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Ancient Chinese Coin Discovered in Kenya Proves Asian Nation Traded With Africa Before Europeans

Update Date: Mar 13, 2013 04:32 PM EDT
coin, china, history
This is the rare, 600-year-old Chinese coin that scientists from Illinois discovered on the Kenyan island of Manda. 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. (Photo : The Field Museum in Chicago)

Scientists have recently unearthed a 600-year-old Chinese coin on the Kenyan island of Manda.  Researchers said that the centuries-old coin proves that China traded with African countries before European explorers set sail.

A group of scientists led by Chapurukha M. Kusimba of The Field Museum and Sloan R. Williams of the University of Illinois at Chicago announced the discovery on Wednesday.

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The coin, dubbed "Yongle Tongboa" is a made of silver and copper.  A small square hole in the center was to keep the coin on the belt. Ming Dynasty's Emperor Yongle, who ruled from 1403-1425AD and started construction of China's Forbidden City, issued the coin, according to researchers.

Emperor Yongle was interested in political and trade mission to lands that ring the Indian Ocean.  He had also sent Admiral Zheng He, also known as Cheng Ho, to explore distant lands.

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

"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," he added.

China's relationship with the Africa was cut off after Emperor Yongle's death when later emperors banned foreign expeditions.  Researchers said the move allowed European explorers to dominate the Age of Discovery and expand their countries' empires.

Researchers are currently studying to coin to make sure it is not a counterfeit, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

"It is exciting," Kusimba told the Chicago Sun-Times. "But 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."

Researchers said that the coin was found on Manda, which was home to an advanced ancient civilixation between 200AM to 1430 AD.  Researchers said trade had played an essential role in the development of Manda, and Chinese coin found during the Manda excavation between De. 10 2012 and Feb. 10, 2013, may highlight the importance of trade in Manda's ancient colony.  

"Chinese currency in East Africa is very, very rare," Kusimba said.

"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 in a news release.

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