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14th century Chinese coin found in Africa

A brass coin dating back to the early 1400s has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of early East African history. [Thx Graham!]

In barely distinguishable relief, the team leader Professor Qin Dashu from Peking University’s archaeology department, read out the inscription: “Yongle Tongbao” – the name of the reign that minted the coin some time between 1403 and 1424.

“These coins were carried only by envoys of the emperor, Chengzu,” Prof Qin said.

“We know that smugglers would often take them and melt them down to make other brass implements, but it is more likely that this came here with someone who gave it as a gift from the emperor.”

And that poses the question that has excited both historians and politicians: How did a coin from the early 1400s get to East Africa, almost 100 years before the first Europeans reached the region?

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