process checks if there are any artifacts on the land on which the development project is to be carried out, and if artifacts do exist, the impact on them by the due project should be described while stating the alternative studies to be carried out as well as the due reports to be provided.

The law in Sri Lanka with regard to the archaeological impact assessment survey is as follows :

The orders published in the gazette notification number 1152/14 dated 04.01.2004, made by the Minister of Cultural and Religious Affairs under Section 47, to be read with the Section 43(b) of the Antiquities (Amendment) act No. 24 of 1998, spells them out. These orders are called procedural orders of No. 01 Projects of 2000.

Accordingly, prior to carrying out all types of projects listed below, written permission of the Department of Archaeology must be obtained.

01. (a)
To develop transport systems
1. To construct national or provincial roads
2. To construct railway tracks
3. To construct Airports and runways or to expand them
(b) To develop irrigational projects
1. To construct or repair tanks
2. To construct or repair waterways and streams
(c) To generate and transmit electricity
(d) To develop agricultural projects
To re-settle projects
To set up industrial machinery or develop  industries and gardens
(g) To develop re-creation industry
(h) To fill lands or wetlands.
(i) To submerge lands or wetlands.
(j) To clear lands exceeding two hectares in extent.
02. (a) To construct housing complexes
(b) To construct hotels and all other commercial buildings as determined by the Urban Development Authority set up under the Urban Development Act No. 41 of 1978 of the National State Council
(c) To implement integrated multipurpose development activities including houses, industries and commercial infrastructure facilities
(d) To clear all lands exceeding two hectares in extent
03. To clear natural cares, dens and the inner side of caves which have a natural land exceeding twenty five square meters and constructions
04. To make excavations exceeding 500 meters for purposes of laying conduit pipes for drainage, water, gas, electricity and telephones
05. To quarrying and blasting stones to leach stone, gravel, minerals, or soil
(a) To identify reserves the exceed 0.25 hectares on the crust of the land in the inner part of the country and do mining
(b) To do all kinds of mining and mineral leaching activities off the shore
06. To clear  lands and damage the sea bed to construct or expand harbors or ports

  1. The investor should inform about the proposed project to the Department of Archaeology, in writing.
  2. Upon informing, an application form for the purpose of archaeological impact assessment survey, is sent to the investor (project proposer).
  3. When the investor submits the duly filled application form to the department, a copy of it is sent to the regional archaeology office and a preliminary report on the site will be obtained.
  4. According to the observation report of the Regional Assistant Director, along with recommendations, if the particular land has no artifacts on it, the land can be released for the above project. If the preliminary report suggests an archaeological impact assessment survey, necessary steps should be taken to do so.
  5. Bids are called from the 17 agents registered with the Department of Archaeology to make an impact assessment survey on the proposed project.
  6. The Monetary Board meets and the bids are opened. The Monetary Board comprises of the following persons.
    • Director General of Archaeology
    • Director, Institute of Post Graduate Studies on Archaeology
    • Director General of the Central Cultural Fund
    • Chairman of the council of Archaeologists
  7. Suitable agents to do archaeological impact assessment surveys, are selected by the monetary board
  8. The investor is informed to deposit the bid of the agent selected by the Monetary Board, in favors of Director General of Archaeology
  9. The Department of Archaeology informs the agent that the relevant  bid has been selected.
  10. Once the investor has deposited the relevant sum in favors of the Director General of Archaeology it is informed to the investor
  11. Once the agent is informed, he should send the archaeological impact assessment survey report to the Department within 6 weeks if he fails to do so, the Department can initiate legal action against the agent.
  12. After the relevant agent has completed the archaeological impact assessment survey report and has submitted it to the Department, the relevant sum is released to the agent.
  13. The next step is to send the archaeological impact assessment survey report to the Minister in charge. On the recommendation of the Minister, the Director General of Archaeology announces his decision with regard to the relevant project.

Given above are the initial procedures with regard  to an archaeological impact assessment process. Howerer, the following information is also important.

  1. Even in the case of a land that cannot be released according  to the archaeological impact assessment survey, the cost of the survey has to be borne by the investor.
  2. Further, if the agent who performs the archaeological impact assessment survey is not satisfied with a surface observation and proposes an excavation, the cost of that too has to be borne by the investor. If the need to conserve arises after the excavation, the cost of  conservation is also the investors liability. The Department of Archaeology is bound to return any amount, that is left once the exploration, the excavation and the conservation activities are over.
  3. It is the responsibility of the Department to send the excavation and conservation reports to the Ministry for approval

Marine Archaeological explorations deal with gathering of information on marine archaeological sites, site explorations, recording, taking necessary steps to conserve them and conducting archaeological impact assessment surveys prior to launching development projects on the coastal belt of the country.

These explorations take into account, all types of physical factors left behind by man, including sunk ships, harbors and settlements under water. Artifacts discovered by land archaeological explorations testify that Sri Lankans has had relationships with foreign countries even before the birth of Christ. Sri  Lanka has been an island for well over 10,000 years and vessals have been used for thousands of years to maintain relationships with the rest of the world. Sri Lanka has a number of natural harbors around the country.

The creation of artifacts has taken place due to ancient harbors or settlements sunk in the sea as a result of sea level changes or due to Sunken ships beneath the sea.

It is evident that there are large number of artifacts that can provide ample study opportunities regarding the activities of the ancient man along the domestic coastal stretch around Sri Lanka, since the Island is located at the Centre of a marine route that connected the west and east of India.

Archaeology takes interest in studying ancient human activities with the aid of artifacts remaining on the sea bed.

The ownership of the artifacts lying in the domestic waters of Sri Lanka is vested with the Director General of Archaeology by the Sub section 3 of section 2 of the Antiquities Ordinance No. 09 of 1940, as amended by the Antiquities (Amendment) Act, No. 24 of 1998.

  • Obtaining information from farmers
  • Exploring the area surrounding ancient harbors using magnet meters, side scanners and other sophisticated equipment
  • Diving and exploring the bottom of the sea by trained archaeological officers.
  • Recording the sites in detail with information obtained through maps on longitudinal and latitudinal locations, photographs and videos
  • Maintaining documents on artifacts

Section 15 of the Antiquities Ordinance No. 09 of 1940, as amended by Antiquities (Amendment) Act No. 24 of 1998, is effective in this regard.

It is important to prevent destruction of artifacts in the domestic waters, as much as it is important to do so with regard to artifacts on land.

One of the common methods in destroying marine artifacts is the destruction of ships sunk over 100 years ago, using  dynamite or by other means and the destruction of bringing their parts or any other artifact found within them to land without the prior approval of the Director General of Archaeology.

Any prospective investor should obtain a archaeology impact assessment survey report before he clears land or damages the sea bed for constructing or expanding ports or harbors on the domestic coastal stretch of the country.

Further information about the existing law and procedures relevant to this criteria are described under “Archeological Impact Assessment Survey”.

This unit obtains information on geographical locations of archaeological sites and monuments through GIS equipment and maintains them in a Computer Database.

The excellent irrigational technology of Ancient Sri Lanka is incomparable with any other ancient civilization in the world. The knowledge of the ancient Sri lankans in storing water by joining two high lands together where as constructing tanks according to the central locations and constructing anicuts, is unsurpassable. At present, there are over 34,000 giant reservoirs, a large number of  village tanks and a large number of streams and dams linked to them. This heritage has been identified, conserved and are bequeathed to future generations.

Last Updated on Monday, 02 July 2012 06:39