That’s the question being asked after the discovery of a 1000-year-old coin which could rewrite the history of Australia. Scientists believe it to be a coin from Kilwa, more than 10,000km away in what is now known as Tanzania, dating from before the 15th century. We spoke to the historian Mike Owen and first to the archaeologist, Mike Hermes.
Historian Mike Owen offers a few theories. It could indicate contact between Indigenous Australians and traders from Kilwa 700 years ago. The Wessel Islands were probably not the intended destination for the coins. There was trade between Kilwa and China, and possibly those traders were blown off course or escaping from pirates. Perhaps there was a shipwreck. But he says the most likely scenario is that the Portuguese, who looted Kilwa in 1505, went on to set foot on Australian shores, bringing the coins with them.
“The Portuguese were in Timor in 1514, 1515 – to think they didn’t go three more days east with the monsoon wind is ludicrous,” Hermes says.
So what does the potential discovery of a coin minted 500 years before James Cook’s arrival, and more than 300 years before the Dutch, mean for the pre-European history of Australia?Advertisement
Numismatist Peter Lane says if this is a Kilwa coin, it adds an interesting dimension to Australia’s early history.
“The value of these discoveries is very important and underrated by most people,” he says. “When it comes to historical significance, how do you put a value on something like that?”