Fa Hien Cave

Fa Hien Cave is a cave in the district of Kalutara, Western Province, Sri Lanka, named after the Buddhist monk Faxian (Wade-Giles: Fa Hien). The cave is important for the Late Pleistocene human skeletal remains discovered there in the 1960s and 1980s.

The first human burials in the cave were uncovered in 1968 by Dr Siran U. Deraniyagala (the Sri Lankan government department of archaeology), and he returned with an assistant, W. H. Wijepala, in 1988. The main finds consisted of microliths, the remains of ancient fires, and the remains of plants and human beings. Radiocarbon dating indicated that the cave had been occipied from about 33,000 to 4,750 years ago — from the Late Pleistocene to the Middle Holocene. The human remains from the different levels were taken to the Human Biology Laboratory at Cornell University, where they were studied by Dr Kenneth A. R. Kennedy and one of his graduate students, Joanne L. Zahorsky.

The oldest fragments of human bone came from a young child, two older children, a juvenile, and two adults, and showed evidence of being secondary burials: that is, after death, the bodies were exposed, and after decomposition and the predations of scavengers, the bones were placed in graves. The later remains included those of a young child, about 6,850 years old, and a young woman (nicknamed Kalu-Menika by the archaeologists), about 5,400 years old. Both were also secondary burials.

The discoveries were important to archaeologists and palaeontologists because the earliest of the people buried in Fa Hien Cave lived at the same time as European Cro-Magnon man and other hominids of the Late Pleistocene around the world. Studies of the teeth found in the cave indicate that the population of Sri Lanka ground nuts, seeds, and grains in stone querns in the preparation of food, and that they continued to live as hunter-gatherers until about the 8th century BCE. Sri Lanka has yielded the earliest known microliths, which didn't appear in Europe until the Early Holocene.

Other important Sri Lankan prehistoric sites at which human remains have been found include two other caves – Batadombalena (about 28,500 years old) and Belilena Kitulgala (about 12,000 years old) – and an open-air site, Bellanbandi Palassa (about 6,000 years old).

Famous quotes containing the word cave:

    The human mind is indeed a cave swarming with strange forms of life, most of them unconscious and unilluminated. Unless we can understand something as to how the motives that issue from this obscurity are generated, we can hardly hope to foresee or control them.
    Charles Horton Cooley (1864–1929)