The coin that could tear up Australian history

May 13 (Agencies) | Publish Date: 5/13/2019 11:52:22 AM IST

 Scientists probe African copper piece found on a beach which could show Portugal reached the continent 250 years before Captain Cook

`Australia may have been visited by Portuguese seafarers more than 250 years before Captain James Cook arrived on the continent. That is one theory being examined by scientists in Australia as they try to trace the origins of an African coin which was found on a beach last year.  

The copper artefact, which is one of several similar finds, is believed to be a Kilwa coin from what is now Tanzania and could date back almost 1,000 years. 

But how the coin ended up on the Wessel Islands off northern Australia is not yet clear. One possible explanation is that the Portuguese, who had raided Kilwa in 1505, left the coin behind on their travels in south-east Asia.  

Speaking to the Guardian, archaeologist Mike Hermes said: 'The Portuguese were in Timor in 1514, 1515 - to think they didn't go three more days east with the monsoon wind is ludicrous.'

Discussing the coin, he said: 'We've weighed and measured it, and it's pretty much a dead ringer for a Kilwa coin. And if it is, well, that could change everything.'  

Hermes found the coin lying on a beach on the Wessel Islands last year, saying it had no intrinsic value. Hermes was building on the work of Royal Australian Air Force radar operator Maurie Isenberg, who had found five Kilwa coins there in 1944.  Isenberg also found four Dutch coins of a far lower value. He kept the African coins hidden away for decades until they were finally donated to a Sydney museum in 1983.  

French navigator Binot Paulmier de Gonneville claimed to have landed at 'east of the Cape of Good Hope' in 1504, after being blown off course. But the place that he reached, which some believed to be Australia, has since been proven to be Brazil. 

The first known European landing was by a Dutch navigator, Willem Janszoon, in 1606.  The first Englishman to land on the Australian mainland was William Dampier, a former pirate.

He reached the northwest coast, near King Sound, in January 1688 after his ship - the Cygnet, a small trading vessel - was beached.  Captain James Cook then reached Sydney's Botany Bay in 1770 and laid a British claim to the continent.  

(Tim Stickings for Mailonline)

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