A pre-Islamic statue was unearthed from Laamu atoll Gan while excavating an area for housing development.
According to the Maldives Heritage Society, an NGO that works to preserve and raise awareness about Maldives' history and culture, the limestone statue was found within a sand pile at the construction site.
Thoha Aboobakuru, the president of the association, told Mihaaru News that the statue is seven inches tall. It is now with the NGO for safekeeping, she said.
“My guess is that this is an idol that people worshipped long before Maldives became an Islamic nation, about 900 years ago,” she said.
"Even though the Maldives converted to Islam in 1153 BCE, it is believed that the people of Laamu atoll converted to Islam a little later, some time between 1193 and 1194 BCE. So we believe this statue is very old."
Similar idol statues were discovered previously in Laamu atoll, Kalaidhoo. They are on display at the National Museum in Malé. These relics are also estimated to date back 10 centuries.
In ancient times, Haiytheli in Gan was one of the main temples for Buddhist worship. It was covered with sand after the Maldives converted to Islam. The height of the monument is about 35 feet, while its base has a circumference of about 315 feet.
On March 12, 1922, Harry Charles Purvis Bell carried out a study of the country's archaeological sites. He excavated the Haiytheli site and uncovered a part of the face of a statue, a small seated statue, and various parts of idol statues.
Bell also studied various peaks near Haiytheli and concluded that they were similar to the spaces used for Buddhist worship and were most likely parts of monasteries.