Muscat: It seems that five copper coins with Arabic inscriptions and found in northern Australia could rewrite that country's history. If researchers succeed in substantiating their findings, the history of Australia, dating to 1606, will have to be rewritten to include an Arab connection, possibly with an Omani twist.
Researchers claim the five coins, unearthed in 1944 by World War II soldier Maurie Isenberg while stationed on the Wessel Islands, are thought to date back to as early as the 900AD and are believed to have originated in Africa, which proves that seafarers from East Africa, Arabia, India and the Spice Islands had "discovered" Australia much earlier than Dutch explorers in 1606 and James Cook in 1700.
Researcher Dr Ian McIntosh, Director of International Partnerships at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI) and an adjunct Professor of Anthropology, calls the coins an "extraordinary find that challenges our myth of isolation".
He said the five coins are at least 1,100 to 1,200 years old, with one coin possibly being even older.
"They (the coins) are from the east African city of Kilwa itself — an island off modern-day Tanzania which was a fabled place — the most prosperous city on Africa's eastern coast for hundreds of years till it was brought down by the Portuguese," said Dr McIntosh, who is planning to lead a team of 10 people, including traditional landowners and sea rangers, to the site of the discovery in July.
"While common in that area, they have only been found elsewhere on a few occasions — once in the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, in Oman on the Arabian Peninsula and then the five here on the Australian coast."
In 1513, when the Kilwa Sultanate was overthrown by the Portuguese and fragmented into smaller states, many of them became protectorates of the Sultanate of Oman. Kilwa used to be a trading port with links to India from the 13th to 16th century.
The region is now a World Heritage ruin on an island off Tanzania. According to historians, the Omani presence spanned the coast of Tanzania. Until Tanzania's independence in 1964, Omani descendants ruled in Zanzibar, a now semi-autonomous region of Tanzania.
The cultural lines separating the Omanis and "Zanzibaris", as all Africans were called in Oman, disappeared and has given way to a shared culture solidified in deep economic and religious ties.
Even while planning to start his expedition, McIntosh says: "Multiple theories have been put forward by noted scholars, and the major goal is to piece together more of the puzzle. Is a shipwreck involved? Are there more coins? All options are on the table, but only the proposed expedition can help us answer some of these perplexing questions."