What is the Agenda of Sri Lanka’s Ministry of External Affairs for CHOGM?
Posted on May 14th, 2013

Shenali D. Waduge

There are some vital questions that need to be posed to the Ministry of External Affairs in particular the Minister for answer vis – a – vis the important upcoming event of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in November 2013.

No one will deny that the External Affairs Ministry has come in for flak by virtue of its actions or inactions depicted by the manner in which Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s External Affairs Minister was omitted from representing Sri Lanka at the last Geneva sessions. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Nevertheless, the fact that CHOGM will be staged amidst a hail of accusations and allegations by foreign visitors to Sri Lanka warrantsƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ preparation of a strategy that would counter these unjustified attacks. No countryƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ must be allowed toƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ point fingers at others particularly when their own hands are soiled with the blood of innocents in not just one nation by almost 90% of the entire world.

Sri Lanka and fellow nations of Africa, Asia, North and South America and Australia were all one time colonies of the British Empire. Each nation has their own woeful tale of atrocities that cover pilfering, murder and divisions that continue to haunt the masses still. Many of these once colonized nations in Africa and Asia are now coming out to seek reparations and compensation from former colonial western countries.

Sri Lanka is a civilized and considerate nation but we cannot forget the crimes that our forbears and ancestors had to endure and it is our duty to seek an apology and compensation for these crimes from all three western colonial countries i.e. Portugal, Netherlands, and Britain.

What is the current policy of the Ministry of External Affairs on the issue of colonial compensation for crimes committed?

Should we not as a self ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” respecting independent sovereign country be ready with appropriate placards, slogans and argument in the event one former colonial master attempts to give a discourse on Accountability and Human Rights at the CHOGM in Hambantota? We invariably become victims of their harassment of our own choosing when we take all what is thrown at us lying down without protest or resistance.

Does the NGO-mindset thinking External Affairs Minister and Ministry prefer to keep mum and say ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”MumƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s the wordƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ and otherwise maintainƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ total silence when others start pointing the accusing finger at us and by doing so continueƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ the servile attitude that the Ministry under the stewardship of the current Minister is well known for?

If Israel can be paid compensation for the holocaust why canƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t other nations who have suffered more? The summary of the compensations made to Israel is given in detail in the link.


The Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany on September 10, 1952 says that Israel has to be paid for the slave labor and persecution of Jews during the Holocaust, and to compensate for Jewish property that was stolen by the Nazis. In 2009, Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz announced that he will demand a further ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢¢”š¬…¡ƒ”š‚¬450 million to ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢¢”š¬…¡ƒ”š‚¬1 billion in reparations from Germany on behalf of some 30,000 Israeli forced labor survivors. Germany has paid $89billion already to Israel as compensation but Israel claims a further 50,000 have not received compensation.

If IsraelƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s claims are being addressed why has AfricaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s, AsiaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s and Latin AmericaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s cases being ignored?

An International Claims Conference for Colonial Crimes upon Third World nations must be immediately set up to put out into the open all the crimes that have been committed by the Western world upon nations of the Third World and the colonial powers must come out with a plan to compensate these nations for the pilfering, the plunder, genocide, the crimes against humanity and violations of human rights committed by them.

The Western media is quick to brand President Rajapakse as a Sinhala Buddhist leader, given that he did come to power primarily on the Buddhist vote as do all leaders since the majority are 70% Sinhalese Buddhists, it was the Mahinda Chinthanaya that promised to rid the nation of LTTE terrorism that won him the peopleƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s vote. The people of this country did not vote for any other Chinthanaya including a Pieris Chintanaya for devolution, separation of power, modification of the national anthem, discarding of Article 9 of the Constitution and a subtle incremental usurping of the rights of the Sinhala Buddhists legislatively.

As such, while the Minister of External Affairs welcomes with great warmth delegations representing the minority faiths including foreign representatives at Ambassadorial level to discuss matters concerning the interests of minority faiths, our next query is what is stopping the External Affairs Minister from initiating a similar exercise i.e. an international forum of BuddhistƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ delegates and starting a think tank to address the grievances of Buddhists in Sri Lanka as well in other parts ofƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ the Buddhist world given that Article 9 empowers the State to take steps to ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…” protect and foster BuddhismƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢. We do not expect the Minister to dodge answering these direct questions with his incomprehensible lectures. A straight forward answer is all that we expect.

We would also like to know if there is a specific reason why the External Affairs Minister refrains from issuing a statement showing allegiance with the Buddhist world in particular the Buddhists of Burma/MyanmarƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ which is a fellow Theravada Buddhist nation? We have not forgotten that the Ministry of External Affairs remained silent when historic Buddhist Temples and priceless Buddhist artifacts were destroyed overnight by mobs in Bangladesh a few months ago.

We would first like to have asked what is the strategy of the Minister to use the influence and leverage of Sri Lanka as a leading Buddhist nation toƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ join hands with other Buddhist nations to give voice to the plight of Buddhists in various parts of the world and protect Buddhists and Buddhism?ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ As a paid public servant it is the constitution that the Minister and all others need to uphold and not their personal whims and fancies and certainly not to please a block of nations that they have personal affinity to. If this is hard to do the simple solution is to resign from oneƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s portfolio.

There are many more questions that the Minister of External Affairs Minister and Ministry need to be answerable for but given that we are to be the host of the Commonwealth Nations whose heads are to meet in Sri Lanka, our bewilderment rests on what strategy is to be prepared because as citizens we do not wish to face another diplomatic embarrassment to add to the hosts of other embarrassments we have had to weather in the past because of Ministerial bungling and incompetence



7 Responses to “What is the Agenda of Sri Lanka’s Ministry of External Affairs for CHOGM?”

  1. Marco Says:

    Quite “brilliant” Shenali.
    I’m pretty sure if this “claim” ever came to fruition there are some Tamil Diaspora led legal eagles who would be salivating at the prospect.
    I suspect they take a pragmatic approach.

  2. Lorenzo Says:


    Great minds think alike!

    We should demand at lest $50 billion from British colonial plunderers.

    IF Toilet Diaspora goes against it, FINE. What can they do? We get the money. They pay it in their tax in UK!!! Even better.

  3. Lorenzo Says:

    “In 2009, Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz announced that he will demand a further €450 million to €1 billion in reparations from Germany on behalf of some 30,000 Israeli forced labor survivors. Germany has paid $89billion already to Israel as compensation but Israel claims a further 50,000 have not received compensation.


    DEMAND Portuguese, Dutch, British, Japanese, Endian invaders and Toilet Diaspora (for financing LTTE $300 million every year) to pay $50 BN each in reparations to SL AND to take back all south Endians from SL. These will be for,

    SL forced labor survivors
    grabbing 20,000 sq km of land from Sinhalese
    settling South Endians in land grabbed from Sinhalese
    the cost of feeding South Endians in SL
    killing Sinhalese in barbaric style in 1815, 1818, 1848, 1915, etc.
    occupying SL for 443 years
    destroying our infrastructure by Endians IPKF
    bombing Colombo, Trincomalee in 1945

    We can pay all our loans. Have bullet trains everywhere. Launch rockets. Buy weapons. Give a computer to every kid. Buy Saudi oil fields. Pay human smugglers to take out all anti-SL people OUT of our country. Bribe the BALCK MAN IN THE WHITE HOUSE to take our side.

    Guess who will be taxed to pay SL.
    T Diaspora (hard working Jaffna Janitors!!)

    This can be used as a bargaining tool at UNHRC too. IF you vote against us, we demand MORE compensation.

    SL should form a partnership with ALL COLONIES and take JOINT action. Do our people at MEA have the brains and guts to do it? IF NOT sack them. There is money to be made.

  4. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    anglo saxon ungulate sits on top and oversee others. if germans were in sri lanka , the ungulate would have supported us on a compensation move. the ungulate smell the filth of others – their own doesn’t smell. simple answer.

  5. Dr Romesh Senewiratne Says:

    Thanks for the article, Shenali

    I agree that colonized countries should be paid compensation by those nations that exploited the people and their wealth and resources (leaving these people’s descendants in worsening poverty) around the world. That is justice.

    However I do have concerns about the idea of forming special alliances with other “Theravada Buddhist nations” or even that Sri Lanka is a “Buddhist Nation”. Buddhism, a religious philosophy imported from India, based on the ascetic philosophies of Mahavira and not-so-ascetic philosophies of Siddhartha Gautama, is one of many faiths practiced in Sri Lanka. There are older, far older, moral and spiritual beliefs that have been held by Sri Lankan people – long before it was named Sri Lanka, Lanka or Ceylon. These still influence, strongly, Sri Lankan culture.

    I’m referring, of course to the beliefs of the Vedda, Yaka and even the Naga clans, who were in Sri Lanka long before Gautama Buddha, Vijaya and, later the royal evangelist of King Asoka, Mahinda, came to the island, only 2500 years ago (accepting the dates derived from such sources as the Mahavamsa).

    I have been having some interesting discussions on this matter, and the crimes of colonization you have so articulately outlined, on the Colombo Telegraph expatriate electronic propaganda machine. The lads in London who are busy demonizing the “Sinhala Buddhists” while pretending to be “balanced journalists” don’t like what I have been saying about the origin of the Veddas and establishing British ignorance on the subject by reading the seminal “ethnographic study” of what Cambridge University and the British Colonial Office figured was a primitive race on the “verge of extinction”. There is a link in the segment below to the 1911 book, by the LSE “ethnology” professor Seligmann who took photos of the “dying race” and tried to pick their brains before they “died out”, with the keen assistance of Britsh authorities in Colonial Ceylon.

    A cuople of days ago, Dushy Ranetunge, from the London School of Economics (LSE), tried to argue with me on Colombo Telegraph (CT) that there was nothing the Dutch and British did to the their colonies that the Sinhalese did not do to the Veddas. It made me rather angry, under the circumstances.

    This was my answer, and I think it has relevance to the compensation claim we all support, those with a knowledge of history and a healthy sense of fairness:


    I hardly know where to start, when it comes to listing the abuses perpetrated by the British and Dutch on the dark-skinned people of their colonies, since they expanded their empires in the 1700s. I suppose I could start with your own London School of Economics and the Fabian Society, four members of which founded the LSE in 1895. This is from Wikipedia:

    “In the early 1900s Fabian Society members advocated the ideal of a scientifically planned society and supported eugenics by way of sterilization. This is credited to the passage of the Half-Caste Act, and its subsequent implementation in Australia, where children were systematically and forcibly removed from their parents, so that the British colonial regime could “protect” the Aborigine children from their parents. In an article published in The Guardian on 14 February 2008, (following the apology offered by Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd to the “stolen generations”), Geoffrey Robertson criticised Fabian socialists for providing the intellectual justification for the eugenics policy that led to the stolen generations scandal.[30][31] Such views on socialism, inequality and eugenics in early 20th century Fabians was not limited to one individual, it was a widely shared view in Fabian Society.[32][33]”

    I have not included the actual references here. You can check them yourself, if you want, Dushy (Fabian Society on Wikipedia). It’s good to know the history of the institutions that teach us, in order to recognize their biases and prejudices.

    My perspective, as someone who was educated in England, Sri Lanka and Australia (where I went to school and university and have lived since I was 15) is most certainly not a “Sinhala perspective” (not that there is such a thing – Sinhalese people have many different perspectives). For one thing, I do not think in Singhala, and in fact have only passed my O’levels in Sinhalese as a second language. I cannot understand much Singhala or Tamil – though I do try. I do not read Singhala literature and do not agree with the version of Sri Lankan/Ceylon history that is contained in colonial textbooks, or that in post-colonial school texts such as those by Garrett.C. Mendis and his English mentor Professor Pakeham (the “Our Heritage” series of school history books that we, who studied in the English medium, were taught from).

    The Sri Lanka history books I have in my library were all owned by by mother, who is of Tamil ethnicity or her equally Tamil father, Winslow Alagaratnam. I haven’t read any of them from cover to cover, but they all shape my ever-changing perspective on the history of Sri Lanka and that of my ancestors. As do the conversations I have with the people I meet (very few of whom are Sri Lankan), other reference books, and information I gather from the Internet here in Australia.

    These books, and the seminal “ethnological study” of the Veddas, the Cambridge University’s 1911 publication by Dr C.G Seligmann and his good wife Brenda (who won the trust of the “wild” and “tame” Veddas they discovered, after being taken to see them) provide a conflicting perspective on the fate of Sri Lanka’s Vedda people, who you say were murdered, driven away and had their lands “grabbed” by people you say were “Sinhalese”.

    I will refer to a couple of these books, if I may. One was published in 1958 and is titled “Tamils and Ceylon”. The author was C.S.Navaratnam and the book, which was given to my grandfather, was printed at the Saiva Prakasa Press in Jaffna. The other, published in 1961 by the Colombo University Press (Colombo) is the textbook “A Concise History of Ceylon” by Cyril Wallace Nicholas and Senarath Paranavitana.

    This is all the latter had to say, around the time I was born, regarding the prehistory of Ceylon. On page 2:

    “No serious, scientific study of the several aspects of the life of primitive man in Ceylon has yet been made, and little is known of the subject. Chert and quartz implements and tools have been discovered at various sites, notably on the hill patanas, in the sandy areas of the natural lakes in Vilpattu, and in caves, both alone and in association with pottery. The aboriginal inhabitants, it is believed, were the ancestors of the Vaddo, a primitive people who lived by hunting and whose extinction occurred recently. But the story of prehistoric men in Ceylon, their types, their physical makeup, their customs and beliefs, and their way of life has yet to be written.”

    My grandfather’s book, “Tamils and Ceylon” by C.C.Navaratnam, doesn’t mention Veddahs at all. It begins, however, with the (then) recently discovered archaeological sites in the Indus Valley, theorizing that 5,000 year-old civilization was Dravidian, and practiced as proto-Shavite religion (based on images on the Indus Valley seals). This book theorizes that the people who built the Indus Valley civilization were displaced to the south and east, and belonged to the Dravidian race (whioh includes the Tamils of both South India and Sri Lanka).

    So did the “Sinhalese” murder, dispossess and drive the Veddhas away, as we know, for certain, the British, their convicts and their guards, and later their “free settlers” did to our Indigenous people in Australia, (who they also classified as “wild” or “tame” blacks depending on how obedient they were)?

    Though I had heard of Seligmann who studied the Veddas and wrote a book about them, I had never had the means of reading this rare book (rare in Australia, anyway). I was delighted to find that it can now be read and downloaded free online, from a discarded copy from the Ontario Library:


    I have only just started reading the book, and it is very interesting. Equally interesting is who Seligmann was and what he was doing in colonial Ceylon in the first place.

    From Wikipedia I have found that Seligmann (also spelt Seligman with one n) was a British physician and ethnologist who, from 1913 to 1934 “served as chair of Ethnology at the London School of Economics”. Seligman is a Jewish name from Bavaria, and it is a big name in banking in the USA, I gather. Charles Gabriel Seligman FRS (1873-1940) was, however, born in London and after training at St Thomas’ Hospital was allowed to call himself a “physician”, though his main interest was studying specimens of human beings (a pathologist). This is why he volunteered to for Cambridge University “expeditions” to the places reputed to have the last of the “dying races”, the “primitive hunters” who were becoming “extinct” in the face of the spreading British Empire.

    They wanted to collect specimens, record religious beliefs, dances, music and rituals, pick their brains about herbs, plants, poisons and drugs, and take photos of them in front view, and side view, full length, face and torso. And, of course, “classify” them. The British loved classifying, and still do. An academic habit they inherited from the Romans and the Greeks via Baron von Linne (Linnaeus) the celebrated Swedish aristocrat who declared that “God created, and Linnaeus classified”.

    With the British, though, it became a truly global enterprise – they collected specimens of every living and non-living thing they could, so their experts to could study them “describe” them, and name them in Latin, the language of science. The specimens were carefully preserved in the museums and their centuries-old universities. They’ve been at it a long time.

    So Seligman and Cambridge University, in the spirit of the times, wanted specimens, but they couldn’t go around shooting the natives like the old days. Not in civilized Ceylon, anyway. So the Cambridge University crew, led by Seligmann and his good wife Brenda (who had a taste in Oriental artworks, which she collected), came armed with a state-of-the-art camera and notebooks, in which to record “ethnological data” about the “last of the Veddas” before they “died out” as a result of the expansion of the villages of the Sinhalese and Tamils. The “wild men” that British East India Company sailor Robert Knox had been so scared of meeting, when he traveled through “veddha country” (veddarata) after escaping from years of captivity by the King of Kandy in the seventeenth century.

    From the preface of the book it is clear that no expense was spared and Seligmann was treated like a dignitary during the two years his wife and he did their research in Colonial Ceylon. It was an official expedition, and he credits the assistance of the white bosses of irrigation, forestry, mineral surveying and so on – all British, of course. He was even given a “motor car”, which enabled them to “gain valuable information without going more than ten miles from the main road”. It is quite funny to imagine.

    Seligman, who had previously studied and described the Melanesians and Papuans, and went on to study what Cambridge regarded as the most “primitive” African tribes, explains his motivation for “investigating” Veddas, admitting that some of the curious white “travellers” were being taken for a ride by men dressed in amudes (loin-cloths) even in 1911:

    “Not only was the work urgently needed on account of its scientific importance, but it was known that the Veddas were a numerically small people verging on extinction, and so affected by contact with Tamils and Sinhalese that if they were not studied promptly there was every possibility that it would soon be too late to study them at all; indeed, with all my efforts I was able to meet only four families, and hear of two more, who I believe had never practiced cultivation.”

    He continues, though:

    “Pure-blooded Veddas are are not quite so rare as this statement implies. The Danigala community, the best known “wild” Veddas of Ceylon, are still reasonably pure-blooded, though they have adopted many Sinhalese habits, including cultivation, and have assumed the role of professional primitive man. They are commonly fetched to be interviewed by travellers at the nearest rest house, where they appear clad only in the traditional scanty Vedda garment, whereas, when not on show, they dress very much as the neighbouring peasant Sinhalese.” (p. vii)

    Of course, not understanding Sinhalese, the Seligmans needed a translator. The best in the land. So he was assisted by “Mr A. Mendis Gunasekara, Mudaliar” (mudaliya) for transliteration and translation of songs (from notes made in Singhala script). He also specially thanks Mr H. White and Mr. H.R. Freeman “for putting at our disposal such adequate interpreters as Mr W.R.Bibile, Ratemahatmaya, the Muhandiram Kumarakulasinghe and Mr D.C de Silva, Kachcheri Interpreter”.

    He also thanks “Mr C. Herft, District Engineer, Batticaloa, who twice supplied us with coolies when we were in serious difficulties for transport”.

    Armed with his motor car, fancy camera and the charms of his wife, Seligmann sought to win the trust of the clans of hunters who have lived in the mountains (kande) and forests of Sri Lanka since prehistoric times, He also observed what he called “Coast Veddas” who lived in “scattered villages on the east coast and are chiefly to be found north of Batticaloa”. These, Seligmann writes “have much Tamil blood in their veins, and though often taller than pure Veddas, some still retain an appearance which suggests their Vedda origin”. He admits that “this is more marked in the males than in the females, and it appeared to us that any of the latter might have been local Tamils”.

    In all likelihood, they were!

    Seligman was, I suspect, seeing what he expected to see, and trying it to fit it into his anthropological paradigm, which he shared with Churchill. That of eugenics. The supposedly scientific study of inferior and superior races, based on the writings of Francis Galton and others. A paradigm that assumed European superiority and white supremacy.

    If one looks more closely at Seligmann’s account of the “religion of the Veddas” and his photographs, it is clear that the Veddas were not driven away anywhere, and neither did they become extinct. He says, himself, that “there is no reasonable doubt that the Veddas are identical with the Yakkas of the Mahavansa and other native chronicles”. They made offerings of food to the “kande yaka” which he describes as “a celebrated hunter who lived many generations ago and whose assistance is invoked for good hunting”.

    Of course, “kande”, from which the Kandyan Kingdom and its capital Kandy are derived, just means “mountains” in Singhalese. “Yaka” may have been called “devil” or “demon” by the British, but the yaka can easily be translated as “spirit”. Not a demonic or evil spirit, just a spirit. As Seligmann himself translates “yaka” as the “spirits of the dead”, inferring that the “Vedda religion is essentially a cult of the dead”.

    The Europeans used a slightly different term when describing similar rituals and practices in what they regarded as “higher civilizations” in China and Japan – these cultures were said to practice “ancestor worship”. It can also be understood as venerating, or revering, ones ancestors, and seeking their assistance.

    So, Dushy, I have to conclude that what the Dutch and British did to their colonial subjects was very much worse than anything the Singhalese and Tamils did to the ancient clans that had the secret knowledge of stealth and hunting. The hunters who could be invisible when they wanted to be and shoot you with a bow and arrow before you even knew they were there. They respected them, because they were the ones who knew how to capture an elephant by creeping up on it and slashing its foot so it could be captured for the kings armies. They are the ones who were at home in the wildest parts of Sri Lanka, and were not afraid to sleep in the forests or on the beaches under the stars.

    The hunting skills and techniques of the Vedda hunting clans, unlike those of our indigenous people in Australia, may be gone forever. But their families, as they always have been, are the other indigenous people in Sri Lanka, some of whom speak Tamil, some of whom speak Sinhala, and some of whom speak both. And there are millions of them.

    Thanks, again, Shenali, for another stimulating opinion peace, I mean piece!

    Dr Romesh Senewiratne-Alagaratnam
    (Brisbane, Australia)

  6. A. Sooriarachi Says:

    Compensation or at least an apology is a must for the heinous crimes committed by the British and Portuguese as well as the Dutch and Tamilnadu to a lesser level. In fact it is the work of these colonial powers to import South Indian Tamils and then in act a law titled Thesavalam, to prevent any community including native Sinhalese from purchasing land given to these South Indian Tamil settlers.

    As for compensation, I think the immediate focus should be to claim compensation from Canada for the Central Bank bombing and from the LTTE front organisations operating from the USA, Norway and UK for other similar destructions.

  7. Fran Diaz Says:

    Going beyond our own ‘Vaddah’ people, latest theory is that humanoids appeared in Ethiopia, even beyond Prof Leaky’s ‘Lucy’
    (Africa). The African continent appears to be the cradle of initial human evolution.

    Personally, I like to think of all people as “human beings on earth” subject to the same laws of nature. Those who belong to a particular country can be called by the name of that country. The culture that held for the longest period can be called the culture of that country. All people born in Sri Lanka or have been given citizenship in Sri Lanka are Sri Lankans. The Sinhala language and culture have prevailed the longest period here.

    Ex-colonists should desist from division of any country. Such attempts merely create mistrust and disharmony – the old ‘divide & rule’ operation which we must recognize and throw out.

    We wish CHOGM is used as an opportunity to clear the past so we can get on with our lives. Can we expect regret over past
    colonial actions in Sri Lanka which especially created ethnic imbalances ?


    “THE FIRST HUMAN being in Ethiopia

    Hominid Fossils Are Likely 3.8 to 4 Million Years Old
    A team led by Drs. Yohannes Haile-Selassie and Bruce Latimer of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland, Ohio, has been conducting a paleoanthropological survey in the Mille-Chifra-Kasa Gita area of the Afar Region.

    The survey was conducted under a permit from the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH) of the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture and was financially supported by the Leakey Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation of the United States of America. The team located new hominid-bearing localities in the Burtele Kebele of Mille district in Zone One of the Afar Regional State.

    The survey team has designated 14 new fossil bearing localities. Three of the localities have yielded early hominid remains. Major fossiliferous areas are around the Mille River east of Mille Town. Mille is 520 KM northeast of Addis Ababa, and the new site is approximately 60 kilometers north of the famous Lucy site. Several additional areas have been documented as fossiliferous although localities were not designated and fossils were not collected.


    The survey team collected a number of fossils that were exposed on the ground’s surface. In their exposed position, these specimens could be subjected to erosional forces and had to be collected before they were seriously damaged or destroyed. A total of 12 early hominid fossil specimens were discovered, including parts of one individual’s skeleton. Portions recovered thus far include a complete tibia, parts of a femur, ribs, vertebrae, clavicle, pelvis, and a complete scapula of an adult whose sex and stature are yet to be determined, although it is already clear that the individual was larger than Lucy. In addition to this discovery, skeletal parts of other individuals were found in different localities in the area. These discoveries include isolated teeth, and elements from below the neck (arm bones, leg bones, phalanges). The non-hominid fossil assemblage includes animals such as monkeys, horses, large and small carnivores, a variety of antelopes multiple species of pigs, giraffes, rhinoceros, elephants, and deinotheres. Among small mammals, porcupines, cane rats, and other species of rats were discovered. The faunal assemblage also includes crocodiles, fish, and hippopotamus.


    Exposed sediments in the new fossiliferous area are mostly silty sand and silty clay horizons interbedded with a number of volcanic tuffs and basaltic flows suitable for dating. The total section in the area is estimated to be about 50 meters thick. Geochronologist Dr. Alan Deino has collected 16 rock samples and the most critical samples above and below the fossiliferous horizon will be dated soon at the Berkeley Geochronology Center in Berkeley, California. The estimated age of the site, based on preliminary field analysis of the associated animal fossils, is roughly 3.8 to 4 million years. However, confirmation has to await radiometric dating of the rock samples.


    Based on the associated animal remains, the team believes that the hominid fossils are likely between 3.8 to 4 million years old. This will place the new fossils in time between the earlier 4.4 million year old Ardipithecus ramidus partial skeleton and the younger 3.2 million year old “Lucy” partial skeleton of A. afarensis. The team hopes that the new discoveries will allow scientists to connect the dots — furthering our knowledge of this important time period in human evolution. Numerous highly important scientific issues will be tackled by the researchers as work continues. However, it is already clear that planned scientific studies of this once in a lifetime discovery will tell us much about how our four-million-year-old ancestors walked, how tall they were, and what they looked like.

    Haile-Selassie says that it is too early to tell what species is represented by these hominids. This is because the remains are embedded in adhering silt and stone, which now must be removed under a microscope. Comparative studies are then planned, and will be conducted as excavation proceeds. The associated plant and animal fossils and embedding sediments will also be subjected to study by specialists in order to further refine the age and environmental conditions.


    The team emphasizes that this discovery and its announcement represent the opening of a new door on a poorly known time period. Years of research lie ahead. The new fossiliferous areas are very promising. There is a high chance of recovering more fossil hominids. These hominids will be important in terms of understanding the early phases of human evolution before Lucy. With permit from the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH), the team will continue the search and collection of additional fossil hominids and also excavate next year in an attempt to find the rest of the bones of this skeleton”.

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