Evidence of human colonisation in Sri Lanka appears at the site of Balangoda. Balangoda Man arrived on the island about 34,000 years ago and has been identified as Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who lived in caves.
Archaeological evidence for the beginnings of the Iron Age in Sri Lanka is found in Anuradhapura, where a large city–settlement was founded before 900 BCE. The settlement was about 15 hectares in 900 BCE, but by 700 BCE it had expanded to 50 hectares.

The hunter-gatherer people known as Veddas still live in the central, Uva and north-eastern parts of the island, are probably the direct descendants of the first inhabitants, Balangoda Man.

The earliest surviving chronicles in the country, Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa, say that tribes of Yakkhas (demon worshippers), Nagas (cobra worshippers) and Devas (god worshippers) inhabited the island prior to the migration of Vijaya.