Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How Did An Medieval Tanzanian Coin End Up On An Australian Beach?

In the ancient African city of Kilwa, in modern-day Tanzania, about 1300 CE, four metal coins were minted by the local prince.  Portuguese forces invaded and destroyed Kilwa in 1505 CE and took coins and other valuables from the city as plunder.

In 1944, a British soldier stationed in Australia during World War II was walking down a beach when he came across some old coins and kept them as souvenirs.

More than half a century later, after he died, someone tried to figure out what kind of coins these were and got a big surprise.  Some of the coins were Dutch East India Company coins minted in the late 1600s, but four of them were the ones minted in Kilwa, six and a half centuries earlier.  No attested group of Portuguese explorers arrived in Australia for another hundred years after the coins were minted.

How did the Kilwa coins end up in Australia in the company of Dutch East India Company coins from the late 1600s? 

More particularly, is this find evidence simply of trade for Portuguese soldiers to Dutch East India Company traders to someone who arrived on Australia's shore and was careless?  Or, is this evidence of previously unattested early maritime trade with Australia?

Source: "Archaeology Detective: How did this African coin wind up in Australia?", The Denver Post, Section CC, Page 1 (July 2, 2013).  CNN covered the same story on June 27, 2013..


Maju said...

Essentially you explain it very well: the Portuguese looted the Zendji (the Swahili civilization, whose main city was Kilwa) and the Dutch later looted the Portuguese in the Malay Archipelago. Somehow the Dutch hoard ended in that Australian beach (weren't the Dutch the first Westerners to "discover" Australia?), be it shipwreck, piracy or whatever other odd story.

terryt said...

Maju sums up the generally accepted explanation. The coins don't 'prove' any East African voyaging to Australia. The beach is actually on an island, not the mainland, so a lost piracy hoard is possibly the correct explanation.