Archeological finds reveal that islands of the Maldives were inhabited as early as 1500 B.C. but the first settlers, most likely Indo-Europeans (Aryans) from India, arrived around 500 B.C. Based on settlement patterns, these early settlers are believed to have originated in Kerala are traveled via the Lakshadvip islands. Indonesians on their way to Madagascar may have also stopped in the Maldives.

The archeologist Thor Heyerdahl (of Kon Tiki fame) believes that the Maldives were populated before 500 B.C. by a mysteries people known as the Redin. Because the Muslim religion prohibits images portraying gods, local interest in ancient statues of the pre- Islamic period is not only slight but at times even hostile; villagers have been known to destroy such statues recently unearthed. [Source: Library of Congress]

The Maldives were known at an early date to Indian seafarers, such as those who sailed from Gujarat in the middle of the first millennium B.C. and settled in Sri Lanka. The Maldives were mentioned in ancient religious texts such as the Buddhist Jataka tales and the Sri Lankan epics. The islands were also known to the ancient Greeks.

Cowrie shells from the Maldives were sought after by ancient cultures and were used in Africa and Bengal as currency. Heyerdahl wrote: “Throughout its history, Maldives culture has survived through business with the outside world.”

In pre-Islamic times, the Maldivians were a matriarchal people. One Persian traveler in 851 AD called wrote the "ruler of these islands is a woman." Another travelers a century later wrote the "people of these islands practice Buddhism and they ruled by a woman. Only four queen ruled after the Maldives converted to Islam.

Persians began trading with the Maldivians in the A.D. 7th century. Tamil and Kerala kings conquered the islands several times in the medieval period. Sinhalese settlers from Sri Lanka, perhaps political exiles, gave the Maldives their language, Theravada Buddhism and Sri Lankan beliefs and foods. Buddhist Sinhalese kings ruled the Maldives for the 10th through the 12th centuries. Ons several islands one can still find the remains of Buddhist stupas constructed from coral during this period.

Study of Ancient Maldives

Western interest in the archaeological remains of early cultures on Maldives began with the work of H.C.P. Bell, a British commissioner of the Ceylon Civil Service. Bell was shipwrecked on the islands in 1879, and he returned several times to investigate ancient Buddhist ruins. Historians have established that by the fourth century A.D. Theravada Buddhism originating from Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) became the dominant religion of the people of Maldives. [Source: Helen Chapin Metz, Library of Congress, 1994 *] Some scholars believe that the name

"Maldives" derives from the Sanskrit maladvipa, meaning "garland of islands." In the mid-1980s, the Maldivian government allowed the noted explorer and expert on early marine navigation, Thor Heyerdahl, to excavate ancient sites. Heyerdahl studied the ancient mounds, called hawitta by the Maldivians, found on many of the atolls. Some of his archaeological discoveries of stone figures and carvings from pre-Islamic civilizations are today exhibited in a side room of the small National Museum on Male.*

Heyerdahl's research indicates that as early as 2,000 B.C. Maldives lay on the maritime trading routes of early Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Indus Valley civilizations. Heyerdahl believes that early sun-worshipping seafarers, called the Redin, first settled on the islands. Even today, many mosques in Maldives face the sun and not Mecca, lending credence to this theory. Because building space and materials were scarce, successive cultures constructed their places of worship on the foundations of previous buildings. Heyerdahl thus surmises that these sun-facing mosques were built on the ancient foundations of the Redin culture temples.*

First Settlers and Kings of the Maldives

The early history of the Maldives is not clear. The history of Maldivian settlement dates back to the fourth or fifth century B.C. when Southern Indian and Sri Lankan Buddhists first arrived there. According to Maldivian legend, a Sinhalese prince named KoiMale was stranded with his bride — the daughter of the king of Sri Lanka — in a Maldivian lagoon and stayed on to rule as the first sultan. In the twelfth century, when Islam was introduced, there was migration from Malaya, Madagascar, Indonesia and China, [Source: Leena Banerjee, “World Education Encyclopedia”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001; “Countries of the World and Their Leaders” Yearbook 2009, Gale]

The first Kingdom in the Maldives was known as Dheeva Maari. It was founded by King Sri Srudasarunaditya before 269 B.C., who established the Aditya Dynasty, or Solar dynasty. Little is known about this period. Perhaps King Sri Srudasarunaditya was legendary. The copper plates that described this period were lost long ago. Later in the 3rd century B.C. a visit of emissaries sent by Emperor Ashoka of India to the Maldives was recorded. At this time the Maldives was known as Diva Mahal.

The first settlers of the Maldives are believed to be have been natives of the South Asian subcontinent. This conclusion is based in part on correspondingly similarities in culture and language between people from neighboring India and Sri Lanka and inhabitants of the Maldives. The first inhabitants of the Maldives were probably Dravidian speakers from south India, followed by Indo-European speaking Sinhalese from Sri Lanka in the 4th and 5th centuries B.C. Comparative studies of Maldivian oral, linguistic, and cultural traditions link the first settlers of the Maldives to the Giraavaru people, mentioned in ancient legends and local folklore about the establishment of a kingdom in Malé. Many believe Malabar and Pandya seafaring cultures from southern India led to the settlement of the Islands by Tamil and Malabar seafarers.

According to the book "Kitab fi athar Midhu al-qadimah ("On the Ancient Ruins of Meedhoo")" written in the 17th century in Arabic by Allama Ahmed Shihabuddine (Allama Shihab al-Din) of Meedhoo in Addu Atoll, the first settlers of the Maldives were people known as Dheyvis. They came from the Kalibanga in India. The time of their arrival is unknown but it was before Emperor Asoka's kingdom in 269-232 BC. Shihabuddine's story matches up remarkably well with the recorded history of South Asia and that of copperplate document of Maldives known as Loamaafaanu. [Source: Wikipedia]

The island chain first became known in the West through the writings of Ptolemy, during the A.D. 2nd century. The island chain may have been ruled in ancient times by the Chinese; later, its rulers paid an annual tribute to principalities of western India. [Source: Maldives Marketing & Public Relations Corporation visitmaldives.com ]

Early Sources on the History of the Maldives

The ancient history of Maldives is told in copper plates, ancient scripts carved on coral artifacts, traditions, language and different ethnicities of the Maldives. Copper plates called Loamaafaanu scribed with Maldivian texts on the orders of Kings survive to this day and are displayed at the National Museum. These copper plated texts preserve some significant historical information about the Maldives. The Isdhoo Lomafanu is the oldest copper-plate book so far discovered in the Maldives. It was written in A.D. 1194 in the Evēla form of the Divehi akuru, during the reign of Siri Fennaadheettha Mahaa Radun (Dhinei Kalaminja). The Maapanansa, the copper plates on which was recorded the history of the first Kings of Maldives from the Solar Dynasty have been lost.

The first Maldivians did not leave many archaeological artifacts. Their buildings were probably built of wood, palm fronds, and other perishable materials, which would have quickly decayed in the salt and wind of the tropical climate. Moreover, chiefs or headmen did not reside in elaborate stone palaces, nor did their religion require the construction of large temples or compounds. [Source: Wikipedia]

Anne Haour wrote: Very little archaeology has taken place in the Maldives, and it has been mainly focused on Buddhist times. Apart from examinations of (largely surface) potsherds recovered in the 1970s during public works in Malé, virtually none has been done at all had concerned the medieval period. We must use other clues to identify locales for excavation. Guidance came from an unpublished report on Maldives cultural heritage, historical sources, etymology and to some degree from the location and nature of islands and currents. [Source: “Tracking the Cowrie Shell: Excavations in the Maldives” by Anne Haour, Annalisa Christie, Shiura Jaufar, Sainsbury Research Unit for the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, University of East Anglia, Norwich, 2016]

The Maldive Islands were mentioned in Ancient Sangam Tamil Literature as "Munneer Pazhantheevam" or "Older Islands of Three Seas". A strong element of Dravidian culture survives in Maldivian society today. There are clear Tamil-Malayalam substratum in the language, which also appears in place names, kinship terms, poetry, dance, and religious beliefs.

Ancient Sri Lanka Historical Texts on the Ancient Maldives

The Mahavamsa ("Great Chronicle") is a historical chronicle about Sri Lanka written in A.D. 5th century that describes events that took place in the early centuries B.C.. Asiff Hussein, a Sri Lankan journalist and writer, wrote: “The Mahavamsa legend concerning the Vijayan migration that took place around the sixth century B.C. would have us believe that the womenfolk of Vijaya and his compatriots drifted to an island called Mahiladipa following their banishment from the Lala country in Bengal. There is reason to believe that this Mahiladipa was none other than the Maldives. [Source: Asiff Hussein, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com ]

“It is today established beyond doubt that the Maldive Islands were peopled long ago by a sea-faring folk hailing from Sri Lanka. Linguistic evidence clearly shows Divehi, the speech of the Maldive Islanders to have derived from an early form of Sinhala known as Proto-Sinhala spoken in Sri Lanka from about the fourth to eighth centuries A.D. This is also corroborated by archaeological evidence such as the remains of stupas in the islands of Gan, Isdu and Miladu, which show that the Maldivians, like the Sinhalese, were Buddhists before they embraced Islam in the twelfth century.

“Although it is likely that in the main the Maldives were largely settled by a Proto-Sinhala-speaking folk in early mediaeval times, it may perhaps not be too far-fetched to postulate that intermittent settlement by Sinhalese migrants may have taken place at an earlier date, though on a much smaller scale. The Mahavamsa legend concerning the Vijayan migration that took place around the sixth century B.C. would have us believe that the womenfolk of Vijaya and his compatriots drifted to an island called Mahiladipa following their banishment from the Lala country in Bengal. There is reason to believe that this Mahiladipa was none other than the Maldives.

“The appellation Mahiladipa literally means 'Women's Island' and seems to have originated from the matriarchal tradition that prevailed in the Maldives in ancient times. Sulayman Al-Tajir in the Ahbar-As-Sin Wal Hind (9th century) refers to a ruling queen, as do Al-Masudi (10th century) and Al-Idrisi (12th century). Al-Masudi, the author of the Murujuhazzab records that the Maldivians are subject to a Queen "for from the most ancient times, the inhabitants have a rule never to allow themselves to be governed by a man".

“This tradition continued even after Islam gained a foothold since we hear of four Maldivian Sultanas (Queens) who reigned from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. This tradition had however ceased by the seventeenth century, for the Frenchman Francois Pyrard who spent five years in the Maldives has recorded in his memoirs entitled Voyage de Francois Pyrard (1619) that the Kingdom 'never goes to females'. Added to this is the fact that the Maldives has been traditionally designated in Arabic as Mahaldibu, which again suggests a connection between the Maldives and the Mahiladipa of the Mahavamsa. It is therefore possible that the Maldives were settled in ancient times by a Sinhalese folk speaking an early form of Sinhala known as Sinhala Prakrit before it was superseded by the Proto-Sinhala speech of later migrants who immigrated to the islands in superior numbers.

“Unfortunately, Maldivian chronology does not seem to have been as well developed as that of the Sinhalese and begins from about the twelfth century. The Maldivian chronicle Tarikh compiled by Hassan Thajuddin in the early eighteenth century gives Koimala as the first king of the Maldives. According to the chronicle, the Maldives were sparsely inhabited until about the early twelfth century, when a prince of royal birth named Koimala who had married the daughter of the King of Lanka departed thence with her and reached Resgatimu Island in the Ra Atoll. The people of the island, learning that the two visitors were of royal descent invited them to remain and Koimala was crowned King. Vessels were subsequently despatched to Lanka to bring people of the Lion Race and it was thus that the Maldives came to be colonized by the Sinhalese. The legend may perhaps be referring to a relatively late migration of Sinhalese, for we know that the islands were peopled by a Sinhala-speaking stock well before the twelfth century — a contention borne out by linguistic evidence.”

Linguistic Evidence and the early Settlement of the Maldives

Divehi has many similarities with Sinhala a there has long been a debate among linguists as to where Divehi was an offshot of Sinhala, meaning it was derived from it, or a sister language, which evolved in tandem from a parent language that perhaps originating in India. E. Nitz wrote: Research has shown that Divehi is not an offshoot of Sinhala but its sister language. For an exhaustive account of Divehi, see the recent publication Fritz, Sonja; "The Divehi Language"; Ergon Verlag, Heidelberg 2002]

Asiff Hussein, a Sri Lankan journalist and writer, wrote: “The term by which the Maldivians denote their language, 'Divehi Bas' literally means 'Language of the Islands' and has developed from the Old Sinhala diva — island' and basa — 'language', divehi being the genitive form of diva. Divehi shares with Sinhala, the simplification of conjunct consonants, the shortening of long vowels, the dropping of nasals and the de-aspiration of the aspirated consonents of Old-and Middle-Indo-Aryan represented by Sanskrit and Prakrit respectively. It has also turned the Sanskritic and Prakritic ch into s, s into h, p into v and j into d in common with Sinhala. All these phonetic changes had taken place in Sinhala by the beginning of the Proto-Sinhala stage around the fourth century A.D. Thus it is likely that the main body of Sinhalese who migrated to the Maldives did so sometime after the fourth century. [Source: Asiff Hussein, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com ]

Asiff Hussein wrote: Divehi does not possess the low front vowel ae and it may be safely assumed that it branched off from Sinhala before the appearance of this vowel. The development of ae from an earlier a or e is believed to have taken place in Sinhala around the seventh or eighth century A.D. so that it is likely that Divehi separated from Sinhala before this important phonological change took place. [Source: Asiff Hussein, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com ]

Many are the phonetic changes that have characterized Divehi ever since it split from the parent speech. Among the more significant changes may be mentioned the replacement of the labial p by the dento-labial f, which probably arose as a result of Arabic influence. Sinhala: paen — Divehi: fen 'water' ; pas fas 'soil'; paha fahe 'five'.

Another significant change is that of retroflex t to the peculiar Divehi sound sh which is uttered by placing the tip of the tongue in the highest part of the palate and letting the breath escape sideways between the teeth. Sinhala: ata — Divehi: asha 'eight'; rata rashi 'country' ; miti(-vaela) mishi(-vela) 'elbow'. Among the other changes may be mentioned that of the velar surd k into its corresponding sonant g. Sinhala: kikini — Divehi: giguni 'bell' ; kadu gadu 'hunched' and that of y to d, perhaps through an intermediate j: Sinhala: yanna — Divehi: dan 'to go' ; yakada dagadu 'iron' .

Among the vowel changes may be cited the replacement of the low central vowel a by the high bach vowel u. Sinhala: dora — Divehi: doru 'door; maga magu 'path'; handa handu 'moon'. Further, the Sinhala high front vowel i has been replaced by its corresponding back vowel u: Sinhala: his — Divehi: hus 'empty'; diva du 'tongue'; hira(-ge) hura(-ge) 'jail' . There are also instances where u has become I; Sinhala: tuna — Divehi: tine 'three' ; kusa kis 'belly' and a has become i ;Sinhala: dahaya — Divehi: dihaye 'ten'; vala vila 'cloud'

What DNA Has to Say About the Origin of People of the Maldives

According to an article on the “Human Genetic Origin” of the people in the Maldives: Because of the Maldives geographic isolation, “the present-day Maldivian population has potential for uncovering genetic signatures of historic migration events in the region. We therefore studied autosomal DNA-, mitochondrial DNA-, and Y-chromosomal DNA markers in a representative sample of 141 unrelated Maldivians, with 119 from six major settlements. We found a total of 63 different mtDNA haplotypes that could be allocated to 29 mtDNA haplogroups, mostly within the M, R, and U clades. We found 66 different Y-STR haplotypes in 10 Y-chromosome haplogroups, predominantly H1, J2, L, R1a1a, and R2. Parental admixture analysis for mtDNA- and Y-haplogroup data indicates a strong genetic link between the Maldive Islands and mainland South Asia, and excludes significant gene flow from Southeast Asia. Paternal admixture from West Asia is detected, but cannot be distinguished from admixture from South Asia. Maternal admixture from West Asia is excluded. [Source: “Indian Ocean Crossroads:Human Genetic Origin and Population Structure in the Maldives” by Jeroen Pijpe, Alex Voogt, Mannis Oven, Peter Henneman, Kristiaan J Gaag, Manfred Kayser, and Peter Knijff1, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, May 2013 May; 15, : 58–67]

“The wide range of haplogroups for both mtDNA and Y present in our Maldivian sample suggest a diverse origin. However, our results from both qualitative and quantitative analyses of the haplogroup distribution of uniparentally inherited markers indicate that the varieties of genomes sampled in the Maldives do not differ significantly from those found in the Central reference populations that contain the countries India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. In contrast, the most abundant haplogroups in the East reference population [mtDNA haplogroups B, R9, M7, and E, and Y-haplogroups O(M175), C(M130), and K(M9*)] are almost completely missing in our Maldivian samples.

“Female-mediated gene flow from the Western region was also limited. Frequent Western mtDNA haplogroups JT, L, R01, and HV are almost completely absent in our Maldivian sample. Based on the quantitative admixture results, a minor contribution from West Asia to the Maldivian Y-chromosome pool is likely. However, this is caused predominantly by sharing of Y-haplogroup J2(M172), a haplogroup that is more frequent in West Asia compared to South Asia. This haplogroup is present at relatively low frequencies in South Asia, predominantly in upper-caste populations (Sengupta et al., 2006). Y-STR haplotypes that are identical or near-identical to those of the Maldivian J2(M172) Y chromosomes are found in a large part of Eurasia, from Central Europe to India. Thus, our analysis is inconclusive about the possibility that most haplogroup J2(M172) Y-chromosomes in the Maldives originate from South Asia, and not directly from West Asia.

“A previous simulation study of seafaring across the Indian Ocean suggested that there could be an important role for the Maldives in the settling of Madagascar by people from Southeast Asia (Fitzpatrick and Callaghan, 2008). Most simulated traveling scenarios from east to west, and vice-versa, point to an important stopping point in the Maldives. To address this issue in more detail, we compared haplotypes observed in our Maldives sample with those from studies of Malagasy for individuals that belong to macro-haplogroups shared between the two populations. For Y-chromosome data, we used the data by Tofanelli et al. (2009). We compared 10 Y-STR haplotypes in all individuals in subgroups of Y-haplogroups J(M304), L(M20), and R(M207). The closest matching haplotypes found were between a Maldivian individual from Addoo and the single Y-R1a1(SRY10831) individual from Madagascar (Antanosy MAD20) that differ in two repeat differences (one repeat each in DYS390 and DYS391). All other haplotypes differed in at least four repeat differences. Y-R1a1 is most frequent in South Asia and Eastern Europe, and occurs at low frequency elsewhere in the old world. Most likely this Malagasy individual originates from South Asia. For mtDNA, the single Maldivian individual carrying a haplogroup found outside South Asia is an individual from Gaafu Dhaalua atoll, located outside the six major settlements. The individual carries haplogroup M71, found in low frequencies across Southeast Asia. We screened GenBank (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Genbank/) for individuals with a similar haplotype observed in Madagascar using Mitotool (Fan and Yao, 2011). None were found. In conclusion, our results suggest that the proposed Indian Ocean seafaring route through the Maldives did not include migration to these islands.

“We observed low frequencies of some haplogroups in the Maldives that are typically found outside South Asia. This may indicate that occasional migration from outside South Asia to the Maldives did occur. We found one Maldivian with mtDNA haplogroup M71, which has been described to occur at a low frequency in Southeast Asia (Peng et al., 2010; Tabbada et al., 2010; Kong et al., 2011). In addition, we found two Y-chromosome haplogroup A(M91) carriers on Gnaviyani. This Y-haplogroup occurs at relatively low frequencies throughout Africa, and is assumed to be one of the deepest-rooting lineages of human Y chromosomes (Karafet et al., 2008). It is rarely found outside Africa apart from recent migration events. The two Y chromosomes have an identical Y-STR haplotype; our search with the seven most abundant loci in the YHRD database (Willuweit and Roewer, 2007) revealed identical haplotypes in populations in Ethiopia and Uganda. These results confirm the mentioning of recent migration from East Africa to Gnaviyani. In contrast, the reported African ancestry of the people on Feridhoo Island is not supported by the presence of typical ‘African’ mtDNA and Y-chromosome haplogroups.

“We report a strong genetic link between the Maldives Islands and the Indian sub-continent. We exclude the sharing of haplogroups between Southeast Asia and the Maldives, which questions the previously suggested central role of a Maldive Islands' stopping point for migration from South East Asia to Madagascar. The Maldives were more likely used for supplies than for settling a population, which is no surprise considering the limited landmass of coral atolls. We also dismiss female-mediated gene flow from West Asia. Male-mediated gene flow from West Asia to the Maldives could have occurred, although it cannot be separated from such gene flow through South Asia. The wide range of Y-chromosomal and mtDNA haplogroups mirrors the haplogroup diversity in South Asia. We find a subtle substructure within the Maldives that is not directly related to geographic distance or dialect. Reduced diversity of Y-chromosomal markers on each atoll combined with reduced male-mediated gene flow between atolls suggests independent founder effects for each atoll. Reduced female-mediated gene flow between atolls confirms a Maldives-specific history of matrilocality.

Maldivian DNA Data as It Relates to Linguistics and Religion

According to an article on the “Human Genetic Origin” of the people in the Maldives:“The ancestry of mtDNA- and Y haplogroups in present-day South Asia is a highly complex mix of tribal, caste, religious, and language groups, and the structure along those cultural identities is likely to be subtle (Majumder, 2010). This may reduce the potential of an in-depth comparative analysis with the Maldives, but some interesting observations can be made. As Maldivian society has a long history of Islamic influence, a genetic link with South Asian Muslim populations could be expected. However, Eaaswarkhanth et al. (2010) report that Muslims and non-Muslims in India largely have the same Y-haplogroup frequency distribution, except that in Muslims low frequencies of Y-E1b1b1a(M78), Y-J(M304)(xJ2(M172)), and Y-G(M201) are found that are absent in non-Muslims (Eaaswarkhanth et al., 2010). [Source: “Indian Ocean Crossroads:Human Genetic Origin and Population Structure in the Maldives” by Jeroen Pijpe, Alex Voogt, Mannis Oven, Peter Henneman, Kristiaan J Gaag, Manfred Kayser, and Peter Knijff1, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, May 2013 May; 15, : 58–67]

In our Maldivian sample, none of those Y-haplogroups were found. The same study also found mtDNA haplogroup sharing across religious affiliations, with the exception of the presence of a L0 sub-haplogroup in Muslims only; this haplogroup was also not observed in our Maldivian sample. This suggests that Muslim Indians did not contribute more significantly to the Maldivian ancestral population than non-Muslims Indians, and that the Maldivians were converted by cultural diffusion. The conversion of the Maldives to Islam in the twelfth century should, therefore, be seen as independent from the earlier Islamization of the Indian sub-continent.

“The Dhivehi language is the southernmost Indo-Aryan language, and sharing of specific haplogroups with Indo-Aryan Sinhalese populations mostly from northern India and from Sri Lanka could point to a common origin of these populations. The Indo-Aryan-speaking higher castes in northern India in particular show moderately high levels of admixture with West Eurasian populations that include Indo-Aryan speakers (Bamshad et al., 2001; Basu et al., 2003; Reich et al., 2009). However, the consensus is that most of the haplogroup diversity in uniparental markers in South Asia originates from an early out-of-Africa migration at least 40K YBP (Kivisild et al., 2003; Karafet et al., 2008), with some association with demic diffusion of agriculture over 8K YBP ago (Kivisild et al., 2003; Basu et al., 2003; Cox et al., 2012), and that there is little relation to language structure. The investigation of the history and distribution of the Indo-Aryan languages remains a challenge and requires a more complete and more detailed view of population structure in Eurasia. The current study provides a reference for future studies into the evolution of the Indo-Aryan languages.

What DNA Has to Say About the Movement of People within the Maldives

According to the article on the “Human Genetic Origin” in the Maldives:“Within the Maldives, we find a subtle genetic substructure in all marker systems that is not directly related to geographic distance or linguistic dialect. We found reduced Y-STR diversity and reduced male-mediated gene flow between atolls, suggesting independent male founder effects for each atoll. Detected reduced female-mediated gene flow between atolls confirms a Maldives-specific history of matrilocality. In conclusion, our new genetic data agree with the commonly reported Maldivian ancestry in South Asia, but furthermore suggest multiple, independent immigration events and asymmetrical migration of females and males across the archipelago. [Source: “Indian Ocean Crossroads: Human Genetic Origin and Population Structure in the Maldives” by Jeroen Pijpe, Alex Voogt, Mannis Oven, Peter Henneman, Kristiaan J Gaag, Manfred Kayser, and Peter Knijff1, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, May 2013 May; 15, : 58–67]

“The six island populations have gene diversity values that indicate a normal outbreeding population (Jorde et al., 2000). The AMOVA (Table 4) indicates a small but significant structure among the islands: 2.7% of the genetic variance (V) in autosomal microsatellites is explained by among-population variance (Vamong populations; P < 10−4) in the AMOVA analyses. This substructure is not related to a dialect difference between northern and southern islands (Vamong dialect groups = 0.42%; P = 0.33). Pairwise population comparisons for autosomal markers reveal low pairwise Fst values that indicate little differentiation between islands (Fig. 4B, Supporting Information Table S3). Only the northernmost population from Huvarafushi, Haa atoll, shows a lower gene flow (Fst around 5%) with the other islands. This population is significantly differentiated from Faa. The highest gene flow is found between Ali and proximate atolls. In addition, gene flow is high between the two proximate southern atolls Gna and Addoo. However, over all subpopulations, there was no significant correlation with geographic distance in a Mantel test (r = 0.05; P > 0.99).

“The reduced variation in Y-chromosomal makers combined with reduced male-mediated gene flow suggests that all islands experienced independent founder effects. The reduced female-mediated gene flow is usually only found in populations where matrilocality is practiced (Hamilton et al., 2005). Although rare today, it is consistent with the historical mention of matrilocality in the Maldives (Metcalf, 2009). From pairwise population comparisons of uniparental marker diversity, some interesting patterns emerge. Haa atoll seems to be the most differentiated island population, perhaps not surprising given its remote location within the archipelago. Significant female-mediated gene flow between Raa and Gnaviyani suggests a historical maternal link between these atolls. Pairwise Rst values from Y-STR data reveal higher gene flow between Addoo and Gnaviyani, as expected from their relative geographic proximity and their sharing of the local southern dialect. However, a clear division between northern- and southern-dialect speakers is not apparent in the Y-chromosome or in the mtDNA data. Similarly, despite the observed reduced gene flow for both uniparental markers among some of the island populations, an obvious geographic structure is not apparent from the haplotype variation.

Thor Heyerdahl and the Maldives Mystery

Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002), the famous Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer of Kon-Tiki fame, went to the Maldives and excavated some ancient sites there. Despite the overwhelming evidence that all the ancient ruins in Maldives are Buddhist, Heyerdahl claimed that early "sun-worshiping seafarers", called the "Redin", first settled on the islands. It typical sensationalist style, Heyerdahl argued that 'Redin' were people that came from somewhere else based on an ancient Maldivian poem that has the word 'Redin' in it. Heyerdahl claimed redin was a reference to outsiders settling te islands. Maldives historian Magieduruge Ibrahim Didi that “redin” was the name which Maldivian Muslims used to refer to infidel Buddhists who had not converted to Islam.

According to the Kon-Tiki Museum: “Thor Heyerdahl received a letter in his mailbox one autumn day in 1982. The envelope contained a photograph of a hitherto unknown stone statue from the Maldives archipelago in the Indian Ocean, which allured him into initiating an archaeological expedition to find out more about the people who had made the statue.No archaeologist had visited the Maldives since 1922. Heyerdahl led two archaeological expeditions there, in 1983 and 1984, with his old friend and archaeologist Arne Skjølsvold. Øystein Koch Johansen and Egil Mikkelsen, two younger Norwegian archaeologists, also joined his team in what would be the first of several collaborations with Heyerdahl. [Source: Kon-Tiki Museum]

“Heyerdahl and the archaeologists found large stone mounds in the center of almost every island they visited. The mounds contained small temples made of carved blocks of stone or coral, some built as early as A.D. 550. The expedition also found small stone wading pools near the temples with ceremonial stairs leading into them. Stone statues, some of which represent Buddha, small stupas which had decorated the temples, as well as incised stone tiles, were also excavated.

“Heyerdahl identified some of the stupas as phallus symbols. Heyerdahl believed that sun worshippers from the ancient Indus Valley arrived in the Maldives via India and Sri Lanka in the first century B.C., based on the discovery of a Roman coin from about 90 B.C. The Maldives are mentioned in written sources from the Roman era – which is proof that the islands were known to exist and had been visited by people from the ancient world. Heyerdahl’s theory of contact with the Indus Valley civilization did not gain general acceptance.

“The Maldives were a hub for the cowrie shell trade, which was a means of payment in ancient times. Such shells have also been found in the north of Norway. The Maldives have been a regular port-of-call for centuries, used by seafarers and traders on the trade routes of Asia that also branched off toward Europe. “Heyerdahl’s expedition to archipelago renewed scientific interest in the Maldives. Several archaeological excavations (including some by Egil Mikkelsen) were carried out there in the wake of Heyerdahl’s first digs.

“The Maldive Mystery” is a book Heyerdahl wrote about his Maldives research. According to Culture Trip: “”The Maldive Mystery” has been heavily criticized for historical inaccuracies in its treatment of the culture and people of the Maldives. Paul Theroux compared Heyerdahl to a ‘hack writer of detective stories’. There is some truth to that, and the author revels in the cheapness of his narrative. The Maldive Mystery is a chronicle of his time spent in the Maldives, unearthing various relics and trying to piece together the islands’ pre-Muslim history. It is also patterned after clichéd detective stories. [Source: Culture Trip]

“However, as Jonathan Guilford attests, Heyerdahl’s book remains acutely powerful because of its ability to meld history and legend, truth and fiction.” His “inaccuracies are irrelevant when one assesses the enjoyment his writing evokes. To demand that the reader form their opinion of Heyerdahl’s work in line with the truth of history – did Sri Lankans arrive in the Maldives en masse? Did a sun cult precede a Buddhist population that preceded the present-day Muslim society? – is to demand that the layman subscribe to a particular specialist’s code of ethics, and shun everything that falls outside it. This is too much to ask.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Republic of Maldives Department of Information, the government site (maldivesinfo.gov.mv), Ministry of Tourism Maldives (tourism.gov.mv), Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC, visitmaldives.com), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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