Sunday, April 28, 2013

Coin Confirms Medieval China-East Africa Trade

Ancient Chinese Coin Found on Kenyan Island by Field Museum Expedition

A joint expedition of scientists led by Chapurukha M. Kusimba of The Field Museum and Sloan R. Williams of the University of Illinois at Chicago has unearthed a 600-year-old Chinese coin on the Kenyan island of Manda that shows trade existed between China and east Africa decades before European explorers set sail and changed the map of the world.

The coin, a small disk of copper and silver with a square hole in the center so it could be worn on a belt, is called “Yongle Tongbao” and was issued by Emperor Yongle who reigned from 1403-1425 AD during the Ming Dynasty. The emperor’s name is written on the coin, making it easy to date. Emperor Yongle, who started construction of China’s Forbidden City, was interested in political and trade missions to the lands that ring the Indian Ocean and 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 Dr. Kusimba, Curator of African Anthropology at The Field Museum. “It’s wonderful to have a coin that may ultimately prove he came to Kenya,” he added.

Read it all here.

Coins Useful in Tracking Ancient Trade Routes

Alice C. Linsley

Human remains and other artifacts were found on the Kenyan island that predate the 600-year old coin.
According to researchers, the coin is further confirmation that trade took place between Africa and China as late as the 15th century A.D.

The Kushites moved out of Africa between 12,000 and 10,000 years ago. They were great kingdom builders who established their centers of commerce on the major water systems. Kushite populations still inhabit southwestern China. They are called Kushan-Yuezhi or Gueis-Huang. The Kushan capital was Hucao at the lower Wakhsh (Oxus) and the Darya-i Pandj (Ochus) river valley towards Aï Khanum.

Another Kushite group is the Ainu of China, described as a "caste of circumcisers." They number approximately 6,500 people. Most live scattered over northwest China in the counties of Hetian, Luopu, Moyu, Shache, Yingjisha, and Shulekuche, near the ancient oasis city of Kashgar. They keep sheep and goats.

In 1944, Australian soldier Maurie Isenberg, stationed on an island to man a radar station, found a trove of 1000 year coins on an island off northern Australia. The coins came from the former Kilwa Sultanate, now a World Heritage ruin on an island off Tanzania. Kilwa was a trade port with links to India and Asia between the 13th and 16th century. In 1331-1332, Ibn Battouta stayed in Kilwa and described the it as one of the most beautiful cities of the world.

The coins were minted in sub-Saharan Africa.

The trade with gold, silver, pearls, perfumes, Arabian stone ware, Persian ceramics and Chinese porcelain made Kilwa one of the most influential ports in East Africa.


CJ said...

Are you familiar with Stuart Munro-Hays' book "Aksum: An African Civilization of Late Antiquity?" It covers a period before this coin, but it does discuss extensive East African trade with the Far East. Justinian attempted to enlist them to discover the secret of silk making, but they were unable to do so. The trade eventually declined due to Muslim domination of the trade routes. One of the kings from that period, Kaleb/Elasbaan is a Orthodox (i.e. Chalcedonian) saint.

Anonymous said...

Hi Alice,

I have a question about the priesthood. I have heard the view that in the early church women were ordained, but this was not approved for practical reasons, rather than theological. What are your thoughts on this?


Alice C. Linsley said...

Women never were ordained priests. There is not as single example to which one can point of a woman priest in the early church. Some have misconstrued the term "presbytera" to mean female priest while the term refers to the wife of the priest, as it still does in the Orthodox churches.

In the Greek Orthodox Church older widowed women were sometimes ordained as deaconesses and served mainly in ministries to women. This practice has largely been abandoned, but is being reconsidered.

Alice C. Linsley said...

CJ, I have not read Stuart Munro-Hays' book, but it sounds very interesting. I am not surprised about the Orthodox King. I imagine that Orthodoxy was rather more open to the East than the Roman Church.

Anonymous said...


The examples cited are often Pope Gelasius disapproving of women being ordained, Ambrose's conversations with Bishop Atto of Vercelli, and the council of Laodecia, prohibiting female presidents, as examples that women were ordained.


Alice C. Linsley said...

Well, there's your answer. Neither the East nor the West has ever approved of women priests.

Salaam said...

Kaleb was a non-Chalcedonian (today's Ethiopian Orthodox). Orthodoxy was into Ethiopia either by the Ethiopian eunuch or St Frumentius in the 4th century, depending on whom you believe.

Alice C. Linsley said...

The roots of the Faith are indeed very deep and very ancient in Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.

CJ said...

Hi Salaam,

Saint Elesbaan is venerated in the Eastern Orthodox church:

Kepha said...

The Ainu of Sharki Turkistan (Xinjiang to its Chinese colonizers) learned circumcision the way almost all the other peoples of the area learned it: Islam.

Check it out in Ethnologue. The Turkistan Ainu (not to be confused with the Ainu of Hokkaido and Sakhalin) speak a Turkic language akin to Uzbek and modern Uighur, and were long classed as Uighur by the Chinese authorities.

Further, just because a people lives within the current borders of China does not mean that they are connected to the Hua-Xia (华夏) culture of the Central Plain (中原).

Alice C. Linsley said...

Yes, Kepha. And we must not overlook the influence of ancient Horite and early Vedic tradition on the people of Sharki as both made their way into that region. Sharki is a variant of Sarki, which means ruler-priest in Afro-Asiatic languages. At this point it is difficult it unravel the traditions.

Alice C. Linsley said...

The Ainu you call "Turkistan" are the Ainu of northwest China. They live in the region of Tian. Tian is also the oldest known name for the Supreme Creator in China. Ti-an means the Most High God of the Ainu.