Fieldwork Blog

Online Manuscript Viewer Launched

The Maldives Heritage Survey has just launched a new section of the project website hosting interactive viewer windows allowing users to explore a range of digitised documents. This web interface provides access to Deep Zoom images of texts on paper and engraved on copper plates that present important new source material for both the history of the Maldives and the broader history of Islam in the Indian Ocean World. 

The materials presented here include manuscripts digitised by our Survey Team in the field and in the collections of the Maldives National Museum in Malé, as well as scans generously provided with permission by the Maldives National Archives.

Utheemu Palace Artefacts

The Maldives Heritage Survey Team has been working on HA. Utheemu to create new digital site documentation of the Kandhuvalu Miskiiy, and the Utheemu Palace.

In addition to 3D scans and architectural drawings of these structures on site, the Team is also cataloguing smaller items in the collections of the Utheemu Palace, including manuscripts in both Dhivehi and Arabic.

Beyond textual materials, our documentation also includes royal heirlooms in wood, metal and lacquer work. Complete data base records and photo sets of these objects will soon be made available on the MHS website.

Survey started in Haa Dhaal

Concurrent with the completion of work in Haa Alif, the Maldives Heritage Survey will soon begin work in Haa Dhaal Atoll (South Tiladhumathee). After formerly presenting the project to the Atoll Council in Kulhudhuffushi, our field survey work commenced on Vaikaradhoo, where we were also welcomed warmly by the Island Council.

Building upon previous research and guidance by members of the local community, the MHS Field Team has begun exploring the island to establish a list of sites for systematic documentation.

These include the remains of structures from a broad span of Maldivian history stretching from the pre-Islamic period to the early twentieth century.


Maldives artefacts in Oxford

Together with MHS Cataloguer Jessica Rahardjo, Michael Feener has been working to catalogue and photograph a large collection of ceramics in the collections of the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford.

This includes over 700 pieces that were collected in Malé by Professor John Carswell during a visit to the Maldives in 1974. While most of the pieces collected by Carswell are Chinese ceramics, there are also some examples of Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian wares in the collection

Since these pieces were donated to the Museum they have been kept in offsite storage for several decades, and thus unavailable for public viewing. The Maldives Heritage Survey team is now processing the data we have recorded in working with all of these these materials, and full records and photograph sets for each piece will soon be made open-access available via our online database


Lecture at the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah in Kuwait

Maldives Heritage Survey Leader Michael Feener delivered a public lecture in Kuwait on 2 December, 2019 featuring material documented in the course of our work. The talk, titled, “A Maritime Muslim World: Art and Architecture of the Indian Ocean” situated the Islamicate traditions of the Maldives within broader contexts of Islamization and venacularization across the history of the region:

The lecture was sponsored by the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah as part of the 2019 Cultural Season Series, and hosted at the Yarmouk Cultural Center. A video recording of the full presentation is available on this link.

Ihavadippolhu Survey Completed

The MHS Field Team has just completed its comprehensive survey of the Ihavadippolhu islands in Haa Alif Atoll. Across these twenty-one islands, we have documented sites including mosques, ziyaarat, cemeteries and archaeological remains, and we  have also digitised several manuscripts in Arabic and Dhivehi.

All of our documentation will be made available through our website and database soon, so please watch this space for more database records, photos, and 3D models.

Fieldwork begins in Haa Alif

The MHS Field Team arrived in Hoarafushi on 16 October, 2019 as their first base of operations in Haa Alif Atoll. After meetings with the Atoll and Island Councils, work began in Hoarafushi on the old mosque complex there (Kuda Miskiyy), and will continue around the surrounding islands over the coming months.

Accelerating Environmental Threats in Addu

As the Maldives Heritage Survey (MHS) team has been conducting its survey of heritage sites in Addu/Seenu over the past two months (July-August 2019), we have been struck by the dramatic evidence we are encountering in the field of accelerated erosion of several islands in this southernmost Atoll of the Maldives. On the uninhabited island of Kandiheragandu, a former wetland that was by local reports flourishing there less than a decade ago has now been completely destroyed.

Devastated area of a former wetland on Kandiheragandu (Seenu)

One section of the former wetland area is now simply an expanse of dry sand, while another is freshly inundated with seawater at each tide where only a few surviving mangrove trees remain to demarcate the edge of the island on the southeast.

Waves coursing through the last thin line of mangrove on the edge of Kandiheragandu

The shifting currents in the area that seem to have contributed to the destruction of the wetland on one part of the island may have also contributed to the accumulation of a ridge of coral rubble above the waterline that now forms a dry land bridge connecting Kandihergandu with the smaller, formerly separate island of Kodadiheragandu (also known locally as ‘Kudhukandihera’) to the southwest. These two islands were separate and distinct until quite recently, and appear as such in the Official Atlas of the Maldives published by the Ministry of Planning and National Development in 2008 (although it must be noted that on their maps the name of Kandiheragandu is mistakenly transposed with that of another nearby island, Fathikedeheragandu).

Emergent coral rubble ridge now connecting Kandihergandu and Kodadiheragandu

The MHS team traced the current contours of the coast of this new combined island with GPS tracking to establish a new baseline map that can be used to measure future changes to its shape and size.

Coastal erosion is also clearly now an imminent threat to the largest and most historically significant heritage site in Addu Atoll. The Koagannu Cemetery on Hulhumeedhoo. This remarkable site contains four mosques, a stand-alone minaret, several shrines and over 1,500 ornamented coral gravestones.

The Koagannu Cemetery on Hulhumeedhoo

On 29 August 2019, strong seasonal waves compounded with a storm surge scoured the north coast of that island, eroding the edge of a community beach park just across the road from this major national heritage site.

Newly eroded coastline nearby the Koagannu Cemetery site

Earlier measures taken there over recent years to protect against such erosion are proving to no longer be effective, as this recent storm washed away huge amounts of sand, exposing and destabilizing the jumbo sand bags that had been previously installed along the beachline.

Installation of earlier measures to impede erosion in Hulhumeedhoo

While the local community Hulhumeedhoo has been actively trying to monitor the situation and to mitigate the damage to some extent, the dire situation is clearly beyond the capacity of a single island’s population to satisfactorily address. As is the case in many places in the Maldives, these local crises both reflect symptoms of national and global crises, and require action at these higher levels in response. For all of us, they provide further evidence for the urgent situation that our environment and our heritage must confront in the face of accelerating climate change.

R. Michael Feener

Project Leader, Maldives Heritage Survey



Fieldwork Begins in Addu

The MHS team has begun work in Addu City, following a meeting with the Mayor and members of the City Council on Sunday, 23 June 2019. The survey in Addu starts at Koagannu in Meedhu – the largest historic cemetery in the Maldives with hundreds of ornamented and inscribed coral gravestones and multiple structures including small mosques and shrines.