Thanks to the discovery numerous Portuguese chronicles, historians have always believed that it was Vasco Da Gama, the Portuguese explorer that sailed around Africa to India and back between 1497 and 1499, who first began trading with East Africa. However, the recent discovery of a rare coin in Kenya, may convince them to rethink that theory.
The 600-year old copper and silver disk that has a hole in the center possibly to be worn on a belt, was unearthed in early December 2012, on the very first day of a three-month dig conducted on the island of Manda, Kenya, by Charles Kusimba from Chicago's Field Museum and Sloan R. Williams from the University of Illinois.
Researchers believe that the coin, which was issued between 1403-1425 and bears the name of Emperor Yongle, head of the Ming Dynasty, proves that it was the Chinese, not the Portuguese who were the first to discover and trade with the eastern coast of Africa. They speculate that it may have been Commander Zheng He, who was known to have gone on several voyages to explore the lands bordering the Indian Ocean to try expand Chinese trade and political influence.
However, following Emperor Yongle's death, the relationship came to halt because the new leaders were not as forward thinking and banned all international trading. This, is what paved the way for European explorers like Vasco Da Gama and Christopher Columbus to discover new worlds and trade in goods like ivory and silk.
The coin is currently being authenticated by experts to ensure that it is indeed a genuine coin issued by the Chinese emperor. If it proves to be, the archeologists will head back to the Island at the end of this year, to see what other important information about the trading relationship between Europe and Asia they can dig up at what is believed to be the oldest site in Sub-Saharan Africa.