African Coins Found in Australia Are 1,000 Years Old, Could Rewrite History

Monday, 20 May 2013 09:57 AM

By Megan Anderle

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Five African copper coins dating back 1,000 years found in Australia and a map with an ''X'' old could rewrite Australia's history, in a story seemingly out of an old pirate movie.

In July, Ian McIntosh, an Australian scientist and professor of anthropology at Indiana University, will revisit the location where the coins were found in the Northern Territory in 1944.

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The coins could mean seafarers from distant countries landed in Australia much earlier than is believed, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Australia's Wessel Islands – an uninhabited group of islands off the north coast – became a strategic position to help protect the mainland in 1944 during World War II.

Australian soldier Maurie Isenberg was stationed on one of the islands at the time to man a radar station. In his spare time, he fished on the beaches, and one day, he discovered a handful of coins in the sand.

Isenberg had no idea where they came from but pocketed them and later placed them in a tin. Decades later, in 1979, he rediscovered them and decided to bring them to a museum to get them identified, according to news.com.au.

Experts told him the coins were 1,000 years old.

Still not fully realizing the coins' significance, he marked an old map with an ''X'' where he remembered he found them.

Professor McIntosh and his team of Australian and American historians, archaeologists, geomorphologists, and Aboriginal rangers started looking at the coins again a few months ago.

The coins date back to the 900s to 1300s and are African coins from the former Kilwa sultanate, now a World Heritage ruin on an island off Tanzania. Kilwa once was a flourishing trade port with links to India in the 13th to 16th century where gold, silver, pearls, perfumes, Arabian stone ware, Persian ceramics and Chinese porcelain made the city one of the most influential towns in East Africa.

Archaeologists have long suspected that there may have been early maritime trading routes that linked East Africa, Arabia, India and the Spice Islands even 1,000 years ago.

The discovery raises many questions about Australia's beginnings, such as whether James Cook was still the first person to discover Australia after all.

When McIntosh sets out on his expedition, he will search for a secret cave near where Isenberg found the coins that is said to be filled with doubloons and weaponry of an ancient era – relics that could rewrite Australian history.

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