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Australian Archaeology


Gone But Not Forgotten
Aug 7, 2001
Captain Cook's claim questioned by coin find
By Nick Squires in Sydney
Last Updated: 2:55am BST 31/08/2007

An archeologist claims to have found a 16th century European coin in a swamp on Australia’s east coast, raising new questions about whether Captain James Cook was beaten to the continent by the Spanish or Portuguese.

The silver coin, which is inscribed with the date 1597, was discovered by a group led by amateur archeologist Greg Jefferys.

A colleague was digging in the sand with a machete when he found the badly corroded coin on Sunday.

It was buried a few inches below the ground in the middle of snake-infested Eighteen Mile Swamp on North Stradbroke Island, Queensland.

If proved to be authentic it will lend weight to the theory that Spanish or Portuguese navigators ‘discovered’ Australia’s eastern seaboard centuries before Capt Cook claimed it for Britain when he landed at Botany Bay in 1770.

Spanish ships based in the Americas explored the Pacific extensively from the early 1500s in search of gold, spices and the fabled Great South Land. They ‘discovered’ the Solomon Islands in 1568 and islands comprising present-day Vanuatu in 1606.

In the same year, the Spanish navigator Luis Baez de Torres sailed through the strait which now bears his name, between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Mr Jefferys hopes the coin may lead him to the wreck of a 16th or 17th century ship rumoured to be lying beneath the swamp — the so-called ‘Stradbroke Galleon’.

The timber skeleton of the vessel was reportedly noted by a Queensland colonial secretary in the 1890s, and spotted by a Royal Australian Air Force pilot as he flew over the island during the Second World War.

Local legend has it that Aborigines living on the island between the wars found gold coins buried in the sand.

A map of the island published by Shell in the 1920s is marked "wreck of Spanish galleon". Mr Jefferys said the coin was unearthed close to where other historical artifacts, including a lead weight, a brass button and an antique Spanish-style dagger, have been discovered over the years.

"The coin is critical because it’s the only object which we can definitely date," he said yesterday [thurs]. "I’m pretty confident it’s genuine. There’s a mounting body of evidence that either the Spanish or the Portuguese reached Australia."

Ian Jempson, of the Queensland Maritime Museum, which has just held an exhibition of the Spanish exploration of the Pacific, said: "Certainly there are some artifact discoveries which indicate that the Spanish or Portuguese may have been here before Cook.

There’s been the suggestion that Cook drew on maps of Australia which had been drawn up by either the Spanish or Portuguese."

But other experts were skeptical. Andrew Viduka, a shipwreck expert from the Museum of Tropical Queensland, said: "It’s what we call a loose find — it’s an object that could have been put there by anyone at any time.

There’s no archeological context to it.

If it could be proven, it would be hugely exciting but at the moment you can’t infer anything from it." It has long been accepted that Dutch navigators sailed up Australia’s west coast in the 1600s, preceding Capt Cook on the eastern seaboard by nearly 200 years.

Earlier this year a book by an Australian journalist and historian claimed that a small Portuguese fleet charted much of Australia’s coast as early as 1522.

In his book Beyond Capricorn, Peter Trickett argued that a fresh analysis of 16th century charts showed that Portuguese adventurers had secretly discovered and mapped Australia and New Zealand.


All a storm in a tea-cup, really. Cook's claim to fame is not that he discovered Australia, but that he accurately charted it (and claimed it for Britain).

Secret Admiralty Instructions
The Secret Instructions provided that, in the event that he found the Continent, he should chart its coasts, obtain information about its people, cultivate their friendship and alliance, and annex any convenient trading posts in the King's name. Cook followed the coast of New Zealand (thereby debunking Abel Tasman's theory that it formed part of the southern continent), then turned west, reaching the southern coast of New South Wales on 20 April 1770. He sailed north, landing at Botany Bay one week later, before continuing to chart the Australian coast all the way north to the tip of Queensland. There, on Possession Island, just before sunset on Wednesday 22 August 1770, he declared the coast a British possession..
Actually, Cook's claim to fame is a bit more general than that. He did a lot of important work for the Navy, and a lot of exploring beyond Australia.

Besides, if the Spanish or Portuguese "discovered" Australia (the Aborigines found it first), they never made a claim on it, or did anything with it, which is unusual for them. Consider at the same time, they were pillaging South America and trying to convert its native peoples to Christianity.

Like they said, there's no archaeological context for the coin. It could have been dropped there in the 16th Century, or a week earlier (the corrosion might suggest it had been there longer than a week, however). If they find the alleged galleon, then they'll have proof. Until then it's just wishful thinking.
Yes Capt'n Cook was a very bright fellow, but that Banks dude! Far more impressive blighter!

...And did someone say 'claim?'

I really hope they find that galleon! Hola!

REMEMBER when you were taught that Australia was discovered by James Cook in 1770 who promptly declared it "terra nullius" and claimed it for the British throne?

Turns out that could be completely and utterly wrong. [That is most certainly completely wrong as the Dutch were here before Cook - nevermind the Aboriginies - but the truth has never bothered the Murdoch press much... :roll:]

Five copper coins and a nearly 70-year-old map with an "X" might lead to a discovery that could rewrite Australia's history.

Australian scientist Ian McIntosh, currently Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University in the US, is planning an expedition in July that has stirred up the archaeological community.

The scientist wants to revisit the location where five coins were found in the Northern Territory in 1944 that have proven to be 1000 years old, opening up the possibility that seafarers from distant countries might have landed in Australia much earlier than what is currently believed.

Back in 1944 during World War II, after Japanese bombers had attacked Darwin two years earlier, the Wessel Islands - an uninhabited group of islands off Australia's north coast - had become a strategic position to help protect the mainland.

Australian soldier Maurie Isenberg was stationed on one of the islands to man a radar station and spent his spare time fishing on the idyllic beaches.

While sitting in the sand with his fishing-rod, he discovered a handful of coins in the sand.

He didn't have a clue where they could come from but pocketed them anyway and later placed them in a tin.

In 1979 he rediscovered his "treasure" and decided to send the coins to a museum to get them identified.

The coins proved to be 1000 years old.

Still not fully realising what treasure he held in his hands, he marked an old colleague's map with an "X" to remember where he had found them.

The discovery was apparently forgotten again until anthropologist McIntosh got the ball rolling a few months ago.

The coins raise many important questions:

For a start, if James Cook wasn't the first person to discover Australia, who was?

How did 1000-year-old coins end up on a remote beach on an island off the northern coast of Australia?

Did explorers from distant lands arrive on Australian shores way before the James Cook declared it "terra nullius" and claimed it for the British throne in 1770?

We do know already that Captain Cook wasn't the first white seafarer to step on Australia's shores.

In 1606 a Dutch explorer named Willem Janszoon reached the Cape York peninsula in Queensland, closely followed a few years late by another Dutch seafarer Dirk Hartog.

And the Spaniard Luiz Vaez de Torres discovered the strait between Papua New Guinea and Australia, which was later named Torres Strait in his honour.

However, none of these explorers recognised that they had discovered the famed southern continent, the "terra australis incognita", which was depicted as a counterweight to the known land masses of the northern hemisphere on many world maps of the day.

McIntosh and his team of Australian and American historians, archaeologists, geomorphologists and Aboriginal rangers say that the five coins date back to the 900s to 1300s.

They are African coins from the former Kilwa sultanate, now a World Heritage ruin on an island off Tanzania.

Kilwa once was a flourishing trade port with links to India in the 13th to 16th century.

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

The copper coins were the first coins ever produced in sub-Saharan Africa and according to McIntosh have only twice been found outside Africa: once in Oman and Isenberg's find in 1944.

The old coins might not be of monetary value, but for archaeologists they are priceless, says McIntosh.

Archaeologists have long suspected that there may have been early maritime trading routes that linked East Africa, Arabia, India and the Spice Islands even 1,000 years ago.

Or the coins could've washed ashore after a shipwreck.

When Isenberg discovered the copper coins he also found four coins that originated from the Dutch East India Company - with one dating back to 1690 raising memories of those early Dutch seafarers that stepped on Australian shores well before Cook.

McIntosh wants to answer some of these mysteries during his planned expedition to the Wessel Islands in July.

And it's not only about revisiting the beach that was marked with an "X" on Isenberg's map.

He will also be looking for a secret cave Aboriginal legends talk about.

This cave is supposed to be close to the beach where Isenberg once found the coins and is said to be filled with doubloons and weaponry of an ancient era.

Should McIntosh and his team find what they are looking for, the find might not only be priceless treasure, but relics that could rewrite Australian history.

Read more: http://www.news.com.au/technology/sci-t ... z2U4pwJ82d
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I posted about this in 2007!
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I find it more likely that these coins might have landed here via some stranded sailors of the Dutch East Indies company. After all, coins often were in circulation for hundreds of years. if they go back to dig, I;d be surprised if they wouldn't find some VOC related artifacts there - maybe even a ship wreck.
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I've always really liked the theory that the ancient Egyptians discovered/had a colony in Australia.

It's a load of crap but it's still really interesting. There's even an amateur archaeologist (whose name escapes me right now) who claims to have found loads of evidence about it. Do we have a thread on this anywhere? If not I might have to start one :lol:
Made me think back to the highly contentious '1421 The Year China Discovered the World'. Although trade between China, India, Arabia and Africa is not in doubt.
I've decided to create this thread because - well, there wasn't one and I never know where to stick threads about Australian finds. Maybe some kindly mod can merge the "1000 year old coin" thread in there too.

White man's skull has Australians scratching heads

A centuries-old skull found in northern New South Wales in late 2011, in
Canberra. The skull of a white man is raising questions about whether
Captain James Cook really was the first European to land on the
country's east coast.

The centuries-old skull of a white man found in Australia is raising
questions about whether Captain James Cook really was the first European
to land on the country's east coast.

The skull was found in northern New South Wales in late 2011, and police
initially prepared themselves for a gruesome murder investigation.

But scientific testing revealed that not only was it much older than
expected, but possibly belonged to a white man born around 1650, well
before Englishman Cook reached the eastern seaboard on the Endeavour in

"The DNA determined the skull was a male," Detective Sergeant John
Williamson told The Daily Telegraph.

"And the anthropologist report states the skull is that of a Caucasoid aged anywhere from 28 to 65."

Australian National University expert Stewart Fallon, who carbon-dated
the skull, pulling some collagen from
the bone as well as the enamel on a tooth, said he was at first shocked
at the age of the relic.

"We didn't know how old this one was, we assumed at first that it was
going to be a very young sample," he told AFP.

"When we first did it we weren't really thinking about people coming to
Australia and things like until we started to look at the dates and say,
'Oh, that's becoming intriguing'."

Read all at the link: http://phys.org/news/2013-07-white-skul ... lians.html
The Fortean Archaeology column in the latest FT has a fascinating round up of many apparently chronologically impossible objects found around Australia.
White men were already in the Americas at that time , so I suppose there could be a faint chance of a corpse making its way across the Pacific to be washed up on the Australian coast . Also the Portuguese were visiting Australia and was actually discovered by the Dutch in 1606 , but nobody really put any interest in the place till the Brits arrived and took over.
gerardwilkie said:
White men were already in the Americas at that time , so I suppose there could be a faint chance of a corpse making its way across the Pacific to be washed up on the Australian coast . Also the Portuguese were visiting Australia and was actually discovered by the Dutch in 1606 , but nobody really put any interest in the place till the Brits arrived and took over.

True - but they were on the West Coast and this skull was found on the East Coast. And that's a pretty looooong walk... Especially for a European without any survival skills in the Outback.
The Dutch charted the nort and western coasts of Australia , but they could have indeed visited the east coast too - Abel Tasman managed to land in New Zealand in 1642 , a date which fits in with the skull.
Who was that English pirate guy who visited in 1600

was it Dampier??
Kondoru said:
Who was that English pirate guy who visited in 1600

was it Dampier??

William Dampier was often operating in the role of privateer / buccaneer, and he did indeed provide at least some of the earliest(?) exploratory results from Australia. However, he didn't initially arrive there until the late 1680's.
Just make sure you get the right one. There were two William Dampiers from the same town born about the same time, one of whom landed in Australia, and the other didn't. As a result many textbooks used pictures of the wrong one.
Zilch5 said:
A centuries-old skull found in northern New South Wales in late 2011, in
Canberra. The skull of a white man is raising questions about whether
Captain James Cook really was the first European to land on the
country's east coast.

Why are they concerned about him being the first European to land on the east coast? Is their a confirmed prior landing on another coast?
Another great book on the topic.

Batavia's Graveyard: The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Led History's Bloodiest Mutiny (2002) is a book by Welsh author Mike Dash about the Dutch ship Batavia, shipwrecked in 1629 on a small island in the Houtman Abrolhos atoll off the western shore of Australia

I think this best fits here.

Mining firm desecrated Australia Aboriginal site

File photo: part of the Two Women Sitting Down sacred site, including the Horse's Head rocky outcrop, top left, 25 June 2004

A distinctive feature of the Two Women Sitting Down site was the rocky outcrop called the Horse's Head (top left).

A mining company has been convicted of desecrating an Aboriginal site in Australia's Northern Territory.

Mining firm OM Manganese was found guilty on Friday - the first time a company has been successfully prosecuted in Australia for desecration of a sacred site.

The site is known as Two Women Sitting Down and is at Bootu Creek, north of Tennant Creek.

OM Manganese was fined A$150,000 ($134,000; £88,000).

Peter Toth, CEO of OM Holdings, which owns OM Manganese, said: "The company never intended to harm, damage or disrespect the sacred site."

"We sincerely regret the damage and the hurt caused and I unreservedly apologise to the site's custodians and traditional owners," he said.

'Dreaming story'
Two Women Sitting Down is associated with Australia's Kunapa people.

OM Manganese was accused of causing the collapse of part of the site, including a distinctive rocky outcrop known as the Horse's Head, in July 2011.

Prosecutors told the Darwin Magistrates Court that the company performed explosive blasting close to the site to break up ground, Australian broadcaster ABC reported.

The company was permitted to mine in the area, but was advised to steer clear of sacred sites, and was warned in early 2011 that cracks were appearing in rocks at the Bootu Creek site, the broadcaster said.

Dr Ben Scambary, chief executive officer of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, said that the site was of great significance to Australia's indigenous people.

"This site... relates to a dreaming story about a marsupial rat and a bandicoot who had a fight over bush tucker [native Australian bush food]," he said.

"As the creation ancestors fought, their blood spilled out, turning the rock a dark-red colour that is now associated with manganese."

Kunapa community representative Gina Smith said: "It will always remain a sacred site to us, but it has been ruined and we don't know what to do because this has never happened to the old people.

"It has been there for thousands of years as part of our culture and our story."

Indigenous Australians believe the land is the mother of creation, and is a living, breathing mass full of secrets and wisdom, the BBC's Phil Mercer in Sydney reports.
But everything is sacred to the natives, isn't it?

Including the idea that nothing should be permitted to change?

(don't these guys use manganese products these days too?)
Well, no, not "everything" is sacred to them. There are certain sites that have specific significance. It even happens here in Sydney - water and cable companies blithely drilling through or digging up Aboriginal rock art and other "sacred" sites.
Early civilisation sleeping giant waits off north west coast
August 1st, 2013 in Space & Earth / Earth Sciences

Early civilisation sleeping giant waits off north west coast

The untold story of how ancient Australians once walked a vast submerged sand plain dissected by rivers and rugged outcrops awaits discovery off WA's north-west coast, according to a leading expert from The University of Western Australia.

Dr Ingrid Ward has spent the last eight years in the UK, where the creation of three-dimensional reconstructions of the submerged landscape of Europe's North Sea has helped bring to life a wealth of existing and new archaeological finds and fossils, including Palaeolithic hand-axes, Mesolithic bone and antler implements, and fossil mammoth, elk and other fauna. Yet almost nothing is known about the submerged landscapes of the southern hemisphere.

Now based at UWA, Dr Ward is confident that there are equally amazing landscapes waiting to be discovered 20km off the north-west Australian coastline and 30m below sea level around the Dampier Archipelago.
High-resolution surveys for oil and gas development reveal evidence for past coastal lagoons, salt marshes and river channels: environments which together may have combined to support Aboriginal communities. These surveys also reveal drowned and hardened sand dunes which could contain artefacts linked to Aboriginal cultures more than 7000 years ago.

Sea levels have risen over the past 20,000 years so that old coastal hills became surrounded by sea and cut-off from the mainland. Lowlands that once connected hills became permanently submerged. Similar changes occurred in many other parts of the world, and such submerged landscapes have been explored in Europe and the Mediterranean, leading to astounding archaeological discoveries.

"Australia has the advantage of having an extraordinary amount of living history still available in rock art and knowledge handed down by Indigenous elders," Dr Ward said. "Ultimately what needs to be done is to create a 3-D visualisation of what the landscape looked like before it was submerged and to link this with the traditional knowledge and archaeological evidence on the islands and adjacent mainland so we can determine how people lived. With high-resolution airborne surveying, an initial map of the area could be obtained within weeks.

"WA is unique in having one of the most stable coastlines in the world, relatively uncomplicated by tectonics, so might produce a record of sea-level change that goes back far beyond 10,000 years," Dr Ward said. "It's mainly through oil and gas industry development that we are able to gather the information to find out about these things. We want to collaborate further with industry and indigenous communities to help us to begin to understand more about past human use of Western Australia's submerged landscapes."
Provided by University of Western Australia

"Early civilisation sleeping giant waits off north west coast." August 1st, 2013. http://phys.org/news/2013-08-early-civi ... -west.html
ramonmercado said:
Early civilisation sleeping giant waits off north west coast
August 1st, 2013 in Space & Earth / Earth Sciences

Early civilisation sleeping giant waits off north west coast


"Early civilisation sleeping giant waits off north west coast." August 1st, 2013. http://phys.org/news/2013-08-early-civi ... -west.html
Haven't quite grasped the meaning of the word, 'civilisation', in this one, I fear.


Civilization or civilisation generally refers to polities which combine three basic institutions: a ceremonial centre, a system of writing, and a city. The term is used to contrast with other types of communities including hunter-gathers, nomadic pastoralists and tribal-villages. Civilizations have more densely populated settlements, characterized by a ruling elite, and subordinate urban and rural populations, which, by the division of labour, engage in intensive agriculture, mining, small-scale manufacture and trade. Civilization concentrates power, extending man's control over both nature, and over other human beings.[1]

No offence to indigenous Australians, or their ancestors, but a hunter-gatherer culture, no matter how successful, or sophisticated, wouldn't count as a civilisation. They may well have had ceremonial centres, even a system of pictorial writing, but no 'cities' to speak of.
If this was on FB someone would accuse you of being racist!

I take your point, unless there was an advanced culture in the region unknown to history.
No, factually he's correct. Politically, he's correct. It's true the first australians didn't build cities. "Advanced culture" however is politically loaded. They upheld a continuous system of social complexity and environmental understanding that enabled them to maintain their culture for tens of thousands of years until civilisation came rolling in. Civilisation challenged and then destroyed their traditions within 100 years or less. The gross power of civilisation steamrolled their entire way of life and left them a reduced and diminished people. There was war, but it was very one-sided and the horror of their suffering was swept under the rug and promptly forgotten. Guns, germs and steel. They withered very quickly. Easy win. Civilisation 1, HGers 0. 'High' culture? They didn't even see that. The vanguard of the gun brutes ensured that there was no legitimate resistance remaining when the civilised people followed up and settled the landscape in peace. There's pretty much where it remains to this day. Their high culture is gone, but they as a distinct group of cultures survive and endure, despite civilisation and also because of it. It was very easy for civilisation to wipe their story from the land, but enough knowledge of their prior understanding remained that some of us were able to learn how to read the traces, and their heritage is written all over the country. It is still there for those with eyes to see.

But no cities.