Ancient Chinese coin found on Kenyan island by Field Museum expedition

Mar 13, 2013
This Feb. 8, 2013 provided by The Field Museum in Chicago shows a rare, 600-year-old Chinese coin that scientists from Illinois discovered on the Kenyan island of Manda. The museum announced the discovery Wednesday, March 13, 2013, The coin is made of copper and silver and has a square hole in the center so it could be worn on a belt. Scientists say it was issued by Emperor Yongle of China who reigned from 1403-1425 during the Ming Dynasty. (Courtesy The Field Museum, John Weinstein)

A joint expedition of scientists led by Chapurukha M. Kusimba of The Field Museum and Sloan R. Williams of the University of Illinois at Chicago has unearthed a 600-year-old Chinese coin on the Kenyan island of Manda that shows trade existed between China and east Africa decades before European explorers set sail and changed the map of the world.

The , a small disk of copper and silver with a square hole in the center so it could be worn on a belt, is called "Yongle Tongbao" and was issued by Emperor Yongle who reigned from 1403-1425AD during the . The emperor's name is written on the coin, making it easy to date. Emperor Yongle, who started construction of China's Forbidden City, was interested in political and trade missions to the lands that ring the Indian Ocean and sent Admiral Zheng He, also known as Cheng Ho, to explore those shores.

"Zheng He was, in many ways, the of China," said Dr. Kusimba, curator of African Anthropology at The . "It's wonderful to have a coin that may ultimately prove he came to Kenya," he added.

Dr. Kusimba continued, "This finding is significant. We know Africa has always been connected to the rest of the world, but this coin opens a discussion about the relationship between China and Indian Ocean nations."

That relationship stopped soon after Emperor Yongle's death when later Chinese rulers banned foreign expeditions, allowing European explorers to dominate the Age of Discovery and expand their countries' empires.

The island of Manda, off the northern coast of Kenya, was home to an advanced civilization from about 200AD to 1430AD, when it was abandoned and never inhabited again. Trade played an important role in the development of Manda, and this coin may show trade's importance on the island dating back to much earlier than previously thought.

"We hope this and future expeditions to Manda will play a crucial role in showing how market-based exchange and urban-centered political economies arise and how they can be studied through biological, linguistic, and historical methodologies," Dr. Kusimba said.

Explore further: A word in your ear, but make it snappy

Related Stories

Recommended for you

A word in your ear, but make it snappy

8 hours ago

To most, crocodiles conjure images of sharp teeth, powerful jaws and ferocious, predatory displays – but they are certainly not famous for their hearing abilities. However, this could all change, as new ...

User comments : 12

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Gnyek_Morrish
2.3 / 5 (6) Mar 13, 2013
! THIS IS A HUGE FIND FOR HISTORY! It proves that Zheng He went past the horn of Africa, and made it further up the coast!
ScooterG
1.6 / 5 (7) Mar 13, 2013
! THIS IS A HUGE FIND FOR HISTORY! It proves that Zheng He went past the horn of Africa, and made it further up the coast!


Seems to me this doesn't prove anything. There's a million ways that coin could have ended up in Africa.

No question the Chinese got around - many of the current population in northern New Mexico have Chinese DNA. And about the only two places where you'll find pinyon trees is New Mexico and China.
verkle
3.5 / 5 (8) Mar 13, 2013
! THIS IS A HUGE FIND FOR HISTORY! It proves that Zheng He went past the horn of Africa, and made it further up the coast!


Gnyek---umm, I don't think you know your geography. Kenya in on the same side of Africa as China. No need to go around Cape Horn.

verkle
1 / 5 (2) Mar 13, 2013
There were millions of these coins made in China, and you can buy many of them today for not much more than a buck apiece.

But a true find of one of these coins so far away from China is a major discovery.

Mandan
not rated yet Mar 13, 2013
I thought it was pretty well-established the Great Fleet made it at least to Zanzibar before deciding there was nothing outside China to compare with inside China.

And 1403 is not considered ancient-- but rather medieval.
anthonys
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 14, 2013
"Gnyek---umm, I don't think you know your geography. Kenya in on the same side of Africa as China. No need to go around Cape Horn."

Actually, it's the Cape of Good Hope - you don't know your geography either!!
Juniper
5 / 5 (1) Mar 14, 2013
@ScooterG,

Speaking of DNA, there is Chinese DNA in the people who still inhabit those islands. I think the article neglects to say that this is part of ongoing research (including those DNA tests) on those Chinese fleets being in Kenya. It seems like they were and this is additional evidence.
frajo
not rated yet Mar 14, 2013
Anybody who doesn't yet know about Zheng He should read at least the Wikipedia article about this most impressive person.
daqman
not rated yet Mar 14, 2013
From the article:

"The island of Manda, off the northern coast of Kenya, was home to an advanced civilization from about 200AD to 1430AD, when it was abandoned and never inhabited again."

combined with:

"Emperor Yongle who reigned from 1403-1425AD"

Could it be too much of a coincidence that the civilisation on Manda, after existing for over a thousand years, died out within such a short time of being visited by Chinese explorers?
Shakescene21
not rated yet Mar 14, 2013
From the article:

"
Could it be too much of a coincidence that the civilisation on Manda, after existing for over a thousand years, died out within such a short time of being visited by Chinese explorers?


@Dagman - I thought the same thing. Through introduction of Asian diseases and/or military conquest, it's very likely that Chinese explorers could have destroyed the Manda civilization. This process has been fairly well documented in the Americas during the 1500s and 1600s.
baudrunner
not rated yet Mar 16, 2013
Gnyek---umm, I don't think you know your geography. Kenya in on the same side of Africa as China. No need to go around Cape Horn.
What a twit. The Horn of Africa is where Somalia is located. It pokes into the gulf of Aden.

Geography is a science, you guys. Better go back to your Facebook games. You're just embarrassing yourselves by commenting here.
Pkunk_
1 / 5 (1) Mar 17, 2013
How long before China stakes claim to the Island in question ?