But what was the connection between the Maldives and cowries? Medieval historians and travelers like al-Bakri and Ibn Battuta mentioned the Maldives as possible sources of these shells, yet there was little concrete evidence to support this claim. This is where this fascinating archaeological expedition came into play.
The team of researchers embarked on their journey to the Maldives in 2016 in collaboration with the Maldives Heritage Department. They focused their efforts on three islands: Utheemu, Malé, and Veyvah. Each of these locations, with its unique history and characteristics, proved pivotal to the success of the investigation.
In Utheemu, situated at the northernmost point of the archipelago, researchers uncovered intriguing artifacts in the vicinity of the 16th-century historical palace, once the residence of leader Mohammed Thakurufaanu, who had resisted Portuguese occupation. Meticulous excavations and artifact analyses revealed that cowries and objects related to medieval trade were buried in front of the palace's northeast and southeast gates. In the heart of the Maldives' capital, Malé, research centered on Sultans' Park, an area that once housed the sultan's palace. In 1974, Carswell had conducted excavations here, but the results were limited. The team of archaeologists dug once more, revealing remnants of ancient walls, fragments of Chinese ceramics, and a significant number of cowries.
The area appeared to be a repository of ruins and destruction, a sign that it had much to tell about the region's history. On Veyvah, located in the central-southern part of the archipelago, researchers focused on a remote coral stone mosque. The site was fascinating because it seemed to have remained largely untouched. Here, artifacts emerged that differed significantly from those found on the other islands, shedding light on the diversity of cowries across different regions. This incredible expedition allowed for the collection of a vast array of objects, including ceramic fragments, cowries, metal artifacts, animal remains, and carbon samples earmarked for dating. The challenge now is to unveil the secrets held by these artifacts. In a world where ancient civilizations and medieval trade interweave into a complex tapestry of lost stories, this study represents a significant step in the investigation of global connections and the significance of cowries in ancient West Africa. Research continues, and further excavations may yet reveal new details and unravel age-old mysteries, casting fresh light on the history of these fascinating shells.