Origin of Sri Lankan Geology

By Prof. Kapila Dahanayake, Senior Professor of Geology, University of Peradeniya

Birth of the Geological Society of Sri Lanka (GSSL) in 1983

In contemporary Sri Lanka, serious academic contributions in geology dates back to 1902, more than 100 years ago, when the Government Mineralogy Department was established in 1902 under the direction of Dr Ananda Coomaraswamy –the first Sri Lankan geologist to head this institution- whose name later on became a household word in this country also for his exploits in the fields of art and culture. The geological research in Sri Lanka began in the earnest in the very first years of the last century with the classic work on gneissic rocks of the Galle Fort published in the Journal of the Geological Society of London in 1902.

Geological research and investigations have continued unabated throughout subsequent decades with the major contributions from F.D. Adams, E.J. Wayland, J.S .Coates, D.N. Wadia, L.J.D. Fernanado, C.H.L. Sirimanne, P.G. Cooray, and P.W. Vitanage. While the Geological Survey Department efficiently carried out various geological and mineralogical investigations through out the country under the guidance of its directors such as M.M.J.W. Herath, D.J.A.C Hapuarachchi, L.K.Senewirathna, Dulip Jayawardana, M.R.D. Fernando and Nimal Ranasinghe, the Geology Department at University of Peradeniya Produced the qualified professionals needed for the country. Prof. C.B. Dissanayake and Prof. Kapila Dahanayake who are still attached to the University are among the outstanding teachers –cum- researchers of this department

Despite long years of contributions towards understanding the geology of Sri Lanka, there had never been a suitable forum or organization solely for professional geologists to meet together over a period of time to present the results of their investigations/research and discuss their findings with each other. The first attempts towards establishing such a forum for Sri Lankan geologists was initiated by the late Professor P.G. Cooray in the late seventies and early eighties. An informal gathering of Colombo-based geologists had formed a club named after the late Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy which perhaps formed the nucleus of a fully fledged geological society which is now called the GSSL. The late Professor Cooray was so enthusiastic in uniting the Colombo-based geologists and those from Peradeniya to a single forum, he impressed upon me the need to initiate work in that direction and promised the required financial assistance. Thus during my term of office as Head of the Department of Geology at Peradeniya during 1981-83, preliminary discussions were initiated with Professor Cooray and my colleagues at Peradeniya. It was decided to hold an international symposium on the Geology of Sri Lanka as the first meaningful step towards the establishment of the GSSL. As the Chairman of the Symposium organizing committee, I should say that support for this event was overwhelming and the establishment of the GSSL was eagerly awaited by the national and international geological community working on Sri Lankan geology. The financial support for the symposium was provided by the Association of Geoscientists for International Development (AGID) based in Bangkok and International Center for training and Exchanges in geosciences (CIFEG) of Paris. The symposium was planned for August 1983 but owing to civil disturbances at the time the event was held eventually from 1st to 7th September 1983. In spite of the circumstances, a large number of local geoscientists and several from abroad (India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Australia and Denmark) took part in stimulating scientific sessions and three instructive field trips.

During the last day (3rd September 1983) of the symposium, steps towards the formal establishment of the GSSL were taken and a draft constitution was adopted by 63 geologists present on the occasion..At this inaugural meeting, Mr Dulip Jayawardena, Director, Geological Survey Department, Colombo 2 was elected unanimously as the First President of GSSL. Mr L.J.D. Fernando was elected as a Honorary Life member in recognition of his dedicated services towards understanding the geology of Sri Lanka. Since the inception of the GSSL in 1983, many activities have been undertaken by respective executive committees over the last 25 years and these included (a) the establishment of the award of Ananda Coomaraswamy medal to Sri Lankan and foreign geoscientists for outstanding contributions towards understanding the geology of Sri Lanka (b) Annual Award of P.G. Cooray medal for outstanding research for young geologists (c) P.W. Vitanage scholarship for promising Special Degree Geology undergraduates and (d) Tissa Munasinghe scholarship for needy geology undergraduates (e) seminars and worshops for popularization of geology among teachers and school children. It is a pleasure to note the close affinity and collaboration among geologists from different parts of Sri Lanka and abroad at regular annual gatherings of the GSSL. This closely- knit geological community has contributed immensely during the last 25 years for the advancement of geosciences in Sri Lanka. Their services are all the more needed now in Sri Lanka with its new-found rights to a vast 180 km economic zone in the ocean around Sri Lanka with a potential wealth of mineral and petroleum resources.

My article on the birth of the GSSL would not be complete if I do not refer to the evolution of the geological community in Sri Lanka. The older generations of geologists were persons who had done geology as a subject in foreign universities, particularly in India. There were also geographers who had done their geological studies as postgraduate training in foreign universities. The training of geologists started on a sound footing in Sri Lanka with the establishment initially of a sub-department of geology in the Faculty of Science in 1964 at the then University Ceylon in Peradeniya under the stewardship of the late Professor P.W.Vitanage.. It should be mentioned that there was no subject department for geology during the establishment of the University of Ceylon in 1942. However, meaningful steps had been already taken by the then university authorities to construct a Geography- Geology Building way back in 1952 with the partial shifting of some of the academic departments to the Peradeniya campus of the University of Ceylon. Today the fully fledged Department of Geology is housed in this building. Efforts are now under way for the construction of a larger geology building in the Faculty of Science premises at Peradeniya. This has become necessary to meet the needs of increasing numbers of students as well as the urgent necessity to expand the earth science curriculum for future geologists to effectively participate in the development effort of the country. Since 1964, this department is responsible for training a large number of geologists needed for the whole country and they now form the core group of the GSSL. They are employed in the state and private sectors. Their inputs are solicited in (a) geological surveys and investigations (b) mineral exploration and sand mining (c) groundwater exploration (d) investigation of environmental problems (e) construction of tunnels, dams and highways and of late (f) the petroleum exploration sector

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