Sri Lankan maritime archaeology was greatly influenced by the explorations done in the Indian Ocean in 1992. Some of the maritime archaeologists from Western Australian Maritime Museum assisted and directed maritime archaeological activities in a beneficial way under the observation of Prof. Senake Bandaranayke. During this era archaeological students of some universities, especially from Kelaniya University, were very enthusiastic about accepting Maritime Archaeology as a subject of study. Con'd ..
Sri Lanka has three sorts of legislation relevant to the protection of the underwater cultural heritage. First there is the heritage-related legislation. The earliest was the Treasure Trove Ordinance 1887 and 1891. Secondly there is the Antiquities Ordinance No. 9 of 1940, as amended from time to time. The Cultural Property Act No. 73 of 1988 regulates the purchase of cultural property and the removal of cultural property from the territory of Sri Lank.Con'd ..
The Underwater Cultural Heritage is an important part of the national heritage of any country. Sri Lanka has a very long coastline for an island that is so small. We also have a long recorded history, during which we came into contact with all other seafaring people who came here, mostly for trade. These people, in their own writings and records, wrote about this country in glowing terms.
As in many other countries underwater archaeology had its humble beginning in Sri Lanka with treasure hunting and artefact recovery from shallow waters. The lack of awareness of the value of shipwrecks to man’s cultural heritage, absence of proper harmonized legislation and weak enforcing authorities have been drawback to the safeguard of this cultural wealth. Also traditional archaeologists, with innumerable sites on land, could hardly pay attention to maritime archaeology.
Therefore, to understand our past, we must look for archaeological evidence of our maritime past. Till 1998, the Archaeological Department did not have powers over the sea. However, it had powers over the lakes, rivers and lagoons, all of which are internal waters. The Amendment to the Antiquities Act, in 1998, gave the Director-General of Archaeology powers to conduct archaeological work in our territorial waters. Even before this, some of us had been trying to train young archaeological graduates and conservators to work in the sea. Even the government made use of these efforts, particularly in surveying areas of the sea where development work was to take place. But the 1998 Amendment changed all that by making maritime archaeology one of the Archaeology Departments activities. Thus, maritime archaeology became part of our national search for material remains of the past.