The Andaman Islands form an archipelago in the Bay of Bengal between India, to the west, and Myanmar, to the north and east. Most are part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Union Territory of India, while a small number in the north of the archipelago, including the Coco Islands, belong to Myanmar.
The name of the Andaman Islands is ancient.. A theory that became prevalent in the late 19th century is that it derives from Andoman, a form of Hanuman, the Sanskrit name of the Indian monkey god. Another Italian traveller, Niccolò de' Conti (c. 1440), mentioned the islands and said that the name means "Island of Gold".
The Andaman islands have been inhabited for several thousand years, at the very least. The earliest archaeological evidence yet documented goes back some 2,200 years; however, the indications from genetic, cultural and isolation studies suggest that the islands may have been inhabited as early as the Middle Paleolithic. The indigenous Andamanese people appear to have lived on the islands in substantial isolation from that time until the 18th century CE.
The Andamans are theorised to be a key stepping stone in a great coastal migration of humans from Africa via the Arabian peninsula, along the coastal regions of the Indian mainland and towards Southeast Asia, Japan and Oceania.
From 800 to 1200 CE, the Tamil Chola dynasty created an empire that eventually extended from southeastern peninsular India to parts of Malaysia. Rajendra Chola I (1014 to 1042 CE) took over the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
In 1789, the Bengal Presidency established a naval base and penal colony on Chatham Island in the southeast bay of Great Andaman. The settlement is now known as Port Blair (after the Bombay Marine lieutenant Archibald Blair who founded it). After two years, the colony was moved to the northeast part of Great Andaman and was named Port Cornwallis after Admiral William Cornwallis. However, there was much disease and death in the penal colony and the government ceased operating it in May 1796.