Harry Charles Purvis Bell

In Collaboration With R P Fernando

H. C. P Bell was appointed as the Archaeological Commissioner for Ceylon and the Maldives in 1890 and stayed in post until 1912. During his time he explored the country and recognised and valued the unique sites that he came across at Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura amongst others in the country. He began to undertake extensive Archaeological excavations and uncovered ancient objects and remains of exceptional artistic and cultural value. The discovery of wall paintings in 1897 at Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa proved particularly rewarding - all the more remarkable for the former given their relative inaccessibility. Examples of statues and carvings were taken to the British Museum at his recommendation.

He set up a Commission to coordinate the archaeological excavations in 1898 and started to publish a journal; 'Ephigraphia Zeylanica' to detail the inscriptions discovered through his department's work. This work showed the world the unique contributions made to culture by the civilisations of Ceylon and what made these particularly pertinent was the influence that they still exerted on the people of the island. This was not a dead culture from the mists of time, but part of a continuum that carried on to the present day.

His biography was published as: H.C.P. Bell; Archaeologist of Ceylon and the Maldives

Ceylon | Ceylon Individuals | Sigiriya Article

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by Stephen Luscombe