Scientists Probe Mystery of 1000 Year-Old African Coins on Australian Beach

April 1st, 2013 by


Dr. Ian McIntosh of Indiana University points to where the coins were first discovered by a WWII serviceman

This July, an archaeological expedition from Indiana University-Perdue University will comb the remote outback of the Wessel Islands, in hopes of finding clues on how 1000 year-old copper coins from an African sultanate ended up on the beach there. The coins, which date from as early as the 900s AD, were found by a WWII serviceman in 1944 as he fished along the beach. He put the coins in a small container, and forgot about them for 35 years.

In 1979, he sent them to be identified. In addition to the ancient coins from the Kilwa Sultanate near Zanzibar, he had found four coins from the Dutch East India Company, one of which dated to 1690. The Kilwa coins were the first coins minted in sub-Saharan Africa, and no one has any idea how they ended up on a beach off the north coast of Australia. Only one Kilwa coin prior to this has ever been found outside Africa- in Oman.

Dr. Ian S. McIntosh, with a grant from the Australian Geographic Society, hopes to discover the origin of the coins. Perhaps it was a shipwreck from the ancient trade route between the East Africa and the Spice Islands of Indonesia?

Two Kilwa Sultanate coppers coins found in the Wessel Islands

Two Kilwa Sultanate coppers coins found in the Wessel Islands