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The discovery that could rewrite Australian history

Ancient copper coins suggest the country was found SIX CENTURIES before Captain Cook arrived

Five copper coins found in northern Australia could rewrite the country's history. The coins are thought to date back as early as the 900s and are believed to have originated in Africa. Written history of Australia only dates back to 1606, when Dutch explorers landed in the region, and researchers from Indiana University want to find out how the thousand-year-old copper coins ended up on the other side of the Indian Ocean six centuries earlier.

The Wessel Islands off northern Australia

The copper coins, were discovered on the Wessel Islands off the north coast of Australia in 1944. Researchers from Indiana University now want to find out how the coins got to Australia and their findings could suggest the country was found six centuries before British explorer Captain Cook arrived in 1770

Aboriginal Australians are thought to have first arrived on the Australian mainland by boat from the Malay Archipelago between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago. However, the first known landing in Australia by Europeans was by Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon in 1606. Other Dutch navigators explored the western and southern coasts in the 17th century, and dubbed the continent 'New Holland.' In 1770, British explorer Captain James Cook explored the east coast of Australia. The British penal colony was then first established at Botany Bay in January 1788. During the following century, the British established other colonies on the continent.

This reduced the number of indigenous Australians because of conflict with the colonists and new diseases bought over from Europe.

Lead researcher, Australian scientist Ian McIntosh said the coins were first discovered by soldier Maurie Isenberg in 1944. Isenberg was stationed on the Wessel Islands - an uninhabited group of islands off the north coast of Australia - during World War II and he found the coins buried beneath the sand. In 1979, Isenberg sent the coins to an Australian museum and now McIntosh wants to investigate how they arrived on the island.

Isenberg also marked the location the coins were found on a map using an 'X'. At the same time, Isenberg found four coins that came from the Dutch East India Company, dating back to 1690.

This discovery supports claims that Dutch explorers discovered the island before Captain James Cook in 1770.

Australian scientist and professor at Indiana University, Ian McIntosh, points to the location where the copper coins were found. The discovery was made by an Australian soldier during the Second World War who was stationed on the Wessel Islands in the Northern Territory. It is unclear how and when the coins travelled from Africa to the region. McIntosh and his team are arranging an expedition to the region in July. The coins are thought to be of African descent and originated from the former Kilwa sultanate. Kilwa used to be a trade port and had links to India in the 13th to 16th century. The region is now a World Heritage ruin on an island off Tanzania.

The copper coins were the first coins to ever be produced in sub-Saharan Africa and they have only been found outside of Africa twice. Once in Oman at the start of the century, and again by Isenberg in 1944.

McIntosh believes that the coins may indicate that there were maritime trading routes connecting east Africa, Arabia, India and the Spice Islands over 1,000 years ago - much earlier than first thought.

If this theory is proved correct it will mean that other civilisations discovered and made contact with Australia six centuries before the Europeans. This could mean the history of Australia needs to be rewritten.

Another theory suggests that the coins may have been washed ashore the Wessel Islands following a shipwreck. McIntosh's expedition in July may help scientists and archaeologists discover how the coins arrived in Australia. He will revisit the location marked with an 'X' on Isenberg's map, as well as look for a secret Aboriginal cave. The cave is said to be near Isenberg's beach and is thought to be filled with other treasures.

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