It’s a puzzle thrown up by the discovery of a small copper coin on an island off northern Australian last year. But it could end up re-writing the history books.
The coin is believed to be from Kilwa (now Tanzania), and it could date back almost 1000 years, say reports.
Where the Portuguese come in is that it is already well-documented that Portuguese ‘discoverers’ raided Kilwa in 1505.
Thinking creatively, one theory under consideration is that the seafarers could have sailed on with their booty to this far flung appendage of Australia.
Speaking to the Guardian, archeologist 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”.
But would they drop looted coins in the process?
Reports accept that “how the coin ended up on the Wessel Islands off northern Australia is not yet clear”.
But it’s not the first Kilwa coin found in these parts
In 1944 a Royal Australian Air Force radar operator found five Kilwa coins on another nearby island, as well as four Dutch coins. This is where the ‘Portuguese theory’ starts gaining steam as a sea route from Kilwa to Oman and then onto India, Malaysia and Indonesia was ‘well established by the 1500s”
Says the Daily Mail, the tiny coin’s discovery “has prompted a wave of speculation about whether Portugal was the first European power to reach Australia”, though “the earliest European contacts with the continent have long been shrouded in mystery”.
There was certainly a visit by Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon in 1606, followed by a landing by British pirate-turned-explorer William Dampier in 1688.
But it wasn’t until nearly 100 years later that Captain James Cook sailed into Botany Bay and laid a British claim to Australia.
According to Wikipedia there are various pointers to the theory that Portuguese seafarers were the Chinese, French, Spanish and even Phoenicians.
So the research ongoing in the little copper coin will have to be conclusive to ‘change our history books’.
In the words of the Mail, scientists are now examining it “in a bid to discover its secrets”…