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Ancient African coins found in Australia, 1000 years before Cook

By JohnThomas Didymus

May 20, 2013 in World
1 000-year-old copper coins from Kilwa Sultanate  East Africa found in Australia
1,000-year-old copper coins from Kilwa Sultanate, East Africa found in Australia
Five copper coins thought to have originated in the East African Kilwa Sultanate (modern Tanzania), which date back to the early 900s, were discovered on the Wessel Islands off the north coast of Australia in 1944.
The coins are causing excitement among historians because they suggest that other seafaring peoples had discovered Australia 600 years before Captain James Cook. Although aboriginal Australians are thought to have arrived in Australia by boat from the Malay Archipelago between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago, the mainstream text of history claims that the Dutch navigators and later the English sailor Captain Cook “discovered” Australia. The first European landing on Australia is credited to Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon, who sighted the coast of Cape York Peninsula in early 1606 and landed on 26 February at the Pennefather River near Weipa on Cape York. A few years later, another Dutch navigator Dirk Hartog, reached the Island. William Dampier was the first English navigator to arrive in Australia, He landed on the north-west coast in 1688 and again in 1699. In 1770, James Cook explored the east coast which he named South Wales and claimed it for the English crown. Spaniard adventurer Luiz Vaez de Torres, discovered the strait between Papua New Guinea and Australia which was named Torres Strait in his honor. The British Government sent a fleet of ships under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip to establish a penal colony at Botany Bay in January 1788.

McIntosh points to where the copper coins were found on the map
McIntosh points to where the copper coins were found on the map

The Kilwa Sultanate
However, the coins linked to the East African Kilwa Sultanate suggest that other seafaring peoples had discovered Australia at least six centuries before the first European sailors. But another theory suggests that the coins may have been washed ashore from a shipwreck. According to the Courier Mail, the site of the Kilwa Sultanate in Tanzania is a World Heritage ruin. Kilwa was a Medieval Sultanate whose territory covered the entire length of the East African Swahili Coast. It was a flourishing trade port with links to India from the 13th to the 16th century. Trade in gold, silver, pearls, perfumes, Arabian stone ware, Persian ceramics and Chinese porcelain flourished along the East African coast until Kilwa was overthrown by the Portuguese in 1505, the Courier Mailreports. The sultanate produced the oldest known copper coins in sub-Saharan Africa.

Kilwa Sultanate
Archaeologists have long believed there might have been a maritime link between East Africa, Arabia, India, the Spice Islands and China. According to McIntosh: “This trade route was already very active, a very long period of time ago, and this may evidence of that early exploration by peoples from East Africa, or from the Middle East.”
Expedition to Australia According to the IUPUI, Australian researcher Ian McIntosh, Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University, is planning an expedition to the place where the five coins were found in the Northern Territory in 1944. An Australian soldier Maurie Isenberg, found the coins in 1944 while manning a radar station at one of the Wessel Islands, a group of Islands off Australia’s north coast. He found the coins while sitting in the sand on the beach. Although he had no idea where the coins came from or how old they were, he kept them in a tin and forgot about them until in 1979 when he sent them to a museum for identification. Experts identified them as 1,000 years old and asked him to mark “X” on a map where he had found them. He also found four other coins which were confirmed to be Dutch East Indian company coins dating back to 1690. Curiously, the map and the coins were forgotten until McIntosh rediscovered them a few months ago and confirmed they were from the East African Kilwa Sultanate.

The questions McIntosh and a team of Australian and American historians, archaeologists and geomorpholosgists hope to answer when they investigate the site where the coins were found include: How did they get there? Were they brought to the island by non-European explorers or were they accidentally washed ashore from a shipwreck? What sort of contact, if any, existed between the explorers and local Aboriginal populations? The team will also be looking for a cave mentioned in Aboriginal legends. The cave, said to be close to the beach where Isenberg found the coins, may contain ancient artifacts. If the team is able to locate the cave, they may uncover a new wealth of knowledge about the history of Australia before the first Europeans arrived.
Love to hear your thoughts.
Tania Bale

Filed under african history african coins east africa

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