Tuesday, November 1, 2011

340 Year Old Chinese Coin Found in Yukon

Interesting, but not earth-shattering.  It does show a continuation of a stream or flow of east/west contact, sometimes interrupted, that may go back as far as the Jomon Culture of Japan.

From The Vancouver Sun
 Artifact probably reached Canada by way of Russian traders
 By Randy Boswell, Postmedia News
November 1, 2011
A 340-year-old coin from China has been unearthed by archeologists near a planned Yukon gold mine, shedding fresh light on historic trade links between 17th-century Chinese merchants, Russian fur traders and first nations in the northwest corner of North America.

The coin is etched with traditional Chinese characters indicating it was minted during the Qing Dynasty reign of Emperor Kangxi, who ruled China from 1662 to 1722. But other information stamped on the money piece - which has a large central hole and four smaller ones - shows it was minted in China's Zhili province between 1667 and 1671.

The coin was discovered during a dig near Western Copper and Gold Corp.'s proposed Casino mine site about 300 kilometres northwest of Whitehorse. A heritage impact assessment for the Vancouver mining company was being conducted by Ecofor Consulting Ltd., based in B.C. and Yukon, when the find was made.

Ecofor team leader James Mooney spotted the metal object as a co-worker dug into the ground on a height of land south of Yukon River.

"I was less than a metre from our archeologist Kirby Booker when she turned over the first shovel of topsoil and I caught sight of something dangling from the turf," Mooney said in a statement. "It was the coin - the neatest discovery I've ever been part of."

Subsequent research revealed that it was just the third historic Chinese coin ever found in Yukon, though many more have been recovered at archeological sites in coastal Alaska.

"The coin adds to the body of evidence that the Chinese market connected with Yukon first nations through Russian and coastal Tlingit trade intermediaries during the late 17th and 18th centuries, and perhaps as early as the 15th century," the statement said.

Russian traders seeking furs from North American wildlife - including the sea otter, seal and beaver - are known to have exchanged tobacco, tea, kettles and other goods (some obtained from Chinese traders) with the Tlingit peoples of coastal Alaska.

The Tlingit, in turn, "controlled direct trade with the interior first nations" through the famed Chilkoot Pass, "one of the few entry points through the coastal mountains to the interior."

The location of the coin discovery along the prehistoric trade route - at "a likely place for a traveller to have rested or camped," according to Mooney - is now part of Selkirk First Nation territory in southwestern Yukon, a short distance from the U.S.-Canada border.

Apart from the traditional centre hole in the coin, the four smaller piercings could have been made in China, where it was common for coins to be nailed to gates or doorways for good luck, Mooney said.
On the other hand, first nations in Canada "might have made the extra holes to attach them to clothing," he noted.

"They used the coins as decoration or sewed them in layers like roofing shingles onto hide shirts to protect warriors from arrow impacts."

Paul West-Sells, president of Western Copper and Gold, said in the statement that, "it's satisfying that the work we're doing to support development of the Casino project is also contributing to the understanding of Yukon's heritage."

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