Scientists said they have discovered a 600-year-old Chinese coin in Kenya on the island of Manda, located just off the coast of the East African country, suggesting there was trade between China and Africa years before Europeans arrived.
The small piece is made out of copper and silver, with a square hole in the middle. The coins were called “Yongle Tongbao,” named after Ming Dynasty Emperor Emperor Yongle, who ruled between 1403 and 1425, according to the website of the Field Museum of Chicago. Yongle sent Chinese explorers, including famed admiral Zheng He, to explore around the Indian Ocean.
“Zheng He was, in many ways, the Christopher Columbus of China,” said Dr. Chapurukha M. Kusimba, the curator of African Anthropology at The Field Museum. “It’s wonderful to have a coin that may ultimately prove he came to Kenya,” he continued.
Kusimba said that “Chinese currency in East Africa is very, very rare.”
“Whether it turns out to be fake it is still extremely exciting. It speaks to the competition going on between merchants, the kind of competition that is still visible today,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times.
After Emperor Yongle died, China stopped exploring and trading, according to the Field Museum. This allowed the Europeans to dominate the Age of Discovery and further their countries’ respective empires.
Researchers from Kenya, Pennsylvania, and Ohio took part in the expedition on Manda, according to The Associated Press. They also found other artifacts and human remains that predated the coin.
Manda was home to a relatively advanced civilization from 200 to 1430, but was abandoned and was never inhabited after that, according to the museum.
“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,” Kusimba said.