by Björn Schöpe
April 4, 2013 – Nine coins in the sand of an Australian beach may influence our understanding of the continent’s early history. But just the very circumstances of the finding are quite particular. In 1944 Maurie Isenberg was stationed on Wessel Islands in northern Australia. When he found a couple of old coins in his spare time he put them immediately into a can – actually he was no numismatist. It took until 1979 to make Mr Isenberg curious about the money and he sent the coins to an expert. The result was astonishing. Four coins belonged to the Dutch East India Company, the other five were issued by the Kilwa Sultanate between 900 and 1300.
The African coins in particular simply do not fit in with the idea we have made of Australia’s history in this epoch. The Kilwa Sultanate on the island of the same name right off Tanzania issued those copper coins for centuries. But they circulated only in this region and until now only one coin has been found outside, in Oman. The Kilwa Sultanate traded with Arabia, Persia and other countries over the Indian Ocean. However, we could not say that there were any proofs that Africans reached Australia.
Now a grant from the Australian Geographic Society finances anthropologist Ian Mcintosh from the Indiana University in the USA to lead an expedition that is to bring light into the darkness. In July an interdisciplinary team of historians, archaeologists and geomorphologists will go to the Australian outback in order to draw maps, conduct surveys and explore the territory where Isenberg once found the coins. Indeed the ex-soldier drew an X on an old map to indicate the finding spot. Reportedly traditional Aborigines tales know about a cave in this area with weapons and relicts from a long-past time. According to Mcintosh the coins might have belonged to a shipwreck. He is hoping to get some clues from his study.
The Indiana University reports on this exciting expedition here.