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Courtney Allan

The 1000-year-old coins that could help rewrite Aussie history

The 1000-year-old coins that could help rewrite Aussie history

James Cook declaring that Australia was “terra nullius” in 1770 might not have been the right move at the time as a new copper coin could rewrite Australian history.

In an interview with The Guardian, archaeologist Mike Hermes revealed he found an ancient coin on a beach in the Wessel Islands which he believes to be from Kilwa.

Kilwa is more than 10,000 kilometres away and is now known as Tanzania. The coin dates from before the 15th century.

“The Portuguese were in Timor in 1514, 1515 — to think they didn’t go three more days east with the monsoon wind is ludicrous,” he said to

“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.”

Tests on the coin’s origins currently remain inconclusive, but Hermes hasn’t given up.

Wessel Islands are an uninhabited group of islands off the north coast of Australia and became a strategic position to protect the mainland in World War II.

In 1944, five coins were found by an Australian soldier called Maurie Isenberg. He didn’t know what they were at the time and pocketed them in a tin. Isenberg rediscovered the coins in 1979 and sent them off to a museum to be examined where it was found that the coins were 1,000 years old.

The discovery of the coins raises more questions than answers about colonisation.

If James Cook wasn’t the first person to discover Australia, who was?

How did 1,000-year-old coins end up on a remote beach on an island off the northern coast of Australia?

Did explorers from distant shores explore Australia before 1770?

The discovery of the coins was forgotten about until anthropologist Ian McIntosh got the ball rolling again in 2013 when he led an expedition to Wessel Islands. Unfortunately, the journey failed to find any more coins.

Despite the coins not having any monetary value, for archaeologists such as McIntosh, they are priceless.