Banyan News World Exclusive!
Godavaya, Sri Lanka: 14 March 2009: Marine archaeologists have just discovered evidence of a large submerged landmass southeast of Sri Lanka. They believe it could be a legendary lost island closely linked to the culture and history of Sri Lankan people.
The discovery was made by a team of Dutch and Sri Lankan scientists based on satellite maps and underwater sample extractions from the deep sea. Preliminary data need to be verified by a deep sea submersible expedition during 2009 – 2010, according to a member of the research team who did not want to be identified.
The landmass is estimated to be between 450,000 and 475,000 square kilometres, which is about seven times the total land area of Sri Lanka.
“This could well be the long lost island of Irisiyawa, which is euphemistically mentioned in our chronicles and hinted at in the writings of Greek historians,” said Dr Godwin Samarawickrama, a maritime historian at the Indian Ocean Institute based in Melacca, Malaysia.
He added: “The existence of such an island has been speculated and talked in hush-hush terms among divers and archaeologists for decades. This is the Indian Ocean’s own version of Atlantis!”
Irisiyawa’s existence is first mentioned in the Sri Lankan chronicle of Culavamsa. Sinhalese Sandesa (message poem) writers in the 14th to 16th centuries often refer to the enormous psychological effect by sunken Irisiyawa on royal families, aristocracy and ordinary people. Some say the legacy of Irisiyawa has continued well into the twenty first century.
Other experts are more sceptical, and point out long-standing speculations about Kumari Kandam, a legendary sunken landmass said to have been located to the south of present-day Kanyakumari District at the southern tip of India. Some also call it Lemuria, a continent that existed in ancient times and sank beneath the ocean as a result of a geological, often cataclysmic, change. There is no scientific evidence to support these claims.
“Sri Lanka must quickly assert its historical and territorial claims over the newly discovered sunken island,” said Gajaba Vidyadheera, a senior lecturer in history at the University of Peradeniya. “If not, other countries and cultures can stake their own claims, leading to disputes and even international litigation.”
But the marine archaeology team who made the discovery advise caution. “We need much more evidence before even considering any claims, and historical and cultural speculation could only muddy the deep waters,” said a Dutch member of the team, none of who would make any statement on the record.
In recent years, much evidence has been found of maritime activity in and off the southern coast of Sri Lanka. In late 2008, an underwater search of the seas around Godavaya, Hambantota district, carried out by the Central Cultural Fund, revealed the wreck of a ship, possibly dating back to the 1st Century AD. If confirmed, this could be the oldest shipwreck in the Indian Ocean.
Sri Lanka with its 65,610 square kilometres is currently ranked at No 121 out of 231 countries and territories according to their land area. If the estimated landmass of submerged Irisiyawa is added, this would immediately boost Sri Lanka’s ranking to around 50, comparable to that of Thailand with 513,120 sq km.
The archipelago nation of Maldives, which lies to the southwest of Sri Lanka, has only 298 sq km and ranks No 201, the smallest country in Asia.
Atlantis is a legendary island mentioned by Greek philosopher Plato. While no hard evidence for its existence has yet been found, it has fascinated many historians, writers and explorers for centuries.