How a single 1,000-year-old coin could change the history of an entire continent and prove seafarers reached Australia hundreds of years before Capitain Cook – The Sun

HISTORIANS are baffled after a mysterious African coin that could date as far back as the 8th century was found in Australia.

The copper coin could mean Captain Cook – famous as the first European to discover the continent – was actually beaten to it by hundreds of years.

Australian history books say the country was claimed for the British throne in 1770 by Captain Cook, who declared the continent “terra nullius”.

But the archaeologist who found the ancient coin on the beach on the island of Elcho says the discovery could change history.

According to experts, it is a "dead ringer" for a Kilwa coin, from an ancient trading city in what is now Tanzania – some 6,000 miles away.

It's not the first time Kilwa coins have been discovered in Australia, with several others found in mainland Australia in 1944.

But the unique location of this particular coin has historians' heads spinning.


Aboriginal Australians are thought to have first arrived on the mainland by boat from the Malay Archipelago between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago.

The discovery of the coin on the remote island could mean that the first non-Aboriginals to set foot in Australia were not Europeans, but Africans from Kilwa.

Archaeologists have theorised that Kilwa sailors may have brought the coins from Africa themselves, or that they could have washed ashore from a shipwreck.

Alternatively, it could have been the Portuguese – who raided Kilwa in 1505 – with experts saying they may have left the coin behind on their travels through south-east Asia.

Portuguese seafarers were in East Timor in 1515 and could potentially had reached the Australian mainland.


This would mean that the first European to reach Australia wasn't Captain Cook, but potentially Portuguese explorers some 250 years before.

Mike Hermes, an archaeologist who discovered the coin said: “The Portuguese were in Timor in 1515 – to think they didn’t go three more days east with this monsoon wind is ludicrous.”

Kilwa, now a World Heritage ruin on an island off Tanzania, was once was a flourishing trade port with links to India in the 13th to 16th century.

The trade with gold, silver, pearls, perfumes, Arabian stone ware, Persian ceramics and Chinese porcelain made the city one of the most influential towns in East Africa at the time.

Archaeologists have long suspected there may have been early maritime trading routes that linked East Africa, Arabia, India and the Spice Islands even 1000 years ago.

The discovery follows a similar story in America last year – an 800-year-old Spanish coin was found by a tourist in Utah that pre-dates Christopher Columbus and his band of Spanish explorers who didn't set foot in the Americas until 1492, leaving experts baffled as to how the treasure got there.

Experts came up with three main theories for the mystery Spanish coins – that they may have been carried over by early Spanish settlers and traded with Native American tribes and lost in the canyon,  that the coins were traded with a native American tribe and then later lost at the canyon, or they  were brought to American by tourists long after they were minted, and later lost in the canyon.

The earliest European contacts with Australia have long been the subject of debate.


French navigator Binot Paulmier de Gonneville claimed to have landed at "east of the Cape of Good Hope" in 1504, after being blown off course.

The first Englishman to land on the Australian mainland was William Dampier, a former pirate.

In 1770 Captain James Cook then reached Sydney's Botany Bay in 1770 and claimed the continent for Britain.

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