Saturday, 16 March 2013

Zheng Ho, It's Off to Manda We Go

It is actually Zheng He not Zheng Ho, but it does not sound as catchy in the title!...we'll talk more on Zheng He in a moment. For now, picture yourself here...

Manda Bay, Africa
It is pretty isn't it? Azure blue waters, palm trees, pristine white beaches?  Hot sands and coral reefs? Sounds like a great place to go doesn't it? Well, in the early fifteenth century the Chinese thought so too, although it is not until now that we realise they had been there.

The island, Manda, is a part of the Lamu Archipelago, Kenya, and can be found approximately 320 kilometres (200 miles) north east of Mombasa. It has a colourful history which includes a role as a trading port from 200AD to 1430AD.
On the island of Manda in December 2012, and on the first day of excavations, a team of Archaeologists led by the University of Illinois in Chicago, discoverd a 600 year old coin. Likely worn on the belt, it is a lovely little coin of copper and silver with a square hole in the centre.
The clear and well preserved Chinese writing cast upon its surface declares it a coin of  Emperor Yongle, the third Emperor of the Ming Dynasty who is perhaps best known for beginning construction of The Forbidden City.
Considering its age and the climate it had lain hidden in all that time, it truly is surprising the condition is so good. After all, copper does not hold up well around alkalines (salt water) and acid. Elements found in abundance in environments such as Manda Island.

15th Century Chinese Coin Found on Manda
 This single coin, if proven authentic, could tell much about the history of the area. Unravelling the theories on Chinese connections to the Indian Ocean and the East Coast of Africa and what trading there was between China and these nations long before Europeans came on the scene.
The coin may also provide evidence that the famous Chinese Eunuch, Zheng He (sometimes also known as Cheng Ho) had been there in the early to mid Fifteenth century.

Admiral Zheng He, who commanded the Chinese Navy, had been on many voyages of discovery in the name of Emperor Yongle. It would be very illuminating for historians if he could be linked to Manda or proved that he had been there in person, but anyone following the story of this find will have to wait until they can finish the chemical analysis at The Field Museum in Chicago.  It is this analysis that will provide final details on this coins origins.

- MM

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