African coins find does not mean we have to rewrite the history of Australia
THE Mail’s got itself all in a tither about a find of African money off the coast of Australia. Apparently this means that the entire history of the place has to be rewritten. Err, no, it doesn’t: it’s an interesting little find, to be sure, but it doesn’t change the history of Oz in any appreciable manner at all.
Five copper coins found in northern Australia could rewrite the country’s history.
The coins are thought to date back as early as the 900s and are believed to have originated in Africa.
Written history of Australia only dates back to 1606, when Dutch explorers landed in the region, and researchers from Indiana University want to find out how the thousand-year-old copper coins ended up on the other side of the Indian Ocean six centuries earlier.
The coins were originally struck in a Muslim Sultanate off the coast of Tanzania. They’re old, to be sure, but Muslim Sultanates off Tanzania aren’t entirely unknown: the entire island of Zanzibar was one until the 1960s. The Arabs have long been known to have been trading up and down the African coast for slaves, gold and ivory. So the existence of the coins isn’t a great mystery at all.
Similarly, it’s long been known that the same Arabs had extensive maritime trade with India and then further east into the Spice Islands (what is now Indonesia). Whether it was Indonesia to India, India to Arabia, or one trip all the way though isn’t quite known: the former probably. But we know very well the trade carried on: it’s how Europe got its pepper for example.
That coins from one extreme of the trade route world, the southern African coast, might be found at the other end of the same trading world, the Spice Islands, is interesting but not wildly surprising. And as I say, we do know that the trade went on: there is a reason why much of Indonesia is Muslim.
Finally, the coins were found on an island off Australia….but we also know that there has long been a trade route from Indonesia down into Oz. A very rarely travelled one to be sure: but we do know there was at least occasional contact way up north at Cape York and the like: the islands where the coins were found isn’t far off that route.
So we don’t have to rewrite the history of the place at all. Just add one very tiny story to it, that’s all.