600-Year-Old Chinese Coin Found in Kenya Reveals New History


Scientists have discovered a 600-year-old Chinese coin on the Kenyan island of Manda that reveals China traded with East Africa before European explorers set sail.

The Field Museum in Chicago announced the discovery on Wednesday. The joint expedition was led by Chapurukha M. Kusimba of the museum and Sloan R. Williams of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Scientists from Kenya, Pennsylvania and Ohio also participated in the expedition.

The coin, called “Yongle Tongbao,” is silver and copper. It has a square hole in the center so it could be worn on a belt. It was issued by China’s Emperor Yongle sometime between 1403 and 1425 A.D. and his name is written on the coin, according to a news release from the museum.

Yongle, who was interested in political and trade missions to the lands around the Indian Ocean, sent Admiral Zheng He, also known as Cheng Ho, to explore those shores.

“Zheng He was, in many ways, the Christopher Columbus of China,” said Chapurukha Kusimba, curator of African anthropology at the Field Museum. “It’s wonderful to have a coin that may ultimately prove he came to Kenya.”

The coin is currently off display at the Field, where Kusimba is studying to make sure it is not a counterfeit.

“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.”

Photo courtesy of  John Weinstein/The Field Museum

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