WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka


Namal Uyana: One of the world's largest beds of

20 million years old fossilized plants


By Chandani Kirinde

Namal Uyana The  sanctuary at Ulpothagama, Madatugama famous for its pink quartz mountain could be the home of one of the world's largest beds of fossilized plants. The accidental find of a massive fossil bed by a para archaeologist led to a team of government officials visiting the site and submitting a report to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe recommending that the area be declared a "strict natural reserve" and a high security zone. The plant fossil area is believed to cover over 300 acres. Para-archaeologist Bandu Weerawardena stumbled on the fossil bed in January this year while studying some archaeological sites within the area.

Soon after the discovery, the chief priest of Namal Uyana, Vanavasi Rahula Thero wrote to the Prime Minister's office asking that a team of local experts be sent to probe the find. The team concluded that this is a "wonderful find" and needs to be examined by foreign experts. They have submitted a basic management plan for the fossil bed area until experts are called in from abroad to do a detailed study of the site.

Initial beliefs are that the fossils could date as far back as 20 million years or more.
Additional Secretary (Natural Resources) of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources W.R.M.S. Wickremasinghe in his report to the Prime Minister's Secretary submitted last week has recommended that the area be immediately secured under the Flora and Fauna Act as a strict natural reserve, so that it cannot be tampered with. "The fossils are very fragile. Even if a person steps on them, immeasurable damage could be done," an official of the Ministry who visited the site said.

Instead of leaving the area open to the public, the Ministry has recommended that a fossil sample be taken from the site and be exhibited in the Namal Uyana itself so that the large numbers who visit the place especially children have the opportunity to see the fossil.

Mr.Weerawardene who made the discovery said that the huge trunks of trees embedded in rock have begun to surface as a result of years of erosion. But this had gone unnoticed till now.

"This is very exciting because along with the plant fossils, there might be animal fossils embedded here as well. We could learn not only about the plant life millions of years ago in our country but also animal life of that time," Mr.Weerawardene said.

He said that the lack of expertise in the fields of fossil study namely palaeobotany in Sri Lanka would mean experts from abroad would be needed to date the find and compare it with similar finds in other parts of the world. "This a great discovery for the entire country," Mr.Weerawardene said.

Namal Uyana has a history dating back to the first century AD. It is said to have been used as a monastery during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa. By the eighth century, during the reign of King Dapulu IV -it had been turned into a sanctuary, where people could flee from persecution and remain free as long as they stayed within its confines. Several stone inscriptions giving details of the existence of Namal Uyana and the sanctuary have been found in the Anuradhapura area. These also appear in one of the only two octagonal stone inscriptions found in the country so far.

Despite the fact that many thousands of people visit Na-mal Uyana, little effort has been made to do a detailed study of its plant and animal life today. The Environment Ministry has thus also recommended that a detailed report of its plant life be undertaken immediately. Although Na trees make up the bulk of the thick canopy of trees within the sanctuary, so far 72 types of medical plants have been discovered there. The present sanctuary covers an area of over a 1000 hectares.

One can only speculate as to how such a large extent of jungle came to be fossilized in this way but some geologists believe it could be a result of a violent eruption that took place millions of years ago. The find could also be the much needed boost that a field such as palaeontology, which is sorely lacking in expertise as well as resources, needs in Sri Lanka.

WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka