Sri Lanka’s Man-made Wonder: Sigiriya

I googled “what famous archaeological discoveries are in the country Sri Lanka” ( the country where my parents are from). What frequently popped up was this magnificent fortress called the Sigiriya. What’s fascinating about this fortress is that it is sitting right on top of a six hundred foot rock! This article will assess the story behind the story and discovery of Sigiriya with an archaeological spin to it.


Let’s rewind the clock back hundreds of years to about the fifth century AD. Meanwhile , Sri Lanka was a monarchist country; specifically, the kingdom was in the Moriya dynasty. The dynasty was in the midst of a heated turmoil as two half-brothers (Kashyapa and Moggallana) competed for the throne (Dowson 2017). Kashyapa’s mother was a concubine for the king while the mother of Moggallana was the queen; thus, Moggallana was the rightful heir to the throne. However, Kashyapa seized the crown from his father in a coup with the help of the military. Fearing for his life, Moggallana fled to South India. At the same time, Kashyapa dreaded that his half-brother might return with vengeance one day. So, he moved the capital from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya in 477 CE (Dowson 2017). In order to make his palace more secure, he constructed it on the top of a colossal rock. As the years went by and no sign of Moggallana, Kashyapa turned his fortress into a lavish palace. However, Kashyapa’s omen will become a reality in 495 CE as Moggallana returned (Dowson 2017). With his allies betraying him, Kashyapa committed suicide while Moggallana became king. Sigiriya was abandoned shortly after and was forgotten.


It was not until the 1800s in which archaeologists recovered the lost site and fortress. Archaeologists excavated the site in order to reconstruct the importance of Sigiriya (Dawson). Surrounding the fortress, are lavish gardens decorated with limestone and encompass pools of water like in Figure 1. Archaeologists assess that these gardens were constructed during the period when Kashyapa turned the fortress into a palace. One garden however was dated to the twelfth century which archaeologists raised the question if Sigiriya was ever abandoned at all (Dawson). A separate investigation found a huge stone paw, pictured in Figure 2, at the entrance of the rock.  Archaeologists assessed that these are lion paws since Sigiriya, translated in Sinhalese, means “lion rock.” A third excavation found beautiful frescoes depicting the culture during Kashyapa’s reign. In Figure 3, this massive painting of a Buddhist woman was found on the side of the rock.

Figure 1: Bird’s-eye View of one of the gardens surrounding the rock fortress. Photo by Bernard Gagnon

Figure 2: Remains of the “Lion” guarding the entrance to Sigiriya. Photo by Atlas and Boots

Figure 3: A beautiful fresco painting of a woman during Kashyapa’s reign. Photo by Bernard Gagnon

Archaeology isn’t just about excavations. It’s about constructing the stories and meanings behind them through the knowledge of the site’s culture and history. We don’t know if Sigiriya was truly abandoned. It’s normal to not have answers to every question since archaeology is a process that’s not written in stone. However, we know that Sigiriya will be for years to come!


Dowson, Thomas
2017 The Ancient City of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka. Archaeology Travel. August 13

2017 Sigiriya Rock Fortress: 7 tips for visiting. Atlas & Boots. June 11

Take a look at these websites to start your journey!

  1. Sigiriya

Sigiriya 2019: Best of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka Tourism. TripAdvisor.







The Richer Pompeii: Herculaneum

Probably the most famous archaeological discovery to mankind is the city ruins of Pompeii. In pop culture, Pompeii is known as the city that was washed away by Mount Vesuvius. But did you know that another city fell victim that August day in 79 AD? Its name is Herculaneum. 

Herculaneum was a Roman city on the port of the Gulf of Naples (Figure 1). In trying to reconstruct the past of these townspeople, archaeologists have found several luxurious places including bathhouses and theaters. This suggests that the town was one of the wealthiest areas in the Roman Empire, unlike its sister city Pompeii (Herculaneum 2016). It could even be a vacation spot! So, it was like the Hawaii of the Roman Empire! 

Figure 1: Herculaneum on the Map

However, that all changed on midnight, August 24th, 79 AD (Sheldon 2010). Mount Vesuvius wiped everything in its past. For the other Romans looking in, it was assumed that everyone escaped. That was it. From the records, no one talked about the city and the “story” of Herculaneum was sealed under sixty feet of volcanic material (Britannica 2019). It would reopen hundreds of years later. There isn’t a clear source as to how it was discovered. However, all sources have a common thread; it was accidentally founded by ordinary people in the 18th century.

Immediately, archaeologists from around the world wouldn’t only excavate Herculaneum but also explain the past of these ancient people. The site of Herculaneum is one of the best preserved sites in the world. The volcanic ash actually preserved the city underneath. Archaeologists got to recover jewelry and even food (Sheldon 2010)! The only food found were loaves of bread found within ovens that were accessible only to the higher class (Britannica 2019). In Pompeii, the volcanic material actually preserved the human body; we see the final positions they were in before they perished. In Herculaneum, it was initially believed that they escaped since no human bodies were found. Then in the 1980s, two hundred fifty human skeletons were found, like Figure 2, suggesting that the pyroclastic flow burned them, leaving only bone (Difference 2013).

Figure 2: Jewelry still worn on a woman’s hand found in a Herculaneum site

Today, Herculaneum is a tourist attraction (Figure 3). The discovery of Herculaneum debunks the myth that archaeology is a fully planned out process in that archaeologists know where the sites are beforehand. Herculaneum was discovered by accident; it’s through chance and improvisation in which the archaeological process for the city was founded upon. Through the various findings, we can tell the story of these Romans thousands of years later. The ovens, jewelry, boats, and bathhouses were the pieces to the puzzle on how we can confirm that Herculaneum was exclusive to the upper class. Only through archaeology could we do all of this and that’s the beauty of this field.

Figure 3: Herculaneum & Mount Vesuvius Today

Has the inner archaeologist in you want to explore this site? Here are two links to start your adventure:


Reference list


Britannica, The Editors of EncyclopaediaHerculaneum. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. 2019.

Difference Between Pompeii and Herculaneum. May 7. 2013.

Herculaneum Half-day Tour. 2016.

Sheldon, Natasha. The History of Herculaneum. Ancient History and 2010.



File:Mt Vesuvius 79 AD eruption.svg. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation.

Kleiner, Diane E.E2018 Habitats at Herculaneum and Early Roman Interior Decoration. We’re Never Far from Where We Were. February 19.

Parco Acheologico di Ercolano – 2019 All You Need to Know BEFORE You Go (with Photos). TripAdvisor.