Some of the earliest evidence for Islam in Southeast Asia

A beach strewn with Islamic tombstones in Indonesia’s Acheh province, uncovered the devastating 2004 tsunami, shed light on the spread of Islam into the region. The tombstones date as early as the 10th century and are some of the earliest evidence for the spread of the religion into Southeast Asia.

Aceh tombstones hint Islam spread to S.E. Asia 3 centuries earlier
Kyodo News, 16 October 2009

Taking a stroll along the shore of this sleepy village in Indonesia’s northernmost province of Aceh at low tide is like walking on a bleak burial ground as scores of old gray tombstones are strewn about.

Submerged for centuries under the sea, they only came to light after the devastation wracked by the 2004 Indian Ocean quake and tsunami on the coast of Aceh, on the island of Sumatra, killing more than 170,000 people.

Some as old as the 10th century, the tombstones, with a mix of Hindu and Islamic influences, hold a secret to Aceh’s distant past and reveal new archeological evidence about the spread of Islam to Southeast Asia.

Ibrahim, an Acehnese archaeologist who has been studying these tombstones closely, estimates over 1,000 of them lie under the
sea on the coastline of Kampung Pande, a village near the provincial capital Banda Aceh, and are often exposed at low tide.


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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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