Tech & Science Coin found off Arnhem Land coast could be among Australia's oldest foreign artefacts

03:07  10 july  2018
03:07  10 july  2018 Source:   abc.net.au

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Arnhem Land is one of the five regions of the Northern Territory of Australia . It is located in the north-eastern corner of the territory and is around 500 km (310 mi) from the territory capital Darwin. The region has an area of 97,000 km2 (37,000 sq mi), which also covers the area of Kakadu National Park

The significant trove of thousands of artefacts was buried in 2.6 metres of sand and sediment on the western edge of the Arnhem Land plateau. Researchers are now systematically surveying the surrounding area to find additional sites, to see if even older evidence of occupation can be found .

The Kilwa coins are thought to be 1000-years-old.© Provided by ABC News The Kilwa coins are thought to be 1000-years-old. An uninhabited island off the coast of Arnhem Land may seem worlds apart from medieval Africa, but believe it or not, they're more connected than you'd think.

In 1944, a RAAF serviceman found several coins on a deserted beach on one of the Wessel Islands, off the Northern Territory coast, but the exact location of the discovery remained a mystery.

Now, almost eight decades later, researchers believe they've found another coin — this time on Elcho Island, which is also in the Wessel Island group.

The 1944 coins were linked to the east African city of Kilwa, off modern-day Tanzania.

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Image Credit: Courtesy Powerhouse Museum. Unravelling the mystery of Arnhem Land ' s ancient African coins . BY Mike Owen |. By far the oldest foreign artefacts ever found in Australia , the Kilwa sultanate coins are now held at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.

Arnhem Land ' s wiki: Arnhem Land is one of the five regions of the Northern Territory of Australia . In 2014, an 18th-century Chinese coin was found in the remote area of Wessel Islands off the coast on a beach on Elcho Island during a historical expedition.

If confirmed to be a Kilwa coin — estimated at between 1,100 and 1,200 years old — the new coin would be among the oldest foreign artefacts ever found in Australia.

"One of our archaeologists, he found a coin on the surface of the beach on Elcho Island … and it's the same size [as the Kilwa coins]," amateur historian Mike Owens said.

"There are a number of very well-known watering sites around the island … so these things would have been known for centuries."

Though little is known about how a piece of medieval Africa found its way onto a remote coastline off the Arafura Sea, it offers a glimpse into a bygone time.

The copper coin has now been sent to Canberra, where further testing will be able to confirm whether or not it holds a hidden history.

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This Chinese coin , thought to be minted around 1735 in Beijing, was found on a remote beach on Elcho Island, off the coast of Arnhem Land . Image Credit: Ian McIntosh.

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"It'll take at least weeks, but if the copper content is the same … then that'll be it really," Mr Owens said.

"It is very frail and very thin, but it's the right size, the right weight, the right colourand our experts think this coin is from east Africa because there's nothing else comparable.

"If it does turn out to be a coin it will be an extraordinary event and it will generate an incredible amount of work and expeditions.

"These things can be life-changing and a find like this, it will be by far the oldest ever imported thing in Australia."

'X marks the spot' for 1944 discovery

For Mike Owens and the Past Masters — a group of historians, archaeologists and researchers exploring Australia's place in more than 1,000 years of trade — the discovery has been a long time coming.

Since 2013, Mr Owens and his colleagues have been combing the Wessel Islands coast trying to unravel the mystery of the Kilwa coins.

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Traveling to Australia Australia appears under the name of "Antoecie" on the famous spherical world map of Crates An ancient Terraced Hill at least 6000 years old has been found on the outskirts of Gympie off Tin Can Bay Road. Arnhem land and Torres Strait peoples mummified their dead.

First uncovered in 1944 by RAAF serviceman Morry Isenberg on one of the archipelago's beaches, little is known about the discovery site itself.

"We were trying to locate where they [the original coins] were found," Mr Owens said.

"[A colleague] had marked the map, so we had a treasure map … there was an X marking the spot, [but] it turned out to be the wrong spot.

"So over the last five years we've been trying to discover the blasted thing."

The Past Masters hope that if they find the same site traversed by Mr Isenberg, they will find more coins.

That will allow historians to piece together timeframes and possibilities as to how they got there in the first place.

"If you had the coins on board a ship at Kilwa … and headed into the rising sun … if you kept doing that, you would hit the Wessel Islands," Mr Owens said.

"So it's possible a German freighter took them to the old possessions in Papua New Guinea.

"Or they have washed down the dunny of a 747."

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