A joint expedition of scientists led by Dr. Chapurukha Kusimba of The Field Museum and Sloan Williams of the University of Illinois at Chicago found the 600-year-old Chinese coin, a small disk of copper and silver with a square hole in the center so it could be worn on a belt. He said it was issued by Emperor Yongle of China who reigned from 1403 to 1425 during the Ming Dynasty. Yongle, who began construction of China's Forbidden City, was interested in political and trade missions to East Africa and sent Admiral Zheng He, also known as Cheng Ho, to explore its shores.
"Zheng He was, in many ways, the Christopher Columbus of China," said Kusimba, Curator of African Anthropology at The Field Museum. "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," Kusimba added.
That relationship between China and East Africa ceased soon after Yongle's death when successive Chinese rulers banned foreign expeditions, which paved the way for European explorers to dominate the Age of Discovery and expand their countries' empires. While the Portuguese were the first Europeans to explore current-day Kenya with Vasco da Gama having visited Mombasa, a key port for ivory, in 1498, modern European exploration of Kenya didn't start until 1844 when two German missionaries, Johan Ludwig Krapf and Joahnnes Rebmann came in an attempt to introduce Christianity.
The island of Manda, off the Kenyan northern coast, was home to an advanced civilization from about 200AD to 1430AD, when it was abandoned and never inhabited again. Nevertheless, trade played an important role in the island's development, something the 600-year-old coin found may show.
Scientists from Kenya, Pennsylvania and Ohio also participated in the expedition, finding human remains and other artifacts predating the coin.
Van Hoven, Jason. 2013. "600-Year-Old Coin Found: Finding Proves China, East Africa Traded Before Europe Explored". International Science Times. Posted: March 14, 2013. Available online: http://www.isciencetimes.com/articles/4697/20130314/600-year-old-coin-found-china-manda.htm