Posted by: lrrp | October 6, 2004

Kaashidoo findings create curiosity By D. B. Kappagoda in the Maldives

The excavations conducted in Kaashidhoo island in the Maldives have aroused curiosity among historians about the people who inhabited these islands many centuries ago. Among the findings are large monuments consisting of monasteries, temples, dagobas and also artifacts providing some clues of the people who followed the Buddhist faith.

The mounds seen on this island were identified as Buddhist monuments. The credit of finding them should go to Lieutenants Young and Christopher who discovered them in the years between 1834 – 1835. In later years the eminent archaeologist H. C. P Bell who was well known for his excavation of Buddhist monuments in Sri Lanka made his visits to the Maldives in 1920, 1921 and 1922.

During his stay in the Maldives he conducted his excavations at the sites in Fuah, Mulaku (Gnaviyani Atoll), Kimbidhoo (Thaa Atoll), Thodhoo and Ariyadhoo (Alifu Atoll). The archaeologist Bell was of the opinion that Buddhist missionaries had visited the Maldives bringing their faith more than 2000 years ago. This proves that the people in Maldives had their links with other countries in the region. The present National Museum in Male has a collection of artifacts consisting of stone sculptures of Buddhist origin collected from different parts of the islands.

The research in the Maldives was continued by the Kon-Tiki museum expedition led by Thor Heyerdahl in 1983 and 1984. There were excavations conducted later by Maldivians too. Bell in his excavations concentrated on measuring and drawing the monuments. The Kon-Tiki Museum was interested in finding large monuments including stone sculptures and traces of early settlement.

The findings established that the people who built monuments lived in the first half of the first millennium AD. Their culture was taken over by the Muslims in the latter half of the 12th century. Buddhism and the spread of the use of cowrie shells are some aspects of the research carried out by scholars showing the connections between Southern and Central Asia and Northern Europe during the period between 500 – 1000 AD. The spread of cowrie shells to Europe can be taken as an important guide to know the secrets underlying Buddhist connections.

Cowrie shells are called “Money Cowrie”. Cowrie shells are found in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean with the Maldives as the source of supply. These shells have been found in the 7th Century AD graves in Northern Norway of the Arctic Circle. It is now established that the use of cowrie shells in Europe began around 500 AD. The connections between Northern Europe and the Indian Ocean in the 6 and 7 AD provide an interesting aspect of the spread of Buddhism in the region. The discovery of a Buddha statue belonging to the 6th century had come from Kashmir.

The finding of a deposit box containing cowrie shells was found in a Buddhist monastery on the island of Maalhos in Baa Atoll in the Maldives. Another box was found in the island of Veymandhoo in Thaa Atoll with 63 cowrie shells and a piece of gold with three fishes. These were dated to 690 – 785 AD. The discovery of a small bronze Buddha statue on the island of Gaddho in the Laamu Atoll and also the stone head of a Buddha statue from the island of Thoddoo show the spread of the use of cowrie shells to Europe.

The spread of Buddhism and the expansion of trade show a close link from the discovery of cowrie shells. They have been used as a means of exchange for food, beads and metal objects. These trade activities were linked with mainland India, Sri Lanka and other parts of South Asia. This was the trade link that prevailed in the 8th century before the Arab traders became the masters of the Indian Ocean. From the findings of beads, precious stones, metal objects and Buddhist objects it can be said that there were close relations between parts of Asia and the Maldives.



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