Balangoda Man • Balangoda Manawaya • බළන්ගොඩ මානවයා
Balangoda Man refers to hominins from Sri Lanka's late Quaternary period. The term was initially coined to refer to anatomically modern Homo sapiens from sites near Balangoda that were responsible for the island's Mesolithic 'Balangoda Culture'. The earliest evidence of Balangoda Man from archaeological sequences at caves and other sites dates back to 38,000 BP, and from excavated skeletal remains to 30,000 BP, which is also the earliest reliably dated record of anatomically modern humans in South Asia. Cultural remains discovered alongside the skeletal fragments include geometric microliths dating to 28,500 BP, which together with some sites in Africa is the earliest record of such stone tools. Balangoda Man is estimated to have had thick skulls, prominent supraorbital ridges, depressed noses, heavy jaws, short necks and conspicuously large teeth. Metrical and morphometric features of skeletal fragments extracted from cave sites that were occupied during different periods have indicated a rare biological affinity over a time frame of roughly 16,000 years, and the likelihood of a partial biological continuum to the present-day Vedda indigenous people.
Archeological data from the Late Pleistocene in South Asia is vital for our understanding of the evolution of modern human behavior and how early humans spread through the Old World. In prehistoric times, the movement of human and faunal populations from the Indian mainland to Sri Lanka and back took place over the continental shelf shared between the two countries, which from around 7000 BP has been submerged below the Palk Strait and Adam's Bridge. Being only around 70 m deep, significant reductions in sea level due to climate change, in at least the past 500,000 years, periodically caused the continental shelf to be exposed, forming a land bridge approximately 100 km wide and 50 km long. From an analysis of coastal deposits near Bundala in the Hambantota district in Sri Lanka, paleontologists have gathered secure evidence of prehistoric fauna in Sri Lanka by 125,000 BP. Excavations of the area have also yielded tools of quartz and chert probably belonging to the Middle Palaeolithic period. Consequently, some believe in the possibility that there were prehistoric humans in Sri Lanka from 500,000 BP or earlier, and consider it likely that they were on the island by 300,000 BP. Further analysis of ancient coastal sands in the north and southeast of the island may yield evidence of such early hominids.
From South Asia in general, there is secure evidence of such early settlement. Although not regarded as an anatomically modern Homo sapiens, a skull from the Central Narmada Valley in Madhya Pradesh, India, referred to as Narmada Man, is the first authenticated discovery of a late Middle Pleistocene (around 200,000 BP) hominid from South Asia. The discovery has sparked much debate regarding where it belongs in the taxonomic organisation of Pleicestone hominids. Its morphometric traits do not easily match those of Homo erectus, but they correlate with hominid specimens called archaic Homo sapiens, which include pre-Neanderthals from Europe and West Asia. In 1955, P. E. P. Deraniyagala suggested the name "H. s. balangodensis". Other classifications of the skull include Homo heidelbergensis and evolved Homo erectus, but the latter has been disputed by some as having no taxonomic meaning.