The National Maritime Museum or the Maritime Archaeology Museum in Galle is the only museum that showcases the marine biological and anthropological aspects of the Southern coast of Sri Lanka. Situated at the Dutch warehouse of the Galle Fort that was built in 1671, the Maritime Archaeology Museum exhibits marine artefacts that are found during underwater expeditions.
The origin of maritime archaeology is often associated with treasure hunting. Earliest underwater excavations were carried out to recover artefacts from sunken shipwrecks by trained divers. One of the very first underwater excavations was conducted in the 1960’s. It was Professor George Bass that explored the cape Gelidonya wreck in Turkey which appears to be the first maritime archaeology excavation.
One of the early excavations in Sri Lanka was Avondster, a ship that belonged to the Dutch East India Trading company, was wrecked when its anchor slipped on the 23rd of June 1659 in the Galle bay. It took half an hour before its captain woke up and by that time it was too late. A team of marine archaeologists by the Central Cultural Fund excavated the Avondster for four years since 2001 and the team recovered over 2,000 artefacts.
Furthermore, Arthur C. Clark also investigated the Great and Little Basses reefs off the southern coast of Sri Lanka as the reefs were hazardous to those who used the ancient ‘silk route of the sea’. While the Chinese named these reefs the ‘Iron Pincer Island’ the Persians referred to these hidden rocks as being magnetic. It was in 1870 that a light house was finally built there by the British