Institut für Orient- und Asienwissenschaften der Universität Bonn
Environment, Infrastructure and Nature of Ports in Ancient Sri Lanka: the Archaeological Evidence from the Harbour, Monastery, Town and Shipwreck (1st cent. BC) of Godavaya (Godapavata Pattana)
Taprobania and the paradigm shift away from the Ptolemaic model of Asia
Sri Lanka gained its characteristic function as a centre of sea born trade from its central position in the Indian Ocean. Historical sources and recent archaeological discoveries are pinpointing to the role of southern Sri Lanka as a centre point and as well as a border between the eastern and the western world. This paper is going to present some considerations concerning the specific nature and infrastructure of ports in ancient Sri Lanka and how they were influenced by the change of trade routes. Their links to the hinterland and other Indian Ocean ports will also be in the focus.
The change of trade patterns even influenced specific views of the world or mapping traditions if the term „map“ is used in its broadest and most inclusive form as a repository of culturally embedded and graphically portrayed understandings about space and environments experienced from different people at different times.
Archaeological finds and findings from Sri Lanka will illuminate the history of ancient long- distance trade. The excavations at the port and monastery of Godavaya (Godapavata Pattana) will give an idea of the structure of sea trade and the nature of ports existing at a rivers mouth from the 1st cent. B. C. to the 8th century A. D. The ancient site of Godavaya consists of a monastic complex, a residential area and several landing places at the rivers banks connecting the seaport with anchorage to the hinterland. In addition to its outstanding topographical situation, a significant 2nd century Brahmi inscription giving information about taxes and handling of goods was found chiselled onto a rock. In addition to this numerous hoards and settlement finds of late roman coins and their Lankan imitations called “Naimanas” have been found along the southern coastline of Sri Lanka numbering tenth of thousands underlining the importance of that region in late antiquity.
Furthermore an ancient ship wreck could be located during underwater surveys undertaken by a Sri Lankan – German team from the Archaeological Department and the University of Bonn in the coastal waters of Godavaya a few years ago. The « Godavaya ship wreck » sunk during the 2nd half of the 1st cent. BC, thus probably being the eldest ever been found in Sri Lankan and even Indian waters so far. According to its cargo it was involved in the far distance trade with raw glass between the Mediterranean, South India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.
In the mind of traders from ancient Europe Sri Lanka had been a barrier for quite a long time. While crossing borders communication produced space and space produced communication comparable to the virtual “online territories” of today. Anyhow the human perception of environment resulted in map making and mind mapping both being closely linked to each other in human brain.