The Maldive mystery

by Thor Heyerdahl

Paper Book, 1986



Call number

DS486.5 .M3H49 1986


Bethesda, Md. : Adler & Adler, 1986.


Describes Thor Heyerdahl's archaeological exploration of the Maldive Islands.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Malarchy
Thor Heyerdahl was one of the great explorers of the 20th century. As a man who sailed reconstructed ancient craft across oceans, he is the only person who has shed light in popular format on the ancient history of the island chain that comprises the Maldives. As a now extremely popular tourist
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destination, the Maldives have been transformed from even 25 years ago when Heyerdahl was writing in the mid-80s but what the book establishes is some of the fascinating worlds that these coral atolls have been part of.

The Maldive Mystery is more a tour through Thor Heyerdahl's various expeditions to the Maldives in the early 1980s at a time when the country was just re-emerging back into the international community. Having been relatively unheralded for so long and under the yoke of dictatorial sultans, the Maldivians were not always keen to speak to Heyerdahl about their ancestral stories but the Maldive Mystery unravels some of the tales combined with archaeological developments to begin piecing together a record that strethes back towards the earliest civilizations in history.

Heyerdahl was clearly a colourful character and the cast on his adventure are brought to life whether they be close companions from the Scandinavian archaeological community or bureaucrats from the Maldivian President's office and these tales are sometimes as enlightening as the delve into the past. Heyerdahl clearly had a reasonably high opinion of himself and I could not quite see why he had to refer to himself as the equivalent of Sherlock Holmes on two occaisions as this is not a detective mystery, merely some first steps into exploring who the Maldivians are and what part they played in civilizational progress.

Heyerdahl's digs are at first opposed by the local bureaucrats on religious grounds but it eventually turns out that it was all just a genuine misunderstanding because most Maldivians had never encountered archaeologists before. Heyerdahl plays up the religious differences that were said to have kept the past hidden during the era of the sultans but having read this while in the archipelago, I couldn't see a hint of that cultural mistrust.

What Heyerdahl does discover is a history that stretches back through four epochs (not counting the current tourist base, the relatively low impact British protectorate, and the brief Portuguese occupation) that pretty much define the stages of broad south Asian culture. The Maldives turns out to play a surprisingly large role in the economics of international trade at times and Heyerdahl intersperses his own adventures with analysis of historical trends in a superbly written way.

One gripe that is apparently often levelled at Heyerdahl is that his speculation is sometimes more imagination than science. This appears to be the case with his overarching theory of an ancient sea faring race that crop up all over the world. Heyerdahl was writing in a time before DNA analysis allowed better mapping of people flows and his unlikely hypothesis doesn't seem to fit.

Still, he's wrong on one speculative aspect that doesn't really matter to the flow but he's right about his quest to explore and the loving detail of those around him. The escapades his group get up to span several years and several groups but the writing is so tight that it all fits together superbly. The life threatening incidents that cause a few of the group to be injuried out are gripping. This is a page turner as Heyerdahl leads the reader expertly through his story and the story of the thousand islands - it is a beautiful part of the world and this is a great accompaniment to that place.
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Original publication date


Physical description

319 p.; 24 cm


0917561198 / 9780917561191



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