African Coins Found In Australia: Mysterious Discovery Challenges Centuries Of History

By iScienceTimes Staff on May 20, 2013 11:44 AM EDT

Coins
African coins found in Australia may indicate that the island was discovered long before Europeans first touched down in 1606. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Five African coins found in Australia may lead to a rewrite of the country's history. The coins open up the possibility that people other than Aboriginal Australians were on the island before the first-known European landing in 1606.

The discovery of the African coins actually occurred during World War II, when an Australian solider named Maurie Isenberg was stationed on the Wessel Islands, an uninhabited island group off Australia's north coast. While manning a radar station and fishing, Isenberg found the coins in the sand. He didn't think much of them, but held onto the coins until 1979, when he rediscovered them in a tin and took them to a museum.   

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The African coins turned out to be thousands of years old, dating perhaps to the 900s.

The copper coins were the first coins ever made in sub-Saharan Africa. They come from the former Kilwa sultanate, an old trade port island near Tanzania. The coins have only been found outside of Africa one other time, in Oman.

Ian McIntosh, an Australian scientist currently teaching anthropology at Indian University, is planning a July expedition to the Wessel Islands to see if he can find more pieces to the puzzle.

McIntosh believes that the coins may indicate that east African, Arabian and Indian traders made contact with Australia 1,000 years ago -- six centuries before Europeans.  

Another theory -- somewhat less exciting -- is that the coins simply washed up on Wessel Island shores following a shipwreck.  

McIntosh is heading to the Wessel Islands with an Australian and American team which will include a historian, anthropologist, archaeologist and geomorphologist (one who studies the configuration and evolution of rocks and land forms). Using Aboriginal rangers, the team will survey the site where Isenberg found the coins, map the area and perform soil testing and coastal erosion analysis.

They also plan to look for a secret cave discussed in Aboriginal legends. According to these legends, the cave is filled with ancient coins and weaponry. The cave is supposedly near the beach where Isenberg found the African coins in 1944.

"Multiple theses have been put forward by noted scholars, and the major goal is to piece together more of the puzzle," McIntosh said. "Is a shipwreck involved? Are there more coins? All options are on the table, but only the proposed expedition can help us answer some of these perplexing questions."

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