Maritime Archaeological Museum – Galle Heritage

Maritime Archaeological Museum

(01) Beginning

The Marine Archaeological Museum in Galle Fort was first established on 4th March 2010 in the Old Dutch Warehouse Building, originally used by the Dutch East India Company (VOC).  Its main objective was to place on public display marine archaeological artefacts, recovered by the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Central Cultural Fund, in diving operations carried out in the Galle Sea Bay area, since 1993, under the Avondster Project, which was launched with assistance from the Netherlands.

(02) History of The Building Housing the Museum

It was the then Dutch Governor Issac Ogustine Rump (1716-1723) who was chiefly responsible for initiating the project to construct this warehouse building.  Its main purpose was to store cinnamon which was to be shipped.  This building is 143 meters long and measured from the inside 13.60 meters wide.

This two storied building extends from the Black Fort to the Commandment Bastion.  This building which was erected mainly as a warehouse, also functioned as part of the rampart wall.  It is believed that the construction of this building was done in stages during a period of 09 years.  The stone plaques installed above the entrances on the upper floor bear many different years such as 1671, 1672, 1676, etc.


(03) The Theme of the Museum and Its Main Artefacts

Prof. Raj Somadeva was mainly responsible for the planning of the galleries of the museum. The museum comprises four display galleries, an information centre, a laboratory and a sales outlet for books and replicas of famous statues.


The main theme of the museum is to display marine archaeological artefacts collected from the sea around the island of Sri Lanka and use them to educate school-children and youth.

Ancient Granite Bench

This granite bench was recovered from the sea close to the ancient Godawaya harbour in Ambalantota in a shipwreck site. A granite bench found on excavation of the Yatala Dagoba site in Tissamaharama, which closely resembles the bench recovered from the Godawaya shipwreck site, carries a small inscription in Brahmi letters. The inscription contains Shri Wathsya Nandipada signs belonging to the eight auspicious signs. It is not determined for what purpose this type of bench had been used.

Sinnapadu Canon

This canon was recovered from Sinnapadu, Mundalama, Chilaw, in 2007. It is believed that this canon had been installed on a wooden ship belonging to the Dutch period. This canon has been recovered from the sea by a group of fishermen and taken into custody by the Mundalama police. This 17th century canon is made out of mixed metal.

Hercules Bell

This bell, which was recovered from the northern beach front in the Galle harbour, belonged to the Dutch vessel Hercules, which was wrecked near the Galle harbour on 22nd May 1661. The following Latin inscription is found on the outer surface of the bell: ‘’AMOR VINCIT OMANIA ANNO 1625’’, which means ‘’LOVE CONQUERS EVERYTHING – YEAR 1625’’.

Bottles Recovered from The Sea

These glass bottles were recovered from the sea near the Great Basses lighthouse. As a large number of bottles have been recovered from this area of the sea, it has come to be called ‘’Bottles Wreck’’. It has been identified that these bottles belonged to a British ship which was wrecked in the mid-19th century. The bottles are marked with the name of the manufacturing company – ‘’ SUPERIOR SODA WATER CLARKE ROMER & CO. CEYLON’’.

‘’Bala Oruwa’’

This is a traditional type of fishing boat, used for fishing in the deep seas. It is made of strong timber such as wild breadfruit (Artocarpus sp. Nobilis), mango (Mangifera indica), and domba (Calophyllum inophyllum). Normally, this boat is about 32 feet in length. This type of boat is mainly used in the southern coast of Sri Lanka.


This is a light fishing craft used for fishing in lagoons and also in shallow sea, close to the coast. Usually, this boat is operated by a single person. It is made out of light wood, mostly by tying together four wooden logs.

Chinese Porcelain Pottery

Old Chinese Porcelain pottery found in various parts of Sri Lanka is displayed in several galleries. They bear evidence to the relations which have existed between China and Sri Lanka over many centuries in various different spheres.

(04) Hours During Which the Museum Is Open to The Public

The Museum is open to the public every day, except on public holidays, from 8.00 am to 5.00 pm. 

(05) Price of Entry Tickets

Foreigners (adults) US $ 5
Foreigners (children) US $ 2.5
Local (adults) Rs. 50/-
Local (children) Rs. 25/-
School Children Rs.10/-

(06) Sections of The Museum

(i) Main Entrance & Information Centre

The ticket counter for visitors is located opposite the main entrance. This area has been designed as a free viewing area for visitors.
Every visitor, both foreign as well as local, who purchases a ticket, could view a video presentation which shows sea exploration and excavation activities conducted by the Marine Exploration Unit. The video has narration in both Sinhala and English languages. An Information Centre is also located in this area, which provides visitors with information on marine archaeology and the Galle Fort.

(ii) First Gallery

This gallery contains the following items: –
• An introduction of Marine Archaeology, including the development of Marine Archaeology as a branch of science and the beginning of formal under-sea exploration.
• Exploration interventions of Arthur C. Clarke, Mike Wilson and Rodney Jonklas, who were pioneers in this field in Sri Lanka, and the discoveries made by them.
• The pre-historic man and his relations with the sea.

(iii) Second Gallery

This gallery shows material evidence of relations Sri Lanka had with foreign countries from ancient times.

(iv) Third Gallery

This gallery gives material evidence of how the sea influenced the culture of Sri Lanka, especially in regard to dress, performing arts, etc.

(v) Fourth Gallery

This gallery provides visitors the opportunity of viewing the artefacts recovered from the site of the wreck of the Dutch ship Avondtster, which sank in the Galle sea bay area in 1659.
On 2nd July 1659 this ship was anchored in the Galle harbour. From an accident which occurred, it was broken into two. This wreck was discovered by the Marine Archaeological Unit of the Central Cultural Fund in 1993. There are also a large number of marine archaeological artefacts which were discovered during diving operations conducted under the Sri Lanka-Australia Marine Archaeological Project in 1997, 1998 ad 1999. Further artefacts were recovered in diving operations carried out in 2000 with Netherlands assistance.
This gallery displays numerous rare artefacts, including canons and bullets, hair-cutting equipment, candle stands and grinding stones. It also contains a model of the Avondster site.

(vi) Sales Outlet of Books and Replicas

Books published by the Central Cultural Fund and other books are available for sale here. Among these books, there are some rare publications pertaining to archaeology and marine archaeology. There are also replicas of statues and a collection of photographs, depicting Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage, for sale at this outlet.

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