Video: Exploring Australia's ancient trading past
An AG Society-sponsored expedition set out to solve the mystery of 12th-century African coins found off Arnhem Land in 1944
THE NORTHERN TERRITORY'S Wessel Islands are places of mystery, arching out into the Arafura Sea like a reaper’s scythe. And no mystery is more beguiling than the 900-year-old coins from a medieval African sultanate, found on one of the archipelago’s beaches during WWII by RAAF serviceman Morry Isenberg.
By far the oldest foreign artefacts ever found in Australia, the Kilwa sultanate coins are now held at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.
Only twice before have Kilwa coins been found outside Tanzania; once in Zimbabwe and once in Oman. Australia is a great deal further for them to have travelled – more than 8000km. Perhaps their discovery in the Wessels tells of ancient disaster, shipwreck and castaways, or they may merely have been left by ocean-going traders at ease in the safe anchorage beside a freshwater lagoon on Marchinbar Island.