The Star (Nairobi)

30 January 2013

East Africa: Archaeologists Unearth Evidence of Early Chinese Links to East Africa

Research has unearthed evidence of Chinese trade links with East Africa dating back to 500 years ago on Manda island in the Lamu archipelago.

The research was conducted jointly five institutions headed by Prof Chapurukha Kusimba.

The research findings at Manda and Mtwapa have revised early models that proposed migration as the primary catalyst for regional, cultural transformations.

Institutions involved in the research are the Field Museum of Natural History-Chicago, University of Illinois, Pwani University-Kilifi and National Museums of Kenya

Prof Kusimba from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois yesterday said excavations conducted between December 18 last year and January 25 yielded" a rare Chinese coin" believed to have been in use between 1406 and 1426 during the reign of Chinese Emperor Yongle.

"The find is of great historical importance, we located at least two generations of towns below the last one abandoned during the early Ming dynasty during the reign of Emperor Yongle..colleagues in China have already correctly identified the coin and we are all excited about the find, radiocarbon dates will be due in soon " he said.

The anthropologist said: the coin was cast by one of the imperial mints for use as standard currency by Emperor Yongle who sent the eunuch Admiral Zheng He to explore the Indian Ocean-it is wonderful to have an artifact that may prove he came to Kenya. The coin will be preserved the National Museum in Nairobi.

Others in the team research are Prof Sloan Williams from the University of Illinois, Prof Janet Monge from Pennsylvania, Prof Allan Morris from Cape Town University in South Africa, Prof Zhou Tiequenne from China and Mohammed Mchulla from Fort Jesus- National Museums of Kenya, Mombasa.

Students from Pwani University and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago also took part in the excavations that also yielded human remains and other artifacts that date back to the same period as the coin.

Speaking to journalists at his Kimilili home in Bungoma, Prof Kusimba explained that 'it is obvious trade played an important part role in the development of Manda-it linked diverse peoples and communities in an network on interactions that had a huge impact in advancement of daily life.

"Archaeologists and Historians have documented evidence of biological, cultural, linguistic. commercial and technical communication between cultures that are traceable far betond the Middle Holocene," he argued.

The scholar expressed hope that the finding will play a crucial role in showing how market-based exchange and urban centred political economies arise plus how they may be operationalized archaeologically through complimentary application of biological, lingusitic and historical methodologies.

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