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Sri Lanka's mineral resources

can enrich country's coffers

Prashan Francis
B.Sc. Special (Geo.,SL), M.Sc.(Gem., SL), M.Sc.(Petro., Canada),
Ph.D. (Gem. ,SL),Dip. Mkt (UK), G.G. (GIA, USA), A.J.P. (GIA,

Director General
Gem &Jewellery Research & Training Institute, Sri Lanka
(Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment)

A publication of
Gem & Jewellery Research & Training Institute, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka's mineral resources can enrich
country's coffers
© Prashan Francis

publication of Gem & Jewellery Research & Training Institute,

Sri Lanka

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reprinted

or reproduced in any form without the prior permission of the

Cover page designed by: S. Sutharshan


ISBN 978-955-8382-04-2
Sri Lanka is gifted with many varieties of high quality mineral
resources; yet, most minerals are exported in its unrefined
state for a paltry amount. Most of Sri Lankan minerals are
highly sought after by industrial countries because they are
considered as ultra- pure and of very high quality. Yet, it is
disheartening to realize that its present contribution to the
national economy is a minimum. If these minerals are
exported after subjecting them to a value addition process,
then, we could earn a fortune.

Books relating to Sri Lankan mineral resources are available;

but most of them describe the technical aspects of mineral
resources, mainly intended for technical personal. There are
no books written to cater to school children or teachers.
Recently, the government has realized the importance of
educating the school children about the natural resources of
the country. It has also introduced a new school curriculum
incorporating some courses about mineral resources. It has
arranged a few teacher training programs under the guidance
of mineral professionals. I had attended some of the programs
arranged by the ministry of education.

Since 2015, I was writing articles concerning minerals to daily

and weekend papers for publication. A number of students
and teachers had asked me to write a book incorporating my
publications relating to Sri Lankan mineral resources. As
such, this book is prepared to gratify them as well as to
provide the masses with further information regarding the
subject. This book is written in such a manner that it is easy
to comprehend by any person, even, without any knowledge
of science.

In addition, this covers most aspects of mineral resources,
especially the aspects of value addition. This book is
produced, mainly for the target group mentioned earlier and
not intended for financial gains. Most probably, this book
would be either distributed free or at a trivial price to cover
the printing cost.

This is mainly written for non-technical persons other than

professionals. In order to give them a simplified version of the
technicalities and the complex theories of minerals, I had to
sometimes deviate from standard theoretical format in
mineral resource education.

Prashan Francis

Many individuals had facilitated the preparation of the
articles collected in this book and their contributions are
greatly appreciated. I am grateful to Mr. S. Sutharshan for the
designing of the cover page.

Above all, I wish to thank the following: Mr. Nawarathna

Bandara Alahakoon, Chairman, GJRTI and Mr. Anura
Dissanayake, Secretary for the Ministry of Mahaweli
Development & Environment for their invaluable assistance
and encouragement, for smoothing my way with countless
introductions. Mr. Ajith De Silva, Director, Land Resources,
Ministry of Mahaweli Development & Environment, who put
the resources of his office at my disposal. I am also deeply
grateful to them for their invaluable co-operation towards
making this publication a reality.

My sincere appreciation goes to historians, archaeologists

and geologists, who had taken part the studies related to Sri
Lankan minerals. Special regard goes to D.G.A. Perera, life
member, Royal Asiatic Society and Sirimunasiha, for their
contribution to the studies relating to Sri Lankan gun powder
and gold.
Lastly, I wish to express my gratitude for the unstintingly
assistance given by my father, wife and daughter by proof-
reading the manuscript, suggesting many suitable changes.

The publication of this book is sponsored by Ministry of

Mahaweli Development and Environment. Whereas, the
actual publishing of this book is carried out by Gem &
Jewellery Research & Training Institute, Sri Lanka.

Prashan Francis
Contents Page
Preface I
Acknowledgement III

1- Mineral sand 1
Mineral sand; nature's bountiful gift to Lanka.

2- Graphite 17
Lanka’s graphite industry needs innovation.

3- Limestone 33
Another golden era for limestone in the offing.

4- Clay 44
Sri Lanka’s clay; magnanimous gift to locals through the ages.

5- Vein quartz 63
Vein quartz from Sri Lanka alias ‘Silicon Valley’.

6- Salt 74
Lanka's salt can enrich country's coffers.

7- Gold 85
Sri Lanka’s gold; past & present.

8- Iron-ore 94
Lanka’s iron ore needs innovation to regain its past glory.

9- Gemstones 103
From time immemorial Lankan gemstones have been
sought after by royals.

10- Apatite 113

Eppawala apatite is a money - spinner for innovative users.

11- Saltpeter (Potassium nitrate) 123

Ancient Lankan made guns powered by local gunpowder.

1- Mineral sand
Mineral sand; nature's bountiful gift to Lanka

Since ancient times, sand lining the surface of the earth is

considered as one of the most abundant and seemingly
worthless substance. Yet, most people are unaware that
special type of sand called “mineral sand,” which can be used
in a variety of high-tech industries is found as a large
economic deposit along Sri Lanka’s northeast shores.

Noteworthy difference between ordinary sand and mineral

sand is that mineral sand generally includes denser material
and most often exhibits higher density. Hence, it is sometimes
called ‘heavy sand’.

Although, Sri Lanka does not inherit large gold deposits up to

now, Mother Nature has been very kind to gift it with the
highly valuable very large mineral sand deposit, which is as
good as a gold deposit and is considered the richest mineral
sand deposit in the world (heavy mineral content of 60% to

Therefore, it is feasible to produce a variety of high purity

minerals at a very low cost. A simple formula indicates that
70 tons of heavy mineral varieties can be extracted from 100
tons of raw mineral sand. This deposit covers a region
approximately six kilometers in length and an average of 100
meters in width. It is located throughout the beach abutting

Mineral sand deposit and its mining at Pulmoddai

This deposit is rich in very valuable minerals such as ilmenite,

rutile, zircon, monazite and garnet. It also yields smaller
amounts of thorianite and thorite.
The major mineral composite found within the mineral sand
includes 70% ilmenite, 8% rutile and 8-10% zircon. Recent
estimates reveal that around 12.5 million tons of unexplored
mineral sand are still available around this area. Therefore, if
this source is properly exploited it would bring forth
exorbitant riches.

A variety of economic fractions derived from Lankan mineral sand

Extraction of constituent minerals from Lankan mineral sand
commenced way back in 1963. Initially, ilmenite,
subsequently, rutile and zircon were separated. After initial
screening this sand is separated, depending on its magnetic
property, as magnetic and non-magnetic fractions.
Thereafter, the non-magnetic fraction is again subdivided,
using its conductive property, as conductive and non-
conductive minerals. Gravity separation and electro-
magnetic separation were also initiated to fine tune the
process in due course.

Finally, around 100,000 tons of these fractionated minerals

were exported each year as raw products. This procedure
procures some amount of foreign currency to the country, but
this amount can be increased appreciably if Sri Lanka could
achieve the value addition of each of these constituent
minerals prior to export.

Machinery that is used to separate mineral sand into its economic


There is a significant improvement achieved by Sri Lanka in
the process of mineral extraction out of its sand deposit, but
for the last several decades, starting from the inception of
exploration, it had not succeeded in the technique of real
value addition to its heavy minerals such as ilmenite, rutile
and zircon.

Currently, the most discouraging disclosure is that Sri Lanka

is still Importing from elsewhere substances that could have
been processed from its mineral sand. Furthermore, these are
imported at an exorbitant price compared to the income
gained from its mineral exports. One such product is titanium
dioxide (extracted from ilmenite sand and rutile sand)
imported for our paint and cosmetic industry.

According to the information gathered from Sri Lanka’s

Customs it is revealed that country’s expenditure to import
titanium dioxide alone is greater than the total income
generated from mineral sand exports. Apart from this single
product, many other products derived from mineral sand are
imported to this country at very high price tags.

Significance of separating mineral components from mineral

sand fractions and their uses are the subjects that should be
contemplated at the moment. The most important aspect is
the occurrence of high percentages of ilmenite, rutile and
zircon in local mineral sand and the very high purity levels of
their components, namely, 53% of titanium dioxide in
ilmenite sand and 95% titanium dioxide in rutile sand. For
this reason, our mineral sand is highly sought after by many

Paints containing titanium dioxide as a primary component

Both ilmenite and rutile are used to extract titanium dioxide.

The white colour titanium dioxide powder has pure
whiteness and brightness. In addition, it has deeper
opaqueness and non-toxic properties; does not change colour
due to prolonged exposure to sunlight. As such, it has a
variety of industrial applications.

Generally, titanium dioxide is manufactured in different
forms with different properties such as pigment grade and
the nano size of its particles.

Pigment grade titanium dioxide falls into the size ranges

between 200–350 nm. It is used in applications that require
white opacity and brightness. It also absorbs UV light.
Pigment grade titanium dioxide has been used in the
manufacture of a vast range of industrial and consumer goods
such as paints, adhesives, printing inks, and coated fabrics.

It is also used as a
versatile filler in
rubber, plastic and
ceramics. In addition,
it is the primary
component used in
the manufacture of
pharmaceuticals and
food colouring
(accepted vibrant
food colours in
candies, cookies and

Titanium dioxide is used in food colouring

In the case of foods, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, where
colouring agent “white” stand out from the rest, the
incorporation of pigmentary titanium dioxide is quite evident
in coffee whiteners, toothpaste, white coloured medicinal
pills and various types of cosmetics. Cosmetics such as
natural white moisture cream, whitening cream, morning and
night cream, moistening refresher, vanishing cream, skin
protecting cream, face washing milk, powder make-up, etc.

Due to the introduction

of nano science the
importance of nano
titanium dioxide
(particle size less than
100 nm) has gained
an unprecedented
popularity during the
recent years. This
material has many high-
tech applications due to
its specific properties.
At present, the volume
of nano-scale titanium
dioxide produced
amounts to less than
one percent of the
volume of titanium
dioxide pigments
White colouring displayed in coffee
whitener is mainly composed of titanium
Unlike titanium dioxide pigments, nanoscale titanium
dioxides are mainly used in cosmetics and sun protection
creams. Sun-creams containing transparent nanoscale
titanium dioxides are much easier to apply. In addition, their
protective effect against harmful UV radiation is quite

Cosmetics and sun-tan lotions blended with titanium dioxide

In addition, nano titanium dioxide has very good antiseptic

properties that could be used to kill a variety of germs.
Furthermore, it is capable of degrading a variety of organic
contaminants. As such, it is mostly used in antibacterial
material, air purification processes and sewage treatment.

Nowadays nano titanium dioxide is the primary ingredient in

modern paint varieties that generate self-cleaning and water-
repellent (Lotus effect) attributes.

In addition, it is widely used in pharmaceutical industries
mainly due to its non-toxic effect and its adaptability to
incorporate the recent advances in nanotechnology.

Medicinal pills and tablets containing nano titanium dioxide

However, titanium dioxide is not the only valuable product

extracted from ilmenite or rutile sand. Once the ores are
refined to the optimum limit the creation of titanium metal
out of this mineral sand would be a reality. Although it is
considered the ninth most common element in the earth’s
crust titanium metal is predicted as world’s most
extraordinary supper metal or the metal of the future and that
there would be no substitute for it. It is considered the most
lightweight and non-corrosive metal. It also has a very high
strength and the capability to withstand very high

Rutile sand too can be used to produce this titanium metal.
This is considered a very expensive metal because of the
complexity of the present extraction process called “Kroll
process”. Anyhow, Cambridge University scientists recently
announced a method called “FFC Cambridge Process” which
could produce pure titanium directly from titanium dioxide.
This could substantially reduce production costs in the very
near future and also increase its output.

Thanks to this wonder metal it was possible to build the

world’s fastest aircraft having a speed of 2200 mile per hour
and the capability to fly at an altitude of 82,000 feet. The heat
generated due to aerodynamic friction on the plane is so
extreme that if the plane made from any other metal it would
simply melt while in flight. As such, they needed a strong yet
light weight metal capable of withstanding the enormous heat
and fortunately titanium had all the required properties. Each
of these fast aircrafts needs more than 50 tons of titanium for
its construction and the major drawback will be the
exorbitant price of titanium.

At the present rate its price is two hundred times that of

ordinary steel and fifteen times higher than aluminum.
Although the price is a handicap for this type of high-tech
industries it is still sought after by the manufacturers of high
performance light weight military aircrafts, rockets, missiles,
submarines, designer watches, sports utilities (tennis and
golf rackets), light weight super-fast motorcycles and as an
alloy for automobile engine parts. Everybody involved in
these industries is anxiously waiting for a cheap source of
titanium to enter into the market.

Fastest aircraft made of titanium metal capable of withstanding
aerodynamic friction

The other most important and groundbreaking discovery is

the use of this metal for dental implants, body implants and
prosthetic devices taking advantage of its long-standing
biocompatibility. As such, thanks to titanium it was possible
to come up with such medical wonders. At present, most of
the implants are made of titanium including dental implants,
crowns and braces.

Dental implant made of titanium

Body implants made of titanium metal

Zircon, the other major mineral variety out of mineral sand,
can also withstand high temperatures. Therefore, it is used in
furnaces and foundries. Furthermore, zircon is highly sought
after by sophisticated ceramic industries producing dental
crowns, metering nozzles and ceramic knives.

It is also widely used in nanotechnological applications.

Moreover, Sri Lankan mineral sand contain minute traces of
several varieties of radio-active minerals such as monazite,
thorianite and thorite. In view of the exorbitant price of radio-
active minerals, even minute quantities found within local
mineral sand could accrue appreciable dividends, if an
economical method could be formulated to isolate those

A ceramic knife made out of zircon

One may ask why Sri Lanka is not adapting the value addition
process for materials derived from mineral sand. Ostensibly,
the inference would be that Sri Lanka lacks the necessary
technology or the expertise to do so. But it is a fact that some
of the Sri Lankans have now risen to various prestigious
scientific positions in the world-famous research
organizations and have also been involved in researching on
substances, which could definitely be derived from local
mineral sand too.

In Canada, some of the Sri Lankan researchers were

instrumental in introducing economically viable methods to
fractionate tailing sand, remains of oil sand after the
extraction of oil, and to turn out value added products. Quality
wise the tailing sand is nowhere near the local mineral sand.
Also, the tailing sand has to be subjected to a thorough
cleaning process incurring considerable expenditure. Yet,
they have been successful in making profits out of it by
converting it into value added products.

Anyhow at present it is no longer necessary to seek the help

of Sri Lankan expatriate scientists to carry out the value
addition of our mineral sand because recently
nanotechnology was introduced to the island. Sri Lanka
Institute of Nanotechnology was established to fill the void in
this discipline.

Obviously, titanium dioxide happens to be the material

extensively used in nanotechnological applications. As such,
they have identified mineral sand components, especially,
ilmenite and rutile as the substances that need immediate

Accordingly, if they are successful in developing a simple
economically viable methodology to extract titanium dioxide,
then they could accrue exorbitant profits. The importance of
this venture would be exceedingly realized once they are able
to produce nano titanium dioxide, which has a very high
demand in food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.

Obviously, depending on the supply and demand these value-

added products could fetch exorbitant prices, much more
than the price of raw products. If successful the profit can
easily supplement the budget deficit of the country.

Surely this would encourage state and private sector to

develop high-tech finished products rather than exporting
the raw material itself. It is already known that a major
company (In gas business) is very keen to venture into value
addition of mineral sands. So, it is a case of waiting; supposing
everything goes well Sri Lanka can very soon harvest
enormous riches out of its mineral sand.

2- Graphite
Lanka’s graphite industry needs innovation

This island sometimes known as “The Pearl of the Indian

Ocean” is really prosperous because Mother Nature has gifted
it with an array of mineral resources. Most of the mineral
varieties are world famous for their purity. Among them
plumbago or graphite holds prime importance because for
the last two centuries Sri Lanka was the only country that
exploited superior quality vein graphite in commercial

It continues to do so even now. Although Canada and few

other countries have vein graphite in small quantities, their
graphite is not comparable to Lanka’s high purity vein
graphite. Yet It is disheartening to realize that its present
contribution to the national economy is less than 1%.

There is a very famous Sinhalese saying; “Manikak paye

hepunath kana nohandunai” that blind man is unaware of a
gem even when he treads over it. This saying can also be
applied to Sri Lanka’s graphite, which is considered the
purest graphite in the world; some even claim that it is the
only graphite in the world comparable to synthetic graphite
as far as purity is concerned. In some localities purity level
reaches up to 99.9% (carbon content).

Graphite or plumbago is a naturally occurring mineral

composed of pure carbon, likewise, the other mineral of pure
carbon is diamond, although, their composition is chemically
identical, their physical properties are entirely different.

For example, diamond is considered the hardest substance in
the world; whereas, graphite is considered one of the softest
material. This is mainly due to their different atomic
arrangements. Graphite is an opaque mineral having iron
black colour and a greasy feel to the touch. It is mainly
popular as a pencil component, because it makes a black mark
on any surface, even though it does not contain any lead.

Sri Lanka’s vein graphite lump

Graphite very often occurs as veins inside fissures, fractures

within hard rocks. These can be several millimeters to several
centimeters thick, but sometimes in certain areas the
thickness increases to match meter scales; the miners call
these “Gediillam.” Such good quality vein graphite displays a
metallic sheen, fibrous or needle-like morphological

Local community were conversant with graphite and its uses
since many centuries, but its economic importance as a prime
exporting commodity, comparable to tea and rubber, came to
lime-light, during the colonial era. Sri Lanka is also considered
the only country where vein graphite is commercially mined.

Graphite was one of the main minerals mined and exported

during that era. In spite of the process being continued all
these years, its importance gradually diminished owing to the
introduction of cheap low-grade material from other

The first two decades of the 20th century was the golden age
for Sri Lanka’s graphite industry. In those days there were
nearly 3000 graphite mines in operation. The demand for
graphite was at its peak during the First World War, mainly
because there were very few suppliers at the time to compete
in the trade. The highest ever recorded graphite export was
33,411 metric tons and it took place in 1916. At that time this
amounted to 35% of the world graphite consumption.

Unlike any other industry during that time graphite industry

was the monopoly of a few reputed local businessmen.
Foremost among them were Kotalawalas, Senanayakes,
Artigalas and Fernandos. They prospered solely by graphite
mining. Later some of these names were also associated with
Sri Lanka’s political endeavors. G.A. Stonier, a British mining
engineer (1903), reported that only three mines of Sri Lanka
were owned by the British at the time.

After the World War I and World War II the demand for
graphite declined and most of the small graphite mines and
pits were abandoned.

Only several major mines, namely, the Bogala,
Kahatagaha/Kolongaha and Ragedara were in operation
owing to the fact that these could compete in the world
market; as a result of being equipped with modern machinery
(“molpathal") and being managed by professionals. All these
mines, produced raw graphite such as graphite lumps, chips
and powder according to the requirement of their clients.
Among them graphite lumps are foremost as a prime product.

Mechanized graphite mine showing modern instrumentation


In those days the Bogala mine was owned by A. Fernando

alias "Kathonis Bass", the Kahatagaha mine was owned by
Artigala Muhandiram and the Kolongaha mine by H. L. de Mel
Company. Later the ownership of the Kahatagaha mine was
passed on to the family members of Artigala Muhandiram,
namely Senanayake, Jayewardene and Kotalawala.

In 1970, under the nationalization program, government

acquired the graphite mines as well. Thereafter, the industry
faced all sorts of ups and downs.

One of the most noteworthy traditions at the time was that
graphite or plumbago gave rise to a subculture among the
graphite producing regions. Most families in those villages
depended for their entire livelihood on the graphite industry.
Some miners had to survive by working long hours
underground for consecutive days, undergoing all sorts of

When faced with these difficulties they used to recite some

specific poems typifying the trade to get some sort of relief
and enjoyment. These later gave birth to the special type of
poems called “pathalkavi”, forming a part and parcel of
Sinhalese culture. Many new words were also added to the
Sinhalese language. Sometimes, these words have
adaptations unique to a particular mining area.

Apart from poems and words there are some beliefs and
practices introduced to the country’s tradition as a result of
the graphite industry. This sort of thing cropped up to subdue
miner’s panic regarding probable accidents in earlier day
graphite mining, which employed insecure and unsafe

Thus, the miners became more and more superstitious. Since

time immemorial local people believed in a devil called
“Bahiravaya”, who was assumed to be the caretaker of any
kind of underground treasure. As such the miners got into the
habit of organizing an event called “Bahirava pooja” to gratify
the “Bahiravaya”. This event is practiced even today as an
annual ritual in major graphite mines.

In addition, even village names have some bearing on
graphite. The best example is the village name ‘Kaluaggala’.
Within this area small spherical graphite type similar to the
shape of a Sinhalese delicacy called ‘Aggala’ was found.
Therefore, the village name originated as Kaluaggala.

Spherical graphite type of Kaluaggala

In those days sanitary and safety measures of graphite mines

were in a very poor condition and the life expectancy of most
people involved with graphite industry was very short. As a
result of inhaling graphite dust, some of them contracted an
illness called graphite pneumoconiosis.

Now the conditions are totally deferent everywhere inside

the mines there were notices and hoardings indicating
directions and other safety instructions.

In addition, all the workers were dressed in clean uniforms;
equipped with hard hats and boots. Some even wore gloves
and masks as a safety precaution while carrying out the work
entrusted to them. All hard hats were fitted with LED
flashlights, which are very light compared to the heavy
battery-operated flashlights used earlier.

Hoardings indicating directions and safety information

At present, mainly two major mines are in operation
excluding Ragedera; namely, the Bogala and Kahatagaha
mines. 90% of the Bogala mine is owned by Germany’s
Graphit Kropfmuhl AG. The Kahatagaha mine is owned by the
government of Sri Lanka and is managed by Kahatagaha
Graphite Lanka Limited. The Bogala mine is currently being
mined at a depth of 1650 feet and produces around 250
metric tons, monthly. The Kahatagaha mine is currently being
mined at a depth of 1100 feet and produces around 100
metric tons, monthly. It hopes to increase the production to
150 metric tons, within the next couple of years.

Worker pushing a trolley filled with graphite

Both these mines produce different raw graphite varieties
according to the requirement of their clients. These varieties
differ in their carbon content, size, shape and price. After the
introduction of ‘froth flotation’ plant some of the mines
became capable of increasing the carbon content and value
addition of the low-grade material including some previously
discarded slag material.

Raw graphite varieties produced by some graphite mines

Anyhow, owing to the modern technology and the use of

personal protective equipment (PPE) graphite mining is no
longer considered a dangerous and insecure job. Very rarely
an accident is reported at present and the disease graphite
pneumoconiosis is heard no more.

Although, the world is experiencing technological advances,
two centuries old graphite industry of Sri Lanka does not
seem to have acquired any of those. There is hardly any
innovation in Sri Lanka’s exports. It still depends on high
quality raw graphite flakes such as lumps, chips and graphite
powder of 97% to 99% carbon range. It was revealed that
women, who are involved in the sorting of graphite chips have
developed exceptional talents as a result of their experience.
They are capable of differentiating graphite chips according
to its carbon percentage merely by a quick glance and a touch
of the fingertips. They sort chips into separate piles of grades
97%, 98% and 99% very quickly.

Any visitor to these mines may have doubts as to the accuracy

of grading because of the speed of sorting. Yet, according to
the analyses carried out by a third party incorporating
random batches collected from sorted piles indicate that
there were no mistakes at all. Every chip in its respective pile
has the exact carbon content.

Women differentiate graphite chips according to their carbon


In spite of most people’s belief that Sri Lanka is far behind
major graphite exporters such as China, it too had made a
noteworthy impact on the world market. Most industrial
countries seek Lanka’s graphite because it has the greatest
degree of cohesiveness and ability to cope up with situations
that require greater thermal and electrical conductivity.

The strategy of these countries is to import Lanka’s graphite

at a very low price and export the end products at an
exorbitant price.

Hence, it is essential that the country should be fully aware of

all the facts about graphite and its uses. Up to now, most
people’s awareness regarding graphite was limited to the
pencil industry. Nevertheless, it had been referred to as the
material used in almost all industries either in large or small
quantities. Its significance today is even greater as a result of
the introduction of nano science.

Use of graphite in pencils

Study of the uses of graphite should be based on conventional
products and leading thereafter to high-tech products. The
major industries that use graphite are the steel and refractory
industries. Balance 40% of graphite is used making
lubricants, expanded graphite applications and carbon
products. Following is a short list of some of the uses of

Refractories: One of the oldest graphite industries, engaged

mainly in making crucibles that could accommodate molten
metals generating high temperatures.

Gaskets: Graphite inner lining of an engine capable of

withstanding high heat.

Brake Pads: Graphite is used in heavy duty brakes as a

substitute for asbestos.

Lubricants: Graphite is used in lubricants to withstand high


Grease: Since graphite is one of the softest materials, it is

used in grease to reduce friction.

Conductive brushes: Since graphite is a material capable of

electrical conductivity, it is used to make conductive brushes.

Lithium batteries: Lithium batteries require electrodes with

good porosity and large surface area, as such, vein graphite is
considered the ideal material for that sort of application.

Several conventional uses of graphite

Whether these conventional industries of graphite are still in

operation in Sri Lanka is a matter for investigation.
Unfortunately, the answer is negative.

Some time ago a local battery manufacturer used country’s

graphite for their batteries, but recently they were in the
process of closing down; because they could not compete
with the cheap batteries imported from elsewhere.

Recently nano technology was introduced to the island. Sri

Lanka Institute of Nano Technology is a premier institute
established to fill the void in this discipline. One of its
noteworthy products is the carbon nano tube (carbon
nanotube composed of bilayer graphene).

Carbon nano tubes are composed of carbon atoms built at
nano-scales. Nowaday, scientists are looking for their
exceptional properties. Most interesting feature of these
tubes is that their strength is approximately 100 times that of
steel, while the weight is one-sixth of the weight of steel.

Besides, these are excellent conductors. Definitely, these

would be the major components in computers, electronics
and space technology in the near future. Because of its
capability to penetrate cell walls and human membranes
these can gain prominence in the medical field as well.

The price range of these future items could fetch exorbitant

prices; thereby supplementing the budget deficit of the
country. This would encourage entrepreneurs to develop
high-tech finished products rather than concentrating merely
on the raw material.

If Sri Lanka carefully handles the graphite industry, a lot of

profit can be achieved in the near future. On the other hand,
several institutes involved in graphite based high-tech
research including Industrial Technological Institute and
several other universities; at present gained much success in
this sort of technology.

It is quite relevant to identify and discuss the high tech

products, which involves graphite. Graphite is one of the
major components in modern day nuclear reactors and it is
estimated that somewhere around 25% to 75% high purity
natural graphite is used in these reactors while the rest is
synthetic graphite.

Another noteworthy high-tech material is graphene
(A monolayer of graphite is called graphene) sometimes
called, “the miracle material.” Graphene has some
extraordinary properties.

As such, it is used in high sensitivity sensors; transparent

conductive films, which uses touch-screen displays; advanced
solar cells and as electrodes in energy storage devices similar
to those used in hybrid cars. This sort of high-tech products
made of Sri Lanka’s graphite is highly priced and in great
demand around the globe.

Carbon nano tubes

Currently, Sri Lanka exports raw graphite at a price of around

SLR 200 per kilogram. Whereas carbon nano tubes made of
Sri Lanka’s graphite are very much in demand and highly
priced. This sort of high-tech products made of Sri Lanka’s
graphite is worth around SLR 150, 000 per gram. It is
noteworthy that the high-tech products are price marked per
gram rather than per kilogram.

As such, it is time to collaborate with some parties to develop
high-tech material instead of exporting the raw material
itself. Recently there was an MOU signed between Kahatagha
Graphite Lanka Limited and the University of Colombo for
high tech graphite research and development. So, the
approach of another golden age for graphite seems not very
far. Furthermore, this would supplement country’s GDP, once
the above-mentioned proposals are implemented Sri Lanka
has the necessary expertise. Lankan experts are considered
some of the world’s best.

Problem is that they are scattered and there is no proper

mechanism to bring such expertise under one roof. Very
recently, some institutes came forward to fill the gap. So it is
a case of waiting; supposing everything goes well Sri Lanka
can very soon harvest the golden eggs out of this magnificent

3 – Limestone
Another golden era for limestone in the offing

Mother Nature has gifted Sri Lanka with many varieties of

natural resources. Among them limestone is prominent
because it is found as economically viable deposits mostly in
areas of the hill country, coastal belt, on land and up to a
certain extent in the ocean. It is available in many forms.
Miocene limestones underlie the entire northern peninsula of
the country. Over 95% of this limestone contains calcium
carbonate while the rest of it is a mixture of silica and clay. As
such, it is ideal for the manufacture of cement.

Miocene age limestone found in the northern and north western

parts of the country

Coral and shell deposits having a very high percentage of
calcium carbonate are found in the southern and some parts
of northern regions. Though coral is found at various places
along the coast, best known coral beds are found along the
coastal belt in between Ambalangoda and Matara. Whereas,
shell deposits are located mainly in the vicinity of Hungama.

At the moment, both types of limestone deposits are at the

risk of extinction. Yet, most families in the nearby villages
depend for their entire livelihood on the lime industry based
on coral or shell. As such, due to the scarcity of material in the
nearby coastal areas, some people in this region resort to
illegal coral mining (destroying live coral) for their livelihood,
thereby causing coastal erosion and the destruction of marine
eco systems.

Corals in the shallow sea, to some extent subjected to illegal

coral mining

In addition, some parts of hill country; namely, Kandy, Matale,
Nalanda, Habarana, Kandarawa, Balangoda, Bibile, Badulla
and Welimada are rich with a crystalline variety of limestone
called dolomite available as sporadic occurrences. Among
them the highest quality limestone (dolomite) is abundant in
the Matale area.

There are more than 50 kilns in and around this district

producing lime from dolomite. In addition to calcium
carbonate, this dolomite has a magnesium oxide content
varying in between 8% to 21%. This particular dolomite is
used to produce the lime variety popularly known as 'Matale
Aluhunu'. In these areas too some families, amounting to
around 1500 people, depend for their entire livelihood on the
dolomite lime industry.

High quality dolomite found in Matale area

Furthermore, a deposit of large pure limestone called calcite
is found in the Balangoda region, which is currently used in
the porcelain industry. This material appears as white, yellow
or blue. Blue and yellow colour varieties are highly sought
after for decorative uses. They are used to decorate indoor
gardens in most urban homes.

Blue coloured variety of calcite found as localized patches in


Limestone can be used in a variety of industries, but mostly in

cement/lime industries and as a soil conditioner /fertilizer in
agriculture. Mining and exploitation of lime in Sri Lanka have
a past history lasting for 2500 years.

Although there is no evidence during the ancient times as to
the use of any cement comparable to the material used
nowadays, our ancestors had used some sort of blended
cement comprising burnt paddy husks, several types of clays,
some fine fiber material and a large portion of hydrated lime
powder. This was the bonding material applied in
constructions such as sluices in irrigation tanks, many ancient
buildings and Buddhist shrines.

Some of the gigantic structures preserved up to now reveals

the strength of their construction materials and methodology
surpassing the well-known scientific theories relating to the
modern-day concrete or cements. Some experts believe that
the strength of this ancient cement material is several times
stronger than the modern cement mixtures.

Those days the cement layers found within the stone walls
were rather thin compared to today’s applications, but the
faces of each stone had been cut and shaped to exactly fit the
void created by the adjoining stones, thus, ensuring the

It is a common saying that it is not possible even to insert a

pen knife blade between two stones set in place on the wall.
Brick walls were generally plastered with a mortar that is
primarily composed of hydrated lime. Even some parts of
these plasters had survived all these years, despite the harsh
weather conditions. Budhist dagobas (Stupas) were initially
molded with earth supplemented with bricks and then
plastered with a very thick mixture of lime.

Preservation of some of these structures reveals the long-
lasting effect of the ancient cements and mortars.

Quite often, they have added a number of ingredients to lime

and applied it over a rock surface to create a plain surface
smooth enough for rock paintings. Number of these surfaces
are also in a state of preservation, but up to now even by
modern science it is difficult to detect the ingredients that
were added to lime to prepare such a long-lasting plastering

In addition, Sri Lankan farmers were aware of the significance

of lime, as a soil conditioner and fertilizer in agriculture. They
have mastered this practice from a very long time.

Slaked lime or the calcium

hydroxide was used
extensively by the village
community as an ingredient
to supplement the stuff used
for their betel chewing.
Usually in village homes
betel, tobacco, areca nut and
lime were placed on a tray
and offered to visitors as a
welcome gesture. This
practice of betel chewing is
no longer advocated owing to
the imminent health hazard.
Slaked lime forming a part and
parcel of an ancient betel tray

Today lime is an important component in a variety of
industries. The uses of limestone are detailed as follows: the
manufacture of quicklime (calcium oxide); the preparation of
slaked lime (calcium hydroxide); the preparation of cement
and mortar; the application as a soil conditioner to neutralize
acidity in soils; the application in the production of glass; its
introduction as a white pigment in plastics, paint, tiles and
toothpaste; its application in chemical industries such as
cattle feed industries, PVC pipe and cable compounding
industries, paper industries as a coagulant as well as a
bleaching agent; purification process in sugar and dyes as a
carbon dioxide absorber; in porcelain industry and in food
industry. In addition, lime is good filler in many industries
such as rubber, paints, ceramic, plastics, soap, detergents,
tiles and welding electrodes.

Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka the use of limestone is limited to

certain industries, especially, lime and cement industries. Sri
Lanka still practices its age old method to produce lime from
all types of lime stones. At the outset, the raw material is
stacked in layers inside a kiln along with a firewood layer
inserted in between and burned thereafter.

The draw back in this method is that the coconut trunks and
coconut husks used as firewood have gone up in price.
Further handicap of this method is its inability to burn the
raw material entirely. Limestones that are not burned fully
eventually get wasted during the addition of water for slaked
lime production. This method is somewhat successful in
burning coral and shell, but not for dolomite.

Dolomite kiln found in Matale area

Since dolomite contains both calcium carbonate and

magnesium carbonate it forms oxides at different
temperatures. Thus, calcium oxide is formed around 900 0C
and magnesium oxide around 775 0C. As such, once dolomite
is burnt fully its magnesium oxide reaches a temperature
beyond 775 0C, hence, it becomes a different material. This
different material can cause a flaking or swelling effect once
it is used in the plastering work of buildings.

In view of this situation research is essential to overcome this

difficulty. Indigenous technology had been in practice for a
long time gaining certain improvements.

Hence, right now some people have achieved remarkable
success in producing very high-quality lime out of dolomite
almost comparable with coral or shell lime. Only thing needed
right now is to give recognition and encouragement to these
people who are conversant with these innovative ideas.

In addition, government can provide the right kind of

technology such as the use of steam or modern furnaces to
overcome barriers, so that they could be successful in their
ventures. Thus, a very successful SME sector could be
promoted in the Matale area, which could contribute a
considerable amount to the country’s GDP.

At the end of a thirty-year war, the country is achieving a

rapid progress at the moment with its infrastructure
developments such as highways, bridges and modern
buildings. As such, there is a great demand for lime and

During the war the Kankesanthurai cement factory was

severely damaged and it is not yet in operation. It is expected
to commence operations within one year. Most of our cement
requirement is fulfilled by cement imports from India or

Most of the major cement companies practice pulverizing the

clinker (limestone burnt with the right amount of clay and
silica is called clinker) material imported from elsewhere or
concentrate only on packaging.

As such, it is time to produce cement from our own raw
material that is from Miocene limestone found in the northern
and north western parts of the country. This is an industry
started as a frontier industry just after the independence
around nineteen fifties.

Destroyed cement factory at Kankesanthurai

Since, Sri Lanka has ample limestone deposits mainly

Miocene limestone and dolomites it is time to diversify our
lime industry by venturing into other lime used industries.
This can easily be achieved by popularizing this type of
industries as an SME sector. As such, government
intervention is essential to achieve the full benefits of this

If everything goes well instead of importing cement; Sri Lanka
can soon export its own cement. Furthermore, Sri Lanka can
anticipate a good progress with the other limestone allied
industries as well.

In this respect immediate action should be taken to promote

these industries in order to curtail the amount of money going
out of the country to import such products. Sri Lanka can
easily stop this wastage and use it for the benefit of its people,
nonetheless, it is also the country’s obligation to handover the
benefits to the future generation.

4 – Clay
Sri Lanka’s clay; magnanimous gift to locals through the

Clay has been indispensable in architecture, in industry and

in agriculture from prehistoric times. There is a very popular
Sinhalese song sung by a veteran singer; “Bola bola mati eka
eka genenawaa ………… uluwasse podi geyak hadanawa, Ka
kendan entada kumbalo”.

This means that a Kumbal Massa (mud-dauber) is capable of

building a nest (sophisticated house) by using bits of clay
fetched bit by bit. Likewise, humans too can make use of the
variety of clay deposits found in Sri Lanka.

Everyone knows what clay is: small children are very fond of
playing with clay, despite, the objections of their parents.
According to the scientists’ clay is a natural, earthy, fine-
grained material. Once mixed with water it is capable of
molding into any shape. It could be hardened by drying under
the sun or burning in a kiln.

There are many clay types having different properties, which

could be used as source material for various industries.
Fortunately, most varieties are found in Sri Lanka in varying
quantities and varying purity levels, which are capable of
generating a huge income to the country.

Lankan map depicting provinces abundant with clay mineral and
the locations of different types of clay deposits

The clay industry is one of the oldest industries prevalent
during the era of the ancient river valley civilizations such as
Mesopotamia, a valley formed by Euphrates and Tigris rivers;
the ancient Indus valley cities of Mohanjo-daro and
Harappan; the Hwang-Ho (Yellow) River valley, the Nile river
valley, etc. From ancient times clay is considered the most
abundant and seemingly worthless substance found on the

For quite some time people were aware of clay as an

insignificant substance that was merely used for turning out
clay utensils or constructing crude structures called ‘wattle
and daub’ houses. These mud houses gave shelter to the
majority of Lankans in the past. As such clay is the commodity
that literally shelters them.

Local wattle and daub house displaying clay walls and a thatched roof

In-depth study is needed to evaluate the current progress so
far achieved by the proper use of clay deposits. Unlike other
mineral resources Sri Lanka can boast of its clay deposits
because this is the only mineral resource that is not exported
in its natural state.

On the other hand, extensive research is to be carried out in

relation to some other clay varieties such as montmorillonite
because these are the types of material highly sought after by
high-tech industries throughout the world. Modification of
these clay varieties will lead to new materials and new
applications. Since Sri Lanka is already equipped with nano
technology, ample opportunity is there to apply such
technology to recently identified clay types in order to
produce hi-tech products.

Already local scientists have identified montmorillonite as an

ideal material that could be used for high-tech goods after an
initial purification. It had also identified this clay variety as a
substance that can yield exorbitant profits in the future,
provided it is properly used for the production of hi-tech

Present generation tends to go after earthenware. Some even

go for old-fashioned architecture (architecture based on
localized construction materials). Some select earthy colours
to paint their modern homes. Roadside food boutiques made
of wattle and daub sheds, having name tags as ‘Gamme kade
(Villager’s boutique)’ or ‘Pol-athu bath kade (Rice & curry
boutique thatched with cadjans),’ are very popular among the
new generation.

Even in urban homes the trend is to replace saucepans by clay
pots and pans for cooking sometimes placing them even on
gas burners. Some segment of the society seeks porcelain and
ceramics to adorn their homes, especially, the dinner tables;
for the sake of prestige.

Afore mentioned modern generation trends should be an

inducement to upgrade the clay industry by incorporating
some modern technology. Just like the popular phrase “Strike
while the iron is hot”

The young generation is fascinated by the pots and pans trend

or the wattle and daub culture. As a result most believe that
these clay utensils, colourful ceramics and use of clay in the
modern day living is also a modern trait. In spite of modern
trends, Sri Lanka has a heritage of pottery spanning over the
prehistoric period. The oldest pot so far found in Sri Lanka
was dated to 1120 BC.

As to the ancient technology there were two types of clay

utensils. Namely, the purely handmade items and items
shaped with the help of a rotating wheel called “saka poruwa”
(rotating disk), also called potter’s wheel. These were then
burnt in crude furnaces or kilns. Most of the time they are
called black and red ware because the interior is black while
the exterior is red due to the heat transfer mechanism.

Shaping a clay pot on a potter’s wheel

Olden days clay utensils were used for day to day household
chores, for religious purposes and especially for funeral urns.
Several large terracotta urns had been found at prehistoric
burial grounds such as Ibbankatuwa and Pomparippu along
with human remains.

Many other clay artifacts are also found at these sites. Among
the artifacts clay seals and clay beads are of prime
importance. The potsherds and roofing tile pieces unearthed
all over the island, bear witness to the uses of clay for various
purposes in the past.

The advance technique of firing clay vessels, especially red
ware, was carried out from 3rd Century AD to the present. As
for the modernization, only the furnaces or the energy source
were modified or replaced, but other than that there is not
much change with the technique. It is the same old technique.

Clay beads recovered from terracotta funeral urns

In Sri Lanka the most common and abundant variety is the red
clay. This is called red clay because once it is properly burned
it turns red. People knew the importance and uses of this clay
variety from ancient times. During the past few decades the
importance of clay utensils diminished with the introduction
of aluminum and non-stick cooking utensils; the use of gas
and electric cookers.

So far, very few are concerned with the health hazards that
arise from using these aluminum utensils. For example,
during the cooking process it is customary to add acidic
ingredients like vinegar and lime to acquire the taste or
flavour; these in turn react with these utensils to produce
substances harmful to human health; thus, the continuous use
of these utensils could create several health-hazards.

In addition, with the use of these utensils, it is not easy to

obtain the unique flavor of the traditional curries such as
‘Ambulthiyal (Fish curry)’ and ‘Polos ambula (Curry made out
of jak fruit)’, etc.

At the moment, there is a trend among house wives to use clay

utensils more than ever because most of the women are
deeply concerned about their health and appearance. They
have identified clay utensils as the ideal utensils to prepare a
healthy meal.

Yet, to place traditional pots and pans over a gas or electric

cooker is a problem. To overcome this problem some
research organizations of the country invented new type of
clay utensils with an almost flat bottom ideally suited for gas
or electric burners and capable to withstand high
temperatures as well. These could also save energy by
prolonging the heat for a short time even after discontinuing
the heat source. Therefore, once again people are granted the
choice to enjoy traditional curries having unique tastes.

Red clay cooking utensils ideally suited for gas and electric cookers

These days, there is a great demand for these newly

manufactured utensils in the local market. Similar pots called
“Donabe pots” are very popular in Japan. Hence, with little
improvements to our conventional pots (withstand for high
heat and having flat bottom) a good export market could be
created to generate more foreign income to the country.

‘Donabe pots’ used in Japan for traditional Japanese cookery

Sri Lankans knew the use of other clay materials too. They use
the white clay variety called “makulumati” applied as a base
for picture painting and as a special mortar to give a mirror
like finish to the wall. This technique was practiced from
earlier times. The application of this technique is evident over
the 5th century AD frescoes and the mirror wall at Sigiriya.

In addition, they used white clay as a protective layering for

earthen structures such as dagabas and as a specially
prepared mortar for constructing brick layered structures.
For most types of paintings they used coloured rock types or
clay, for example, “guru gal (gravel)” for red colour and
kaolinite for white colour; this was the practice from
prehistoric times. Most of the paintings, preserved up to the
present day, provide evidence as to their expert scientific
knowledge in selecting the right material for a particular task.

Sigiri frescoes done over the surface prepared by a special blend of

white clay

During the period of maritime trade, in between 7th to 8th
century AD, glazed pottery was introduced to the country. Its
manufacture needed high temperatures as well as advanced
technology; hence the production was limited to the urban
cities such as Anuradhapura and Tissamaharama. Ordinary
citizen could not afford and did not require glazed pottery; it
was exclusively used by the elite community as a sign of

Glazed pottery introduced to the country as a result of

maritime trade

Today Sri Lanka is famous throughout the world for its fine
quality porcelain. Since most of the raw material such as
kaolinite, ball clay, quartz and feldspar are available in the
country, this industry generates a huge income to supplement
the national economy. The only problem faced by the industry
is the energy problem. Since the energy consumption is very
high, huge cost is incurred to provide the required energy.
About 40 percent of the cost of production is for energy.

The elaborate designs and exquisite elegance of the ceramic
products manufactured by Sri Lanka are very popular
throughout the globe. As a result of the perfect combination
of advanced technology and indigenous craftsmanship, Sri
Lankan products are sought after by reputable department
stores situated all over the world.

These products are well known for their superior whiteness,

very high translucency, high scratch resistance and high
thermal shock resistance. Even in the local market; Sri Lankan
porcelain is an industry that survived, despite the heavy
imports of cheap substitutes.

Most people are unaware of the fact that kaolin can be used
as a primary ingredient in a number of high-tech industries,
and as an accessory material in many other industries such as
paper industry, paint industry, automotive industry
(catalytic converters, filters, valves, airbag sensors, ceramic
rotors, spark plugs, piston rings, etc.), medical or the bio-
ceramics industry (orthopedic joint replacement, prosthesis,
dental restoration, etc.), aerospace industry (space shuttle
tiles, thermal barriers, fuel cells, etc.) and heavily as a
versatile filler material in plastic/rubber industry.

On the other hand, red clay is heavily used for pots, pans,
building bricks, paving bricks, roof tiles, terra-cotta facing
tiles, ornaments, etc. Recent research has shown that there is
a possibility of using red clay for floor tiles and ceramic; once
subjected to some treatments.

Beautiful Sri Lankan porcelain tableware

The most valuable discovery of this century is the

montmorillonite clay deposit located in the Murunkan area in
Mannar. According to scientists dealing with nano particle
research this is a layered material just like other clay minerals
except for some very special properties. For example, this
type of clay can be easily separated into single clay platelets
(1 nm thickness) and is capable of making surface
modification with the introduction of organic molecules.

As such, this can be called a natural nanomaterial that could

be used in several high–tech industries as a primary or
accessory ingredient. So far, this material had not been used
to its fullest capacity.

According to the experts this clay contains a considerable
amount of impurities such as quartz and several other
substances; therefore, it needs purification for its use as a hi-
tech raw material. A lucrative business can be established
with the hi-tech uses of this material that could attract a
massive amount of foreign exchange to the country.

This clay has certain remarkable attributes that could be

harnessed for the application in electrochemistry and
wastewater treatment. Its application to the base materials of
the rubber industry will significantly improve the durability
of the end products of the industry by enhancing the tire’s air
retention, the wear resistance, corrosion resistance, weather
resistance, chemical resistance, etc.

The addition of a small amount of montmorillonite clay (e.g.,

3%-5%) would suffice to achieve all these amazing
alterations. This will greatly reduce or eliminate pollution,
which usually occur during the addition of some other
additives. Thus, it could revolutionize the twenty-first
century rubber industry. This could also be introduced to
extensively used thermoplastics including those used in
automobile industry.

The same thing is true for the Nylon industry as well, where
small addition of this clay variety will enhance the strength of
the Nylon by several magnitudes.

Montmorillonite clay deposits at Murunkan, Mannar

On the other hand, small addition of nanoclay can greatly

enhance the properties of the paints, for example, the
prevention of pigment settling, colour retention, good
coverage, withstanding the weather conditions, etc. All these
intensified properties make them last for decades.

This is true for cosmetics and inks too. In addition, this is ideal
for water treatment applications such as removing oil, grease,
radionuclide and heavy metals. These days, a rapid increase
of kidney disease is recorded in some parts of the country. It
is assumed that this is due to some heavy elements found in
insecticides. In that case it is most appropriate to make use of
this extraordinary clay type to carry out water treatment in
these areas.

Because montmorillonite can easily combine with polymers;
at present, polymer/nano clay composites are very popular
due to their mechanical strength, flame retardant property
and easy processing ability.

Among all the nanomaterials used throughout the world,

nanoclays are the most commonly used commercial additive
in the preparation of nanocomposites, amounting to nearly
80% of the volume used.

Currently, a lot of research is being carried out in the country

to find the feasibility of using these composites to
manufacture high-value gloves, shoo soles and tires. Even
though, they can have numerous uses; currently, only a part
of the multiple uses is subjected to experiments.

These can also be used in the manufacture of high

performance light weight prosthetic feet and limbs and many
cosmetic applications.

It is now revealed that in modern cars, the majority of parts

are made of polymer/clay nano-composites. Some companies
like Toyota and Mitsubishi have come to the forefront to
incorporate these developments. As such, they were able to
achieve 20% weight reduction and an excellent surface finish
for their automobiles. Sri Lanka too can easily exploit this sort
of opportunity to generate a considerable income.

The use of polymer/clay nanocomposites in automobile industry

Montmorillonite clay also has the UV (Ultra violet) blocking

capability. As such, they can be successfully used to produce
curtains with UV blocking property. This is already practiced
in some countries using nylon clay nanocomposites. In
addition, they can also
be used to produce
outfits for people often
subjected to sun-burn
or the people living or
working in beaches.

People can protect their bodies from sun-burn by

wearing clothes incorporated with montmorillonite

In order to produce high-tech goods out of clay, Sri Lanka has
all the requisite raw material and the expertise. The experts
working here are considered very competent. Problem is that
they are scattered and there is no proper mechanism to bring
such expertise under one roof.

So far, several institutes were successful in identifying the

materials that are to be used in high-tech industries; also to
introduce correct methodology to improve the high-tech
industries of the country.

If everything goes well instead of importing high-tech

products made of clay Sri Lanka can soon export its own high-
tech products and generate a substantial income to
supplement the national economy.

SME’s too can easily be established to manufacture smaller

parts required for sophisticated manufacturing industries
and to make products to cater to the industries like
automobile industry.

In this respect immediate action should be taken to promote

these industries in order to curtail the amount of money going
out of the country to import such products and to earn a
substantial income by exporting clay based high-tech

The income generated can easily be used for the benefit of the
locals. It is also the country’s obligation to handover the
benefits to the future generation.

While discussing the significance of clay, it is worthwhile to
note that after the death and burial, every human, whosoever,
contributes to the formation of a tiny fraction of clay.
Duration of life is short. Everyone has a responsibility to
boost up country’s economy. As such, this is the ideal
opportunity to take the initiative of using this clay material
for hi-tech value addition.

5 - Vein quartz
Vein quartz from Sri Lanka alias ‘Silicon Valley’

Sri Lanka is famous throughout the world for the exquisite

mineral varieties of very high purity. Among them vein quartz
too holds prime importance. The material, generally known
as quartz is primarily made of silicon and oxygen (silica-SiO2)
and is considered one of the most abundant minerals found in
the Earth’s crust.

Major part of silica produced throughout the world is from

silica sand. High purity silica sand is not so common; yet, high
purity quartz is readily available in many areas of Sri Lanka.

Most of these areas have reasonably large vein quartz

deposits, (originated as veins) having very high purity (99.5
percent of SiO2). Vain type quartz deposits occur, abundantly,
in Pussella, Opanayake, Rattota, Naula, Galaha, Mahagama
(Embilipitiya) and Wellawaya areas.

High grade vein quartz can be used as a raw or refined

material in many industries, but among them high-tech
products especially solar cells and computer chips are
exceptional. Most probably due to this setup, a certain part of
Sri Lanka is sometimes referred to as the ‘Silicon Valley.'

Heap of vein quartz lumps (mostly exported in raw form)

Contrary to the assumption that quartz gained popularity

once its properties were identified by modern scientific
applications, quartz was well known among the locals for
ages. They knew how to make glass objects by smelting

Some ancient furnaces having leftover glass slag were

discovered during some archaeological excavations. A lot of
carnelian (variety of quartz having very fine crystalline
structure) and glass beads, found among the artifacts
recovered during the excavations of the country’s pre-
historic burial grounds, revealed that glass beads were worn
by the natives from prehistoric times.

Lankans knew the art of making spectacle lenses out of
quartz. The industry could be traced back to the period of
King Bhuvanekabahu IV (1346-1353), ruler of Sri Lanka
during the Gampola period. It is also believed that Sri Lankans
were the first to wear specially made spectacles to rectify
squint as well as glasses to protect eyes from the harmful
effects of bright sunlight {spectacles fitted with smoky
(brown) quartz lenses}.

Recently gathered evidence highlighting the knowledge of

locals regarding the piezoelectric effect of quartz is most
astonishing. Piezoelectricity is a property of quartz revealed
by the modern science and valued throughout the world. It is
the property of quartz that induced the invention of modern
day quartz watches and the computer chips, which
revolutionized the world.

Once Buddhism was introduced to the country, Thuparama,

the first dagaba or stupa, was built. There is a belief that this
was initially adorned with a chatra (a parasol-like structure
on top) similar to the dagabas in India. At that time the tallest
buildings in the country were dagabas and the locals were
aware of the lightening hazard affecting tall structures.

They came up with “Chuda Manikya” concept (briolette cut

quartz block like a bananapod) instead of Chatra. Later on,
each dagaba was adorned with a Chuda Manikya. An incident
of lightening striking a dagaba was not heard of during the
past. Although it lacks scientific proof, this accomplishment
can establish the fact that locals knew about the scientific
properties of quartz.

Sanchi stupa in India adorned with a chatra

Ruwanwelisaya dagaba at Anuradhapura adorned with a Chuda


Vein quartz is found in various colours, some transparent like
water (clear quartz); some having milky colour (milky
quartz); some having brown/ash colour (smoky quartz) and
some having rose or pink colour (rose quartz). Since, these
colours are pleasing to the eye, Sri Lankans, who are very
competent in making beautiful objects, decided to make
carvings out of them, especially, Buddha statues.

Cabochon shaped (spherical shape) rose quartz more often

shows six rays asterism due to its silky effect. In addition,
Lankans knew the healing properties of quartz; therefore,
often wore them as pendants or amulets. These are depicted
in most ancient paintings.

Carvings and cabochon made of rose quartz, other quartz types

too are commonly used for a variety of carvings

Apart from that, they were conversant with the value of
quartz and its long-lasting uses. The pink quartz mountain
range found at Namal Uyana provides clear evidence as to its
significance. Since, it appeared as a heap of salt the nearby
villagers called it “Lunugal Debala” meaning Salt Mountain.

History reveals that Great Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan during

the construction of “Taj Mahal," a tribute to His dead wife
Mumtaz Mahal, brought different stone types from different
parts of the world. Most believe that He brought rose quartz
from the Namal Uyana pink quartz mountain range in Sri

Namal Uyana pink quartz mountain range

Today, pure vein quartz has a huge demand because of its
very special property called piezoelectricity. This property of
quartz crystal is its capability to produce electricity, when it
is subjected to a mechanical stress. The word ‘piezo’ in Greek
means pressure; therefore, piezoelectricity means electricity
resulting from pressure. Quartz crystals maintain a precise
frequency standard during the generation of piezoelectricity,
hence could regulate a quartz watch or clock to indicate
precise times (here quartz is used in watches because it acts
as a piezoelectric oscillator).

This phenomenon is also seen in radios, microprocessors, and

many other technological and industrial applications,
especially, computer chips. In order to make today’s silicon
products, high-quality quartz (99.9999 often referred as “six
nines” or 6N pure, sometimes reckoned as 9N) is essential.
Among the few countries that produce very high purity
quartz(99.5), Sri Lanka is in the forefront. Because, Sri Lankan
quartz has a purity of 99.5; it can be upgraded to 6N or 9N
depending on the requirement.

Quartz watches that uses nano scale quartz wafers

Solar cells made of silicon (high purity quartz)

Although it is feasible to produce a variety of value added
products out of our vein quartz, so far no one had come
forward to venture into this type of value added quartz
industry. Currently, the most discouraging disclosure is that
Sri Lanka still imports end-products derived from vein quartz
from elsewhere such as solar cells, computer chips and silicon
carbide, at an exorbitant price compared to the price of quartz

One may ask why Sri Lanka is not adapting the value addition
process for quartz and silica sand. Ostensibly, the inference
would be that Sri Lanka lacks the necessary technology or the
expertise to do so. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka even has Nano
technology coupled with essential expertise at the moment.
Sri Lankan experts are considered as some of the world’s best.
Hence, at the moment, it is advisable to collect the vital
expertise and channel it towards the entrepreneurs.

In spite of all this technological advances Sri Lanka still

exports most of its vain quartz unrefined, either as lumps or
powder. There are several companies involved in vein quartz
industry, but most of them export quartz mostly in raw form
merely subjected to some minor purifications.

No one dares to enter into high-tech industries, even to

engage in the manufacture of conventional products such as
glass, optical grade glass, filler material, good quality
abrasives (Tripoli), etc. As such, it is time to collaborate with
some parties to develop high-tech material along with
conventional products instead of exporting the raw material

If the government cannot immediately encourage these
entrepreneurs to produce finished goods out of vein quartz it
should curtail the raw material exports because most of the
countries that import our vein quartz just stock pile our
product in order to gain exorbitant profits in future.
Furthermore, the entrepreneurs may require funding to
setup associated businesses as such banks must supplement
their needs.

The price range of these high-tech items, especially, solar

silicon and computer chips could fetch exorbitant prices,
thereby enhancing the wealth of the country. This would in
turn encourage entrepreneurs to develop high-tech finished
products rather than dealing solely with unrefined material.

If we could develop vein quartz based high-tech industries,

especially, solar silicon, it could revolutionize the Sri Lankan
economy. Considerable amount of money is consumed for
petroleum imports. Major portion of that petroleum is used
for power generation. If Sri Lanka could produce solar silicon
from our vein quartz, it can minimize the thermal energy
production, which is a great burden to the country at the

In 2013, hydro-electricity production in the country

accounted for 17.416 GWh (55% the total energy) while the
petroleum and coal-based energy generation accounted for
9.471GWh and 4.38 GWh respectively (both representing
43.9% the total energy). Solar silicon can replace this thermal
energy production to some extent.

The money thus saved can be used for development projects
and to increase the quality of life in the country. In addition,
solar energy is 100% environmental friendly and it also
inhibits the heavy pollution caused by thermal power plants.

Some solar panels could be easily fixed into Sri Lankan conventional
roofing tiles (No Asbestos + 100% solar energy)

So it is an opportune moment to seriously organize a proper

methodology to promote these vein quartz based high-tech
industries, as a prelude to handing over the benefits to future
generation. This happens to be an obligation of the country.
Now is the opportune moment to collaborate with foreign or
local companies having the necessary infrastructure and
know-how to establish this kind of industries.

If everything goes well Sri Lanka could soon become a country

that produces green energy and even become the hub of the
modern day market of high-tech silicon products. Thus, it
would approach the threshold of achieving the status of Asia’s
‘Silicon Valley.’

6 – Salt
Lanka's salt can enrich country's coffers

Sri Lanka is an island nation having a large periphery of ocean

that falls under its jurisdiction. Ocean holds unlimited
resources and salt is one of its prime commodities, which can
be easily exploited with minimum effort. Since the island is
surrounded with a large ocean, sea salt in it could be
identified as an almost inexhaustible resource.

Sri Lanka is blessed with a temperate climate throughout the

year. As such, sea salt can be produced using natural sunlight
during the periods other than that of seasonal (monsoonal)
changes. Theoretically, during this process both the source
material (sea water) and the energy source (sunlight) are
absolutely free, a favorable condition hardly found in other

Sri Lankan map depicting the large ocean that

falls under its jurisdiction

Salt is a biological necessity of human life and had been used
by humans since prehistoric era. As such, salt is a much
sought-after commodity throughout the world and it had
been interlinked with the daily lives of people since ancient

Sea salt was mentioned in an ancient chronicle, ‘Vinaya

Pitaka.’ Some words and place names used today are derived
from salt. Puttalam is one such name, derived from the Tamil
word ‘Uppuththalam’ meaning salt plain. Today it is referred
to as ‘The Salt City of Sri Lanka.’

Even the word salary is believed to be derived from salt

because in ancient times salt was highly valued and its
production was legally restricted; it was also used in the past
as an item of barter and as currency. The belief that Roman
soldiers were paid with salt is an example for its use as

Besides, ancient Greeks used to buy slaves using salt as the

currency. As such, the expression, "not worth his salt" was
added to the language. Even today salt is performing a vital
role in many cultures throughout the globe, pertaining to
beliefs, traditions and religious activities prevailing since
ancient times.

In the case of beliefs Arabian fairy tale ‘Thousand and one

Nights,’ refers to salt thus; ‘If you eat salt in another person’s
house, you cannot then be that person’s enemy.’

In the past salt bar was an expensive commodity in arid regions

For most people in Sri Lanka the word salt implies merely the
white granules found in the coconut shell (Lunupolkatta), a
utensil used to store salt, in local village kitchens or the
contents of a salt shaker adorning the dining tables of middle
and elite communities.

This practice signifies the excellence of salt as the substance
sought-after by human tasty buds whenever they consume
food to gratify their hunger, but other than that they are
ignorant of so many diverse uses of salt.

Salt is an essential part in the diet of humans as well as

animals. On the other hand, plants too need salt for their
proper growth.

Salt as a food seasoning; provided by a salt shaker

Salt is used since prehistoric times as a very effective and
widely used food preservative. The earliest hunters used salt
to preserve the excess meat for consumption during
inclement weather conditions or to barter with other
commodities. Same types of activities were carried out among
the fisherman. Even today the fishermen are using salt to
treat fish for later use.

In addition, people use salt for multiple purposes such as

animal feed, fertilizer, cosmetics, medicine, etc. Most people
are unaware that only around 6% of salt is used as a
seasoning or a preservative in food and beverage industries.
So, the rest is used in a vast array of industries.

The assumption is that salt has some 14,000 uses in

industries such as plastic, paper, glass, polyester, rubber and
fertilizers along with household bleaches, soaps, detergents
and dyes. Salt is a raw material for a number of secondary
industrial products such as magnesia, potash, magnesium
sulphate and gypsum that are used in some other industries.

At present, world salt production mainly falls into two

categories. Those that are mined from dried ancient sea beds
found beneath the surface and those that are leftover by the
evaporation of sea water or by boiling salt water in salt
furnaces (metal pans). Out of the two, the latter is still
considered the best and fetches the highest price.

It is possible to produce salt at a very low cost due to the fact

that Sri Lanka being an island is surrounded by the Indian
Ocean and for the fact that it is blessed with a temperate
climate throughout the year.

Yet, it is surprising to note that people in Sri Lanka still fail to
identify the economic importance of this valuable resource.
This unawareness is emphasized by the fact that some
amount of salt is still being imported from elsewhere. The
main reason behind this is that Sri Lankans still prefer to have
commodities imported from elsewhere; this trend is
sometimes referred to as colonial mentality.

The country is surrounded with sea water; therefore,

theoretically the salt production is a possibility around the
entire country (coastal areas). But practically the location of
sites suitable for the layout of salterns mostly depends on the
land use planning and infrastructure development of the
coastal areas.

Anyhow two areas of the country such as Hambantota and

Puttalam are famous for salt for ages. There are several
salterns existing in Hambantota area and they produce nearly
30% of the total salt production of the country.

This area has a very long history relating to natural salterns.

History reveals that the ancient kings sent bullock carts to
Hambantota to fetch salt to their upcountry kingdom. Some
say that the Ella-Wellawaya road was the first thoroughfare
that linked the Hambantota natural salterns with the
upcountry for the purpose of transporting salt.

People collecting salt from a local saltern

The other most famous salterns lie in Puttalam district and

are accountable for a substantial percentage of the country’s
salt production. There are some salterns found in the
Northern regions, but in the recent past their contribution
was limited due to the civil war, which dragged on for thirty
long years.

Most of these salterns exploit sea water (brine) and the

natural energy of the sun to produce salt. As such, the only
hindrance is the climatic inconsistency. Besides, the
requirement of a greater number of workers is also a major

Fortunately, in the recent past some private entrepreneurs
too have come to the forefront to invest in salt manufacturing.
Recently one company declared that it had begun commercial
production of salt adapting pure vacuum dried (PVD)
technology. They affirmed that salt could be produced 100%
free from any impurities using this technology. If this trend
continues and if an increasing number of private
entrepreneurs happen to invest in salt production, it would
be very healthy for the country’s economy.

The other noteworthy feature is that even during the

conventional salt production locals are unaware of some
important highly valuable elements that result during salt
production. These are allowed to get back to the sea without
exploiting them for any profitable use.

One such product called bittern, very bitter-tasting solution

that remains after evaporation and crystallization of salt,
fetches a very high price compared to common salt. It is also
a commercial source of magnesium compounds especially
magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts).

In addition, very common and important chemical called

gypsum is solidified in intermediate ponds, but Lankans so far
do not extract this product, nevertheless, had spent lot of
money to export gypsum for fertilizer, construction and
health sector industries. Plaster of Paris resulting from
heating the mineral gypsum is also invaluable as a material to
be modified as casts in the treatment of bone fractures in
orthopedic medicine.

Use of plaster of paris cast for the treatment of a kid’s bone fracture

Now it is known that lithium too can be extracted from sea

water. The lithium-rich sea water is pumped into solar
evaporation ponds and processed very similar to the process
of common salt production. As a result of the launching of
hybrid cars lithium became a highly sought-after commodity
and these days its price is skyrocketing because these cars are
using lithium batteries.

Now lithium is considered the power storage medium of the

next generation. If Sri Lanka can produce lithium out of its sea
water it could easily find export markets as well and surely
can fetch an exorbitant income.

Hybrid car incorporated with a lithium battery

In the recent past there was an establishment called

Paranthan Chemical Factory, but unfortunately it was
destroyed during the war. This factory was capable of
producing several valuable chemicals by using salt solution as
a primary source material. As most people know electrolysis
of salt water gives rise to a valuable chemical known as
sodium hydroxide.

During this process hydrogen and chlorine are also produced

as byproducts. All these are very valuable chemicals, which
can be used in a variety of industries, especially, in hi-tech
industries. As such, it is time to either reopen this
establishment or encourage the private sector to venture into
this type of sea water based chemical industries.

In recent times the world has stepped on to a nano-age. As
such, scientists have identified most of 14,000 salt based
industries that fall within the high-tech category. Even with
all these technological advances it is surprising to note that
Sri Lanka had not yet identified the economic importance of
this valuable resource. This resource can yield exorbitant
profits in the future, provided it is properly handled for the
production of hi-tech goods; thereby, Lanka can earn
substantial export earnings.

In addition, this commodity can be easily used in small scale

ventures such as village based food and beverage industries.
If everything goes on schedule the small-scale entrepreneur
(SME) sector would systematically eliminate poverty in
villages and ultimately increase the country’s GDP.

Finally, it seems that Sri Lanka as a nation cannot go forward

without identifying the full potential and getting the
maximum use of its resources. So far, Sri Lanka was able to
produce the best scientists, competent in their specialties.
Yet, it is sad to note that the Sri Lankan high-tech exports
remain at a minimum level compared to that of the
neighboring countries.

Therefore, this is the most appropriate time to launch a

properly planned program for the maximum exploitation of
country’s salt-based industries. It is the country’s obligation
to make the maximum of our natural resources for the benefit
of the present as well as the future generations. If everything
goes on schedule Sri Lanka is not very far from becoming the
wonder of Asia.

7 – Gold
Sri Lanka’s gold; past & present

From time immemorial Sri Lanka is famous for gold as well as

a variety of gems. The island was then known as
“Rathnaduweepa” meaning the island of gold/ gems. The
wealth of gold is the reason for naming it as Rathnaduweepa.
According to the past records, not only Kings and Queens, but
even other noble men/women had worn gold jewellery.
Jewellery made out of gold is known to Sri Lankans since
many centuries.

During the ancient and present times, jewellery making

continues as a village-based industry where technology
passes from father to son. In those days, there were
goldsmiths in most villages, who were very conversant with
the manufacture of objects from gold, gathered from nearby
areas. Gold coins, jewellery, statues and other artifacts
excavated from archeological sites provide ample evidence to
the gold industry of Sri Lanka. In addition, some of the ancient
chronicles of Sri Lanka such as “Mahawamsa” records the
gold discoveries of the past.

It is common knowledge that Sri Lankans used barter system

for their day to day transactions and services; services for the
state were rendered on a system known as “Rajakariya.” In
addition, ancient Sri Lanka can boast of a coin-based economy
as revealed by past records.

Evidence shows that even during Anuradhapura (the oldest
kingdom in the country) period coins had been in use; during
the latter stages gold coins had also been in circulation.
“Mahavamsa” refers to gold discoveries that had taken place
during King Dutugemunu’s period.

Some discoveries belonging to that period includes very large

cast gold ingots. Such a discovery at Acharavittigama or
Avuruvitigama; referred to by Mr. C.W. Nicholas, author of the
“Historical Topography of Ancient and Medieval Ceylon;”
which was supposed to be 20-30 miles north east of
Anurhadapura; happens to be the present area that lies
between Ratmalegavehera and Kebithigollawa in the
catchment area of Ma-oya.

The cart, transporting gold unearthed from the place now

called Kebithigollawa in the 2nd century BC, got toppled at
Rambewa, hence had to be unloaded. Thus, the village was
named Ranbawa (Ran=gold, bawa= unload) and
subsequently Rambewa.

The gold discovered during the reign of King Dutugamunu

helped him to finance some of his major projects. The largest
cast gold ingot so far found were recovered during the
Central Cultural Fund Excavations at Anuradhapura, and
dated to a period in between seven and eight centuries AD.

Large cast gold ingots discovered from Sri Lanka.

Descriptions of Sri Lanka’s ancient gold coins are found in

various publications. It is a fascinating topic that has to be
discussed separately.

A further use of this commodity is revealed by the beautiful

gold jewellery found during several archeological
excavations. It was clear that most of the jewellery were made
by Lankan goldsmiths, inhabitants of certain villages famous
for this sort of handicraft. Among the many gold artifacts
found, the “Kundalabarana” (ear ornament) found at
“Sigiriya” excavation (Dated to 5th Century AD) is a
magnificent creation revealing the expertise of Sri Lankan

Gold ear ornament found during Sigiriya excavations

Later on, colonial rulers were very much interested in Sri

Lankan gold. Their tactic was to investigate for gold using Sri
Lankan folklore as their guide. Thus, the villages named with
the prefix ‘Ran’ such as Ranboda (Ramboda), Ranpathwala,
etc. became prominent in gold exploration.

This sort of systematic approach made them successful in

their gold quest. According to Central Province
Administrative report they were quite successful in areas
around Ramboda and Nuwara Eliya. It was recorded that two
ounces of gold per ton of ore were reported in several
localities of the area. In addition, alluvial gold was found
associated with gem mining and this consisted of gold
nuggets and flakes. Panning of river sediments for gold too
has a long history.

Gold nuggets mostly found associated with gem mining

A 1938 record describing a gold rush around 1850, reveals

that an Englishman, named Bradly, having gold mining
experience in Australia and the US; having seen some
similarities among Sri Lankan placer sediments and the gold
bearing placer sediments of those countries; decided to
prospect for gold in Sri Lanka.

He had been successful in finding gold around Maha-Oya

region. Hearing the news, people from all over the country
rushed to the area to try their luck. Finally, the government
had to intervene and issue mining licenses, but the gold rush
was soon over once the gold in the area got exhausted.

At present, a proper system for gold exploration or gold

mining does not exist. Expert opinion is that the gold deposits
in the country are scattered, hence it is not economical to
carry out large scale gold mining.

But fortunately, in the recent past there had been several gold
rushes in certain areas of the country indicating the nature’s
bounty. Most often the ordinary villagers gained the benefit
from these gold rushes, especially the recent gold rush at
Pugoda (Kelani River).

The gold rush is a fine example for villagers’ enthusiasm.

People came carrying all sorts of kitchen utensils such as
“Koraha”, “Nambiliya,” “Tachchi,” baskets and buckets to try
their luck at this Kumarimulla Thotupala (an inlet) in Kelani
River closer to Pugoda area. Sometimes the entire family was
seen neck deep in water panning for gold.

Women panning river sediments for gold in the Kelani River at


Within a few days people on the whole gathered a
considerable quantity of gold; but the rush lasted only for a
short time. Just like the gold rush in Maha-oya this find also
got exhausted in a short while bringing riches to many lucky
villagers. They mostly found small quantities of very fine gold
flakes or dust accumulated at the bottom of the pan; gold goes
down due to its very high density.

Very fine gold flakes/dust found during river sediment panning

Even today people pan for gold in the Walawe river and its
tributaries to earn their daily bread. Most prominent among
these are Konegaha Mankada in Walawe river. Panning in
these places had been carried out for the last five years.

Sometimes they are lucky enough to collect around two

“manchadi” (manchadi = 0.23g) of gold dust at the end of the
day. This gold is sold to the nearby merchant around rupees
one thousand eight hundred per “manchadi”. Most of the time,
their effort is unproductive owing to the inadequate
equipment and improper technics.

In view of the experts’ opinion that the country’s gold
deposits are scattered and unsuited for large scale mining, at
least the small scale alluvial mining operations should be
promoted. This sort of operation does not need capital, but a
proper pan could be quite useful; besides, the environmental
damage of the operation is negligible.

Some research organizations of the country have identified

that alluvial gold can be found in the rivers Walawe, Kelani,
Maha-Oya and Nilwala. According to the Gem and Jewellery
Authority, Akuressa and Deniyaya areas too have gold
deposits, though, not in large quantities. The amount of gold
transported by these rivers as a whole must be considerable;
yet, the quantity recovered by villagers happened to be quite

Hence it is time to encourage small scale gold miners. Use of

metal detectors and small-scale gold prospecting plants
seems ideal for this kind of operation (Even these simple gold
prospecting plants sometimes called sluice boxes can be
made easily at a cost of a few thousand rupees). These are
even promoted by industrialized countries in order to
minimize environmental damage and to maintain the
deposits for a longer period of time.

Hence it is worthwhile for the Sri Lankan government to

allocate some funds for this village-based gold mining
operations. In addition, the government may provide the
necessary technology and instruments. Since this type of
operation is carried out by villagers they would preserve their
own village environment.

When large overseas mining companies are involved in
mining, the safety of the environment is at stake because they
will never consider the country as their own. They will try to
earn a fast buck at the expense of the environment. Finally,
the land would be unproductive leaving no room for further

Small scale gold exploration using a metal detector

If everything goes well the country would eliminate poverty

in villages and ultimately increase the country’s GDP; and
once again be self-sufficient in gold. Thus, it can once again be
named “Rathnaduweepa.”

8 - Iron ore
Lanka’s iron ore needs innovation to regain its past glory

Iron has been an indispensable commodity since Iron Age.

Historians and archeologists believe that earliest iron objects
were made of natural iron meteorites. Some tips of spears,
harpoons and daggers fashioned from iron meteorites are
still found in museums. The meteoric origin of iron initially
used by humans is also referred to in an ancient religious
chronicle thus: "We sent down Iron with its great inherent
strength and its many benefits for humankind.”

Those days iron was more valuable than gold or silver. There
are some records showing that iron was exchanged with
silver at the rate of 40 times its weight. Although iron ore is
very common in many parts of the world, ancient people were
not always successful in getting the full use of iron ore
because it is a hard material having a high melting point.
Somehow with time they were able to obtain some crude steel
mixed with slag out of a fraction of iron ore trapped inside the
kiln that got burned along with the earthenware.

Discovering iron and using it was a great achievement of

ancient times because it revolutionized the manufacture of
weapons, agricultural tools and other similar instruments
used by men for their day to day activities.

Sri Lanka surpasses most of its contemporaries in the

production of iron and steel objects out of its iron ore since
pre-historic times.

Since 3rd century BC, ahead of other countries, a substantial
metal industry based on iron technology was in existence in
the country.

Manufacturing iron objects was mostly carried out in villages.

Every village had a ‘Kammala’ (Forge) run by an Achariya (a
blacksmith), who is very competent in making agricultural
tools or weapons from the locally found raw material. In
addition, there were specialized metal factories run by
experts. They had the patronage of kings and were specialized
in the manufacture of either agricultural tools or weapons.

Some of these craftsmen (Achariyas) were presented with

(Nindagam) villages by the king as an outright grant in
appreciation of their excellent work. This type of factories
were recorded around Sigiriya indicating mass production of
extremely high quality steel products to cater to the local
community and the surplus most probably to be sent to other
regions or to be exported.

The raw materials such as hematite, limonite and magnetite

that are needed to produce good quality iron can be easily
found within this region.

Furnaces of this period generally did not use magnetite

because they are unable to produce the immense heat
required to process it. But evidence as to its use had been
traced to the furnaces around the Sigiriya region. Hardwood
capable of producing high heat had been used in those

Village blacksmith making steel tools

The age old most ingenious process of iron smelting

technique is the use of monsoonal wind to activate the iron
smelting furnaces.

Recently due to the joint research activities on this technique

between a Sri Lankan scientist and a UK scientist, Sri Lanka
got a fair amount of publicity as the first South Asian country
to produce high carbon steel, such as the finest quality Wootz
or Damascus steel, which had been used to turn out blades
durable and able to hold an edge. When one visited
Samanalawewa or deep into Balangoda area he or she can
encounter heaps of (Yabora) iron slag indicating the thriving
steel or iron industry at that time.

If the person goes little beyond and seek the help of locals he
or she can find the traces of ancient furnaces that did the
miracle of generating enough heat to produce the best quality
steel. Sri Lanka encounters powerful monsoonal winds,
especially, during the period June to September and locals got
the maximum use of it in the process of iron ore smelting.

Archeologists had come across a large number of iron-

smelting furnaces in this region powered by monsoonal
winds to generate the enormous heat required to produce
high-carbon steel. These furnaces had used charcoal of tree
trunks such as Yakada-Marang (Syzgiumzeylanicum), Path
Beriya (Syzygiumspathulatum) and Damba
(Syzygiumgardner), which are known among the locals as the
ideally suited hardwood to generate high heat. Locals believe
that these furnaces were capable of producing one ton of high
carbon steel from two tons of iron ore. This is also a fair bit of
achievement in those days.

The archeological team had experimented the smelting using

the actual size furnace of that time (Exact replica of the old
furnace), under exact conditions prevailing at the time, with
the use of similar local materials (Iron ore and charcoal),
thereby, achieving total success in producing high carbon
steel under the same old method.

Assumption is that this method thrived from 7th to 11th

centuries A.D and discontinued thereafter due to a South
Indian Chola invasion.

According to historical records the iron manufactured in Sri
Lanka finally ended up in Magamtota harbour (Hambantota)
to be exported elsewhere mainly to manufacture weapons.

This steel was highly priced and widely sought after by many
countries. Some believed that much of this steel finally ended
in Damascus, Syria, because the admiration of their qualities
was esteemed throughout the Islamic literature. At the same
time, the origin of this steel was mentioned in the Syrian
records as ‘Sivhala’ (Sri Lanka). Accordingly, the legendary
Damascus swords, renowned for their sharpness and
durability, were gifted to the world by Sri Lanka.

The Damascus steel was supposed to contain a number of

different materials including various trace elements. Recent
studies have suggested that carbon nanotubes were included
in its structure, which might account for its legendary
qualities. The utterance among tribes that Damascus swords
could even slice through the barrel of a rifle or cut a silk cloth
falling across its blade proves its excellence.

Damascus sword having the typical water ripple marks

Some experts believe that Damascus swords were made in Sri
Lanka and exported as finished products. If that is the case it
would be an ideal research topic for the Sri Lankan scientist
to discover the hidden methodology of its manufacturing

Even in the recent past the colonial rulers had identified the
importance of Sri Lankan iron ore. They had observed large
masses of iron ore such as hematite, limonite, goethite and
magnetite some of them extending for a distance of fifteen
miles. Samples, collected from these deposits, were sent to
London and these had revealed an inclusion of 68.7% to
79.5% ferric oxide, which in turn is equivalent to 48% to 55%
of metallic iron.

Several varieties of iron ore

Yet, it is surprising to note that its present contribution to the

national economy is zero. Sri Lanka can boast of its iron ore
deposits only in one respect that it is not exported in its
natural state.

In that sense, children of this country are left with a mineral
resource, which they could put into better use in the near
future with the application of modern technology.

The country’s iron ore resource can be divided into two broad
categories such as hydrated iron oxides (limonite, goethite)
occurring near the surface and magnetite associated with
iron-bearing formations within the crystalline complexes.

The first category along with hematite have an average

metallic content of 50% Fe(iron) and lower grade ore have
30-40% Fe. The reserves are estimated to hold 2 to 3 million
tons of iron closer to the surface, which is easily extractable.
These ores are found as thick belts mainly in the areas of
Ratnapura, Balangoda and Kalawana in the province of

Since these deposits are situated closer to the sabaragamuwa

hilltops that are normally subjected to powerful monsoon
winds, it can be smelted easily and with the least amount of
overheads by applying the age old wind-blown iron furnace
technique. As such, this technique needs to be developed as a
village scale industry (SME’s).

As to the second category of iron ore deposits, copper–

magnetic deposit at Seruwila holds prime importance. This
was recorded and mapped by Geological Survey Department
in 1972. In addition, detail survey too was undertaken by
them during the late seventies. This deposit spreads over an
area of nearly 10 square kilometers. It is mainly composed of
magnetite and copper minerals.

According to the estimates it holds 4.5 million tons of ore
reserves with an average grade of 1.5% of Cu and 38–39% of
soluble Fe.

Since this comprises both copper and iron its importance is

enormous. Unfortunately, the present technology facilities
are not sufficient to separate both these metals from the ore.
As such, it is time to collaborate with some parties to develop
high tech methodology to separate these metals from the ore.

Copper-magnetite deposit at Seruwila

Requirement of the hi-tech methodology for the separation of
inherent metals of ‘Seruwila’ iron ore deposit drew the
attention of several scientists from Sri Lankan universities to
experiment with this iron deposit as a priority project. At
present, they are making the blueprint to harvest this
resource and subject it to the manufacturing process of value
added products, together with the corporation of other
government organizations as well.

So, it is a case of waiting; supposing everything goes well Sri

Lanka can very soon be self-sufficient in iron and can also
flood the market with high-tech products made of iron. In
addition, nano scientist too can collaborate with them to
unravel the mystery surrounding the manufacture of
Damascus steel.

9 – Gemstones
From time immemorial Lankan gemstones have been
sought after by royals

Ornamentation with gems was a woman’s fantasy from

ancient times. A dream of any woman is to adorn herself with
gem studded jewellery and to be conspicuous in a crowd
during a function. Queen Cleopatra and Elizabeth Taylor were
in the forefront among those adorned with jewellery
embedded with gem stones.

Likewise, Sri Lankan women are especially lucky to do so

because their country is gifted with many varieties of gem
stones. In spite of the size of the country it is surprising to
have around seventy gem varieties. Sri Lanka is second only
to Brazil regarding the number of gem stone varieties
obtainable, obviously, Brazil is a very large country, the fifth
largest country in the world, compared to ours; no wonder it
has a larger collection of gems than ours.

Among all these gem varieties the most prolific and most
important variety is the sapphire that belongs to the
corundum family. The members of the corundum family
include the transparent, yellow, green, orange, purple, pink
and colour- changing sapphires, together with the very rare
padmaraga (colour of Lotus flower) and the red colour rubies.
In addition, star sapphires and star rubies.

Sapphires having different colours

Sri Lanka today produces the best blue sapphires having the
colour named as corn flower blue; sometimes named as royal
blue or peacock feather blue. Blue sapphires of this colour are
highly sought after by the jewelers all over the world.

Sometime in the past there were some sapphires known as

the Kashmir sapphires unearthed from the tall mountainous
regions of Kashmir in India. Their exceptional hue and luster
attracted everyone, but their availability lasted only for few
decades. Today, these localities no longer produce
exceptional stones, but only inferior ones. Therefore, Sri
Lanka is foremost once again as the only country producing
the finest quality blue sapphires.

Gemstones of Sri Lanka adorn the royal crowns of many
countries and are exhibited in many museums world over.
Legends reveal that King Solomon presented Queen Sheba
with gems brought from Sri Lanka. Marco Polo, the explorer,
mentions in one of his journals about a gemstone he had
encountered in Sri Lanka then known as Ceylon, thus “A span
in length, without a flow brilliant beyond compare.”

Also, an ancient merchant’s travel guide “The Periplus of the

Erythraean Sea” compiled during the first Century AD
mentions that precious stones were exported from this
country. Ptolemy, a Greek astronomer, who lived in the
second century AD while confirming the fact, records that
sapphires were the principal stones exported.

In ancient Sri Lanka, all lands other than the grants by the king
to a nobleman or to an individual known as “Nindagam”,
belong to the King, therefore, it follows to reason that
whatever spoils including gems that come off the land, were
King’s property. The gem-mining was governed by certain
laws and regulations.

This is shown by the following extract from the records of

Robert Knox (English prisoner during the Kandyan reign),
which reads thus “In this island are several sorts of precious
stones, which the king for his part has enough of, and so careth
not to have more discovery made. The one who disobey were
executed by impaling on a pole.”

For quite some time Sri Lankans have mastered the art of gem
exploration, simply observing the residual sediment material
found on the riverbanks, they could predict gem deposits. In
addition, they use a long steel rod called “Illumkura”.
Inserting the rod into the ground and pulling it thereafter,
they inspect the material adhered to the rod.

This simple process enables them to accurately identify the

gem deposits. Even today most gem deposits in Sri Lanka are
discovered by villagers from the experience passed down
from father to son.

They have mastered gem mining process as well. They carry

out shallow pit mining, deep pit mining involving several
horizontal shafts and river dredging, to suit the prevalent
conditions and the type of deposit.

Traditional gem mining of Sri Lanka

They are always successful in carrying out environmentally
friendly and sustainable mining operations. As such, they use
local materials, which are freely available in the surrounding
environment, namely, Arecanut timber, and other locally
available wood; and for water retention Kekilla leaves. This
ancient practice is modernized merely by the addition of
water pumps for dewatering.

Sri Lankans are conversant with the ways and means to

refine a gem out of an ordinary coarse gem material. During
the refining process they are experts in achieving the
maximum weight from expensive gem material such as the
sapphire. For all these delicate processes they use hand
driven machinery called “hana poruwa”. In spite of all the
modern technology it is quite remarkable that the ancient
machine and the methodology are still in use among
craftsman to preserve the maximum weight of a gemstone.
Even today, phenomenal gemstones such as star sapphires,
star rubies, cat's-eyes and moonstones are entirely fashioned
by this method.

Traditional way of fashioning gems “Hana Poruwa”

It is quite noteworthy that Sri Lankans had practiced gem
enhancement from ancient times. They are masters in
removing unwanted hues in rubies and other sapphires by
using a simple charcoal hearth and blow pipes for its

They decide the burning time by just looking at the stone and
manipulate the blowing sequence consecutively throughout
the entire stipulated time and get the desired results dead
accurate. This method is practiced even today, despite all the
advances in modern times, especially, for removing the
unwanted hues in rubies and pink sapphires.

Gem enhancement (heating) using the traditional blow pipe method

Padmaraga is considered a very rare gem throughout the
world and it is highly esteemed among sapphire varieties.
Sometimes it is considered the kingpin of the sapphire family.
The name “padmaraga” is akin to certain sounds in Sri Lankan
vocabulary, hence the name is supposed to have originated in
this country.

Large natural untreated Sri Lankan stones having the exact

padmaraga appearance (Colour of Lotus flower) are highly
sought after by collectors as collector’s specimens.

Although gemstones are found in most parts of the country

sufficient benefits do not reach those at the periphery of the
industry such as miners and cutters, usually the wage
earners, who hazard their lives and lead a very harsh
unsecured life.

Whereas, some sectors of the industry reap exorbitant profits.

Apart from the organized mines sudden occurrences of
several gem rushes in certain areas in the recent past brought
riches to many. Usually the ordinary villagers gained the
benefit from these gem rushes, especially, the recent gem
rush at Kataragama. Excellent good quality gemstones were
found by ordinary villagers inside the heaps of excavated soils
meant for road construction at Kataragama.

In the recent past optimum new technology is incorporated

elsewhere for the enhancement process of sapphires. A
variety of sapphire material of the country called geuda, was
purchased by the Thai people and transported to their
country. In Thailand quality of these were upgraded by
applying various types of treatments.

Whereupon, Sri Lanka lost millions of dollars in the past,
while Thailand made enormous profits. At present, this
scenario is changed because Sri Lankans too have acquired
high tech methods and they are conversant in the techniques
of colour enhancement in sapphires and several other

Yet, to uplift the gem trade it should have a sophisticated

laboratory equipped with modern analytical instruments.
The major task of the laboratory should be to detect the
malpractices that could undermine Lanka’s reputation.
Without a modern laboratory it is very difficult to gain
maximum profit from Sri Lankan gemstones that are sought
after by the jewelers throughout the world.

Further requirement is the re-introduction of Sri Lankan

gemstones to the world with an innovative marketing
strategy just like the ones used by giant companies.

Innovative marketing strategy can be profitable for this sort

of situation. Sometime in the recent past the diamond sales
dropped as a result of the arrival of cheap diamond
substitutes like Cubic Zirconia (American diamond).

Then, the De Beers syndicate adapted a new marketing

concept that is “Diamond is forever,” most probably imitating
the title of James Bond film; “Diamonds are forever.” As a
result, its popularity as an engagement ring stone supplier
became greater than before. It was sought after by every new
couple to adorn the ring finger of the bride. This re-
introduction of diamonds by the De Beers syndicate made
huge profits thereafter.

Round brilliant diamond

Anyhow Diamond is a very common material when compared

to good quality gemstones such as alexandrite rubies and
sapphires. Diamond is found in many countries, but good
quality alexandrite, rubies and sapphires are produced only
in very few countries; Sri Lanka being in the foremost.

Despite all these setbacks Sri Lanka had free publicity

recently relating to its best quality sapphires due to the Royal
wedding of Prince William with Princes Kate. Prince William
had a beautiful Sri Lankan blue sapphire embedded ring
inherited from his mother, Princes Diana, and he used it to
adorn the ring finger of his fiancée during their engagement.

According to a BBC news item this 12-carat oval-cut blue

sapphire at the heart of this ring had been mined somewhere
in Matale area of the country and eventually ended up in
Britain thirty-five years ago. This Royal wedding made the
royalty and nobility of the world interested in Sri Lankan
sapphires once more.

This is an opportunity in the offing for Sri Lanka gem trade to
open its doors to the outside world.

If Sri Lanka moves forward with a good marketing strategy

and the installation of a well-equipped gem laboratory, its
success cannot be very far. Sri Lanka can once again hope for
a golden age for its gemstones.

Gem laboratory having modern analytical facilities

As such, immediate action should be taken to safeguard the

country’s gem industry, especially, by exploiting the world-
renowned sapphires to yield maximum profits. Safeguarding
its sustainable mining processes is to harness the traditional
extraction methods. It is Sri Lanka’s obligation to handover
the profits/benefits and to guarantee the continuity of the
industry to the future generation.

10 – Apatite
Eppawala apatite is a money- spinner for innovative

Majority of Sri Lankans are enthusiastic farmers. During King

Parakramabahu’s rein Sri Lanka was known as the “The
Granary of the East” and a historical record reveals that it
exported rice to the neighboring countries.

Even today, the inhabitants, including those in urban areas,

are used to grow at least some vegetables in their tiny
gardens. As such, fertilizer happens to be a very valuable and
essential commodity for cultivation. Each year country
imports billions of rupees worth of fertilizer from elsewhere.

There is a large phosphate deposit situated at Eppawala in

Anuradapura district located within the North Central
Province of Sri Lanka. Deposit happens to be a part of
Thalawa Divisional Secretariat.

This was discovered in 1971 by former Geological Survey

Department and up to date exploited by Lanka Phosphate
Limited, an institution established in 1971. The material is
used in its crude form apart from grinding and crushing it into
smaller fragments.

Location Map of Eppawala Apatite
(Source: Survey Dept. 1:63360 topographic map of Anuradapura)

The appetite bearing rock is exposed among the surrounding

highland and consists of a “leached zone” (appetite, in a
matrix of iron oxides) at the top, rich in appetite.

This zone extends downwards

to a depth of around 60m and
rests on fresh rock. Eppawala
apatite includes Fluorapatite,
Chlorapatite, Hydroxyapatite
and a high amount of rare
earth elements. As such, this
source is sometimes named a
Exposed appetite bearing
carbonatite deposit.
rock is being loaded to trucks

This carbonatite deposit consists of six elevated hills having
apatite bearing rock and covers an area of approximately 324
hectares of land. It is also believed to extend to a depth of 50ft
beneath the ground. This source is estimated to contain,
nearly, 60 million MT of phosphates, which is sufficient for
1500 years if exploited in a sustainable manner.

Heaps of apatite made ready for crushing

Solubility of Eppawala apatite is considered to be very low

(Water solubility is 0.5%, whereas, solubility in household
acid is 2%). As such, it is used only for perennial crops such
as tea, coconut, rubber and spice crops such as pepper and
coffee. It is not recommended for short term crops due to its
low solubility.

Sometime ago the Institute of Fundamental Studies carried
out a study that involved the dumping of Eppwala apatite
within “muthurajawela” marshy land in order to improve the
solubility by subjecting it to react with bio-generated acids
found in marshy lands.

This project could not achieve the expected solubility limits;

therefore, the experiment was discontinued after sometime.
Thereafter, some projects were started to use phosphate
powder along with compost fertilizer. This too did not
achieve the expected results but it was not a complete failure.

Part of an apatite crystal

Although, most universities and research institutions are
involved in the research relating to Eppawala apatite and
achieved some amount of success, the Lanka Phosphate
limited still engages in the conventional process of fertilizer
production such as screening, sorting, crushing and grinding
of apatite. The company was able to produce high grade rock
phosphate, HERP (38% P2O5) by crushing fresh apatite
crystals that are not weathered, whereas, by crushing the
mixed material it could only produce common Eppawala Rock
phosphate, ERP (28% P2O5).

High grade rock phosphate, HERP (38% P2O5)

The processing at Lanka Phosphate Limited involves simply

the removal of carbonatite overburden; separating the
apatite bearing rocks; thereafter, sorting according to visual
appearance; crushing using a jaw crusher and finally grinding
the product using a roller mill. Although, this operation had
been continued for more than thirty years the process
remains the same except for the addition of new high capacity
modern machinery.

Apatite crushing plant

Modern ERP packing plant

Each year Sri Lanka spends billions of rupees to import Triple
Super Phosphate (TSP) and Single Super Phosphate (SSP).
Therefore, the value addition of Eppawala rock phosphate is
an essential task that could save a considerable amount of
foreign exchange. Lanka Phosphate Limited had recently
introduced a plan to produce Single Super Phosphate (SSP).
In order to successfully carry out this project it needs a cheap
source of acid, especially, a cheap source of sulphuric acid.

At the same time Paranthan Chemicals Company is planning

to re-establish the Caustic Soda/Chlorine manufacturing
plant destroyed during the Northern War. This proposed
plant could produce a certain amount of hydrochloric acid in
addition to caustic soda (primary product), which could be
used for a number of industries which require acids, such as
the industry involved in the manufacture or extraction of
titanium dioxide from ilmenite sand.

In addition, it could also improve the solubility of Eppawala

rock phosphate. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the
Government to expedite this project of reopening the
Paranthan Chemical factory.

Paranthan Chemical factory

Consequently, Sri Lankan scientists could create a novel
process to manufacture Single Super Phosphate using
hydrochloric acid as a substitute for sulphuric acid. Producing
locally made phosphate fertilizers such as SSP would be an
advantage to the agriculture sector. Cheap phosphate
fertilizer would lead to increased yields creating far reaching
economic benefits not only to the farmer but also to the whole
country. If this becomes a reality once again we could expect
a ‘Granary of the East’.

On the other hand, apatite could also be used for a number of

industries such as Pharmaceuticals, Biomaterials (Artificial
limbs, teeth) Analytical reagents, Animal feeds, Phosphoric
Acid, Detergents and Emulsifiers. Hence, upgrading of apatite
production should be promoted with government

Education of school children regarding the true impacts of

this industry is also appropriate for their future endeavors.
Haphazard, unplanned exploitation of rock phosphate may
cause severe impacts on the environment. As such, careful
monitoring of the allied industries should be carried out in
order to safeguard the environment. Sustainable mining of
rock phosphate should be adhered to so that part of this
exhaustible resource is kept in reserve for the use of the
future generation.

Although, Sri Lanka has more than seventy varieties of gem

minerals most of them are of either translucent or
transparent material. Opaque material that is good for
carvings is very rare.

Up to date Lankan
carvers used serpentine
to make beautiful
carvings; at the moment
most of the serpentine
deposits are exhausted
and the remaining
deposits are not
allowed for mining. As
such, research is done
to find out the potential
of Eppawala apatite as a
substitute for
serpentine and to find
out its basic properties
that could match the
properties of a good
carving material.
Table clock made of apatite slab

Apatitite carved into a beautiful miniature stupa

The primary requirement of any good carving material is its
softness (Apatite = 5 Moha scale), workability (not many
cleavages, partings and fractures) and the adaptability to
effect an ideal polish without much effort. Apatite fulfills all
these requirements. It could be given an appropriate polish
using cheaper polishing powder such as cerium dioxide or
chromic oxide (hard rocks need expensive polishing powders
such as diamond powder). As such, this is yet another value
addition process for Eppawala apatite.

The most important aspect is the economical price of the

fresh apatite crystals or chunks, usually, less than Rs. 50/=
per kg. Once it is carved into a beautiful object the value
becomes exorbitant. This is a considerable value addition
compared to the production of fertilizer named Eppawala
Rock Phosphate (ERP). As such, apatite carving could be
considered as a very lucrative SME, which does not need
much capital.

In any case, value added products could fetch exorbitant

prices, much more than the price of grounded apatite, ERP. If
this endeavor becomes a successful industry its profit could
easily supplement the budget deficit of the country.

Surely this would encourage state and private sector to

develop high-tech finished products out of Eppawala apatite
rather than just crushing the raw apatite. So, it is a case of
waiting; supposing everything goes well Sri Lanka can very
soon harvest enormous riches out of its apatite deposit.

11 - Saltpeter (Potassium nitrate)
Ancient Lankan made guns powered by local gunpowder

Although gunpowder is rarely used today as an explosive,

many centuries ago it was the only known explosive in the
world. As such, it was considered a very valuable commodity.
Popular belief is that it was invented by the Chinese in the 9th
century AD. In addition, it is also believed that earliest guns
too were manufactured in China. Subsequently, this
technology was introduced to both India and Arabia.

Most people believed that Sri Lanka neither encountered nor

possessed guns before the arrival of Portuguese. In order to
emphasize this theory Lankan historians also referred to
some statements made by the Portuguese. Some of those
statements are as follows: Portuguese have mentioned that
due to the continuous wars that took place between
Portuguese and Sinhalese the natives learned about guns and
eventually developed better guns than theirs. They further
added that before long, locals could have in their possession
around twenty thousand guns.

This historian’s verdict cannot be accepted as gospel truth. If

Sri Lankans learned the trade from them it is not possible to
surpass their technology at such a short span of time. On the
other hand, Sri Lanka has more convincing records indicating
that it had guns seven hundred and fifty years earlier that is
two centuries before the arrival of Portuguese.

There is a very clear ancient document providing evidence as
to the existence of a gun licensing practice more than seven
hundred and fifty years ago in Sri Lanka. This is the famous
ancient copper plate inscription now kept by the government

This copper plate inscription was about a grant by King

Parakramabahu IV (1302-1326) of Dambadeniya also known
as King Pandita Parakramabahu , during the period of 1302
AD to a noble family, ancestors of Herath Gunaratne,
adjudicating a tax exemption in respect of dairy produce,
death duties, gun licenses, oxen, buffaloes and official duties
to the state as a reward for the service rendered to the king.
There is also some evidence as to the word ‘tuvakku’
appearing in the Sinhalese language long before the arrival of
Portuguese. It might have derived from the Turkish word for
guns, “tupak”.

Sri Lanka’s ancient gun types

In addition, also the family names like, Kodituwakku,
Wedikkara, Wedisinghe etc. are in existence from the days of
our ancient kings. In fact, those names could also have derived
as a result of the king’s ‘rajakariya’ system (the work
allocation by the king) because most professions dedicated to
the king were associated with guns.

Sri Lankan cannon

There is no use of all these guns without an economic source

of gunpowder. The importance of the guns produced here was
increased due to the availability of good quality gunpowder,
which was easily accessible especially to Kandyan Kings. The
fact that gunpowder was also made locally long before the
arrival of Portuguese, is also confirmed by the copper plate
inscription mentioned earlier.

Sri Lanka’s ancient revolvers

It is still a mystery how the Lankans discovered the exact

composition of gunpowder, most probably they have done
some trial and error experiments to arrive at the exact
composition to match the gunpowder standard prescribed for
the guns available at the time.

This gunpowder is made exclusively from Sri Lanka’s own

sources of potassium nitrate, generally called saltpeter.
Locals find this material in a number of Nitro caves located in
an area called Meemure. This area is situated in a very
beautiful locality amid the Knuckles mountain range.
Discovery of this material in close proximity to the Kandyan
Kingdom shows the ingenuity of the locals for geological

Entrance to a Nitro cave at Meemure

Most people think that our Nitro caves at Meemure were only
discovered after the Portuguese invasion. Nevertheless,
according to the copper plate inscription, it is evident that
Nitro caves too were discovered long before the arrival of the

Sri Lankans were masters in making gunpowder. Finding the

art of making gunpowder out of a mixture of potassium
nitrate sulphur and charcoal is again an invention surprising
to most historians. There are records dating back to
Anuradhapura period that Sri Lanka imported sulphur from
India for medicinal use. Hence, they might have used the same
source of sulphur for the production of gunpowder. Any how
the Portuguese, Dutch and English had accepted that Sri
Lankan gunpowder is far superior to theirs.

Accepted ratio of ingredients to produce gunpowder

This must be mainly due to the high standard of our

potassium nitrate and the charcoal (burnt wood of the
common Geduma tree -Tremaorientale) used in the mixture
to produce gunpowder.

Unfortunately, today there is no interest whatsoever about

the vast resources of saltpeter found in several caves at
Meemure village situated in the Knuckles mountain range.
Mainly this is due to the lack of demand at present for
gunpowder because it is replaced by more efficient explosives
like ammonium nitrate/fuel oil (ANFO).

This saltpeter or potassium nitrate is formed out of the
excrement of bats inhabiting these caves for many centuries.
These caves even now give shelter to a horde of bats. This
material can be harvested from deep inside these caves,
where it is protected from sunlight, rain and wind.

Although their importance as gun powder is no more, it can

be used as a very good fertilizer. After the World War 1,
Europe had to cope up with a vast amount of gunpowder left
behind in warehouses without further use. Hence, they had
experimented with it and eventually converted it to fertilizer;
thereby achieving unbelievable profits.

Thousands of bats hanging onto cave walls

Bat excrement is an ideal fertilizer due to its chemical
composition. It is rich in nitrogen and phosphorous and
provides the important chemicals necessary for the growth of
crops. It also has beneficial fungi and bacteria.

As such, it is time to look into the feasibility of using this

material as a fertilizer. Unlike the imported fertilizer this
would minimize health hazards such as kidney diseases. If Sri
Lanka can promote this material as an alternative to the
commercial use of imported fertilizer; it would not only act as
a remedial measure for kidney diseases in certain areas, but
would be profitable to the country in the long run.

Sri Lanka’s mineral resources

(Source of the base map: Survey Department of Sri Lanka)

(contents by the author)