These 1,000-year-old coins could rewrite Australia's history

Historians credit James Cook with discovering Australia back in 1770. But a long ignored discovery of five African copper coins in its Northern Territory, along with a map with an "X" on it, suggests somebody beat him to it — and by a long shot.

If validated, the coins could mean seafarers from distant lands reached Australia much earlier than previous thought.

The coins were initially found in 1944, and then sent to a museum in 1979 where they were identified. The Australian soldier who found them, Maurie Isenberg, marked an old map with an "X" were he stumbled upon them. Now, Ian McIntosh, an Australian scientist and professor of anthropology at Indiana University in the US, is planing an expedition in July to revisit the location.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

Professor McIntosh and his team of Australian and American historians, archaeologists, geomorphologists and Aboriginal rangers say the five coins date back to the 900s to 1300s.

They are African coins from the former Kilwa sultanate, now a World Heritage ruin on an island off Tanzania. Kilwa once was a flourishing trade port with links to India in the 13th century to 16th century.

The copper coins were the first coins produced in Sub-Saharan Africa and, according to Professor McIntosh, have only twice been found outside Africa: once in Oman and Mr Isenberg's find.

Archaeologists have long suspected that there may have been early maritime trading routes that linked East Africa, Arabia, India and the Spice Islands, even 1000 years ago. Or the coins could have washed ashore after a shipwreck.

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Image: AAP.