Puzzle over African coins reveals Aboriginal rock art

Updated 01 October 2013

Puzzle over African coins reveals Aboriginal rock art

SYDNEY, Australia: Solving the mystery of how 900-year-old African coins ended up in remote Australia could not only recast the history of foreign contact Down Under, but shed light on Aboriginal rock art.
How the ancient Kilwa coins, believed to date from about 1100, came to be discovered on the Wessels Islands off the Northern Territory in 1944 has long posed questions about foreign visits to far off Australian shores.
Australian Ian McIntosh, a professor of anthropology at Indiana University-Purdue University in the United States, said rock art found on the islands — which includes one image which appears to show a type of European sailing vessel — could hold some clues.
“A big part of the next stage will be documenting, dating and interpreting (the art), together with indigenous peoples,” McIntosh told AFP from his home in Indiana.
The Kilwa coins were discovered lying in the sand by Royal Australian Air Force radar operator Maurie Isenberg during World War II when he was stationed on the island as the Pacific conflict raged.
He found nine coins in all, five African copper pieces and four Dutch coins of European origin which are not nearly as old.
Isenberg initially tried to sell the coins but was unsuccessful. He put them away for decades and it wasn’t until 1979 that he sent them to a museum for identification, along with a map showing where he had found them.
McIntosh said there were several theories on the coins, including that they were washed ashore after a shipwreck.
European sailors are known to have sailed the coast of Australia in the 1600s, but it wasn’t until captain James Cook landed in Sydney’s Botany Bay in 1770 that the British laid claim to the country.
The coins — believed to have originated in the medieval sultanate of Kilwa, an area which is now in Tanzania — have led to speculation that parts of northern Australia were visited by other mariners from as far away as the Middle East and Africa.
As McIntosh wrote in a recent paper for the journal “Australian Folklore,” in terms of the chain of events in the discovery, “the argument for the involvement of Kilwa traders and also the Portuguese is quite compelling.”
He notes the sea route from Kilwa in east Africa to Oman and then onto India, Malaysia and Australia’s close neighbor Indonesia was well established by the 1500s and probably for many hundreds of years before that.
McIntosh said a number of his team felt the coins had simply been washed ashore but admitted “we’re still toying with a whole bunch of ideas here.”
The academic says one explanation could be that a known Indonesian, a shipwreck survivor who lived his life on the Wessels Islands, could have brought the coins to the area. The coins, he speculates, may have represented this man’s “worldly wealth.”
McIntosh said an expedition he led in July to the site where the coins were discovered, which involved an intensive search in the harsh terrain, had not uncovered any further coins.
“Over the past couple of years we’ve developed a whole series of hypotheses to explain how those coins might have got from East Africa to northern Australia,” he said.
“The whole point of this initial site survey was to try and get enough evidence to push us in particular directions.”
What the researchers did uncover was the Aboriginal rock art and some potential evidence of shipwrecks — a not unlikely proposition given the dangerous reefs off the islands — in the form of a six-foot piece of timber from a boat.
McIntosh said the scientists would work with indigenous people to look at the art and see whether it matches any known ship types, adding that there were multiple stories of interaction in the past with “different people — black and white from somewhere else, not Aboriginal.”
For now the mystery remains.
“These coins probably remained in circulation for a couple of hundred years but only in the vicinity of East Africa, beyond that they didn’t have value,” McIntosh said, adding that other coins of this type had only been found in Zimbabwe and Oman.
“Nowhere else in the world have they been found, except for northern Australia,” said McIntosh. “Very unusual. That’s had everybody puzzled.”


Lebanese presenter Nadim Koteich on the ‘intellectual battle’ for regional culture

Updated 56 min 25 sec ago

Lebanese presenter Nadim Koteich on the ‘intellectual battle’ for regional culture

  • The broadcaster and satirist discusses his new show, media evolution, and surviving social media

DUBAI: “The material that appeals to the younger generation is less related to geopolitics and more related to values and emotions: The videos that expose lying, hypocrisy and contradictions, and the filthiness of the political elite across the board, are basically the hits among this generation.”

Sky News Arabia’s Nadim Koteich is talking about the radical shift in the Middle East’s media landscape in recent years. And the Lebanese presenter is well placed to do so, as a veteran journalist and broadcaster adapting to that shift. He is known for his biting satirical and political commentary which has proven hugely popular online. His new Monday-to-Friday show, “Tonight With Nadim,” is, he says, a natural progression of his previous work.

“Even the most traditional giants in the market are adopting digital strategies in terms of distribution and channeling the message,” he tells Arab News. “My show airs at midnight, but we post it completely on digital before it hits the screen. Before, the (TV) screen was sacred. Now, whenever it’s ready, just put it up. So what kind of short format is reaching the audience becomes a question of content.” Koteich’s 25-minute show aims to tackle the issues of the day via three segments: ‘Fake News’ — two or three quick stories that look to “decode” events and statements; ‘3D’ — a satirical take on the news; and ‘Serious Talk,’ which Koteich calls a “visualized editorial” of the day. It’s a format tailored for modern audiences.

Sky News Arabia’s Nadim Koteich is talking about the radical shift in the Middle East’s media landscape in recent years. Supplied

“(People under 30) don’t have the time, they don’t have the stamina, they don’t have the interest in just dry takes,” he says. “They have a love of skepticism when it comes to reading or following politics. They have so much more at their disposal than what conventional media is providing them.”

Younger viewers may prefer these “media nuggets,” but Koteich is keen to ensure that older ones are not ignored. It is less about age and more about ideology, he suggests.

“We are in an intellectual battle between two main projects in the region: Political Islam and national states,” Koteich, a fierce critic of Iran and Hezbollah, says. “The two audience camps are not divided not only by age groups, but also by communities. (Both have) young, old, and middle-aged groups. I think this dichotomy between age groups is a little misleading, because you need to talk about communities that are a hybrid of age groups.” Koteich, who has over 360,000 Twitter followers, has learned to tune out the background noise of social media over the years.

“You grow very thick skin,” he says. “You shouldn’t take (things) personally, because there is a collapse of context when it comes to social media and it’s made the conversation very poisonous. Because people are basically talking to a screen and the emotions are edited out in a very fierce, very dehumanizing way.” This loss of context can lead to the rise of conspiracy theories, he adds.

While Koteich’s politics are clear enough, he is prepared to dispassionately give his opinion on other presenters. Supplied

“Some of those who like my stance on Iran, are the same who get angry at me for criticizing Turkey, Erdogan or Hamas,” Koteich says. “They stereotype you as the person who is criticizing Iran and they are so happy, but when you attack Hamas, it awakens their sectarian tendencies. You shouldn’t get carried away by positive reactions, and you shouldn’t be taken down by negative reactions.”

While Koteich’s politics are clear enough, he is prepared to dispassionately give his opinion on other presenters.

“I’m a big fan of (‘Daily Show’ presenter) Trevor Noah, he had a big challenge to fill the shoes of Jon Stewart and he did that in a marvelous way. He has transformed the show, it’s much more loaded with racial analysis and issues as opposed to liberal- versus-conservative divisions,” he says, adding that he also admires Tucker Carlson of Fox News for the “clarity of his messages.”

Koteich sees the discussion of cultural issues, not just politics, as cause for optimism in the region, something to be explored in his and other programs. “If you look at what the UAE has done in terms of the new laws they have adopted, there’s this hidden dialogue between top-down and down-top that is evolving the legal climate,” he says. “With this happening, more and more space will be created for such discussions.”