We are very fortunate to collaborate with our colleagues in Oxford's PalaeoDeserts ERC project led by Prof. Michael Petraglia. Katerina is working alongside Mike and his colleagues in Sri Lanka, building chronologies for a series of key sites in this important part of South Asia. Modern humans coming out of Africa eventually end up in Australia and several scholars have suggested this dispersal might involve a coastal movement and one that includes the Indian subcontinent. Sites in Sri Lanka contain some of the earliest microlithic toolkits, bone points and also evidence for personal ornamentation earlier than anywhere in South Asia. Mike has been working in India for 25 years, and more recently has started work in Sri Lanka. PalaeoChron is collaborating with him on dating several of the key early modern human sites in which microlithic technologies have been found. Funding has also been obtained from the NERC Radiocarbon Facility (NRCF). We are hoping to test the radiocarbon dates already obtained (which are very few) and see whether or not microlithic industries start earlier than currently documented.
With our Sri Lankan colleagues Nimal Perera, Siran Deraniyagala and Oshan Wedage, we spent 5 days working on collecting samples, visiting old and new sites and discussing future work on the dating of some of their important material. We visited the key site of Batatomba-lena, set in dense rainforest in the SW of the island. Here Nimal Perera and Siran Deraniyagala excavated a deep 4 m sequence obtaining microlithic evidence to the base of the excavation. We also visited sites with existing sections along the southern coast and sampled material from them.
Sri Lankan sites have also yielded a lot of human remains. We were able to examine some of these for possible analysis and dating. With our team was Patrick Roberts, a DPhil student in Oxford, who has been using isotopic analysis of tooth enamel from these human remains to explore their palaeodietary adaptation. While we were in Colombo his latest research was published in Science. It shows that humans in Sri Lanka were able to live almost entirely on food found in the rainforest for more than 20,000 years. It was great to be able to see the press coverage of the research and share the excitment and celebration of a big publication coming out.
(Left) Katerina and Nimal examine human remains.
(Above) Tom, Nimal and Mike at the site of Batatomba-lena.
In the National Park near where we were sampling material there are many elephants and a wide range of other wildlife.