as-Sikka السكة
The Online Journal of The Islamic Coins Group 
as-Sikka is a peer reviewed publication
ISSN 1496-4414 

2002AD / 1422-23AH        Vol. 4

 

Seventeenth century Islamic coins found on the Shores of Devon
Zaineb Latif

In 1995, a team of unsuspecting amateur divers happened upon a remarkable discovery off the shores of Salacombe, Devon (South West England), a pretty little town, popular with sailors and divers. The Salacombe Cannon site had been discovered fifteen years earlier and was historically known for the abandoned canons that ships dumped there, a frequent resort for ships in trouble.

On cursory inspection the area spanning 300 feet of seabed was scattered with uninteresting bits and pieces such as anchors, cannons, and decomposing metal, but as they delved deeper into the gullies, one of the team found a gold ingot trapped between the rocks. After gradual investigation, the team brought up gold coins, jewellery, and pottery.

The collection, now on display at the British Museum, consists of 400 gold Islamic coins, ingots, pieces of jewellery and pottery. The Museum acquired it through donations from the British Museum Friends, The National Art Collections Fund, and the Brook Sewell Fund. The Museum worked closely with the divers, especially the curator of Islamic coins, Venetia Porter. According to experts working for the British Museum, the coins where struck during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries CE by the dynasty of the Sa’dian Sharifs ruling Morocco at the time. The ruler, Ahmad Al Mansur (1578-1603), or ‘Al Dhahabi’ –'The Golden One', struck more than a hundred coins that were found on the wreck. Some of the coins were found to be split, and support the theory that the merchant had obtained the gold collection to melt it down.

The ship’s identity is still unresolved, as it has not been found. Theories are that it may have been an English ship, or maybe a Dutch vessel (due to a single Friesland copper found amongst the trove). Another theory is that it may have been a Barbary pirate ship.

This is the first time that such a large collection of Islamic gold coins have been found in England and the collection being of such a huge amount from the same dynasty allows for the British Museum to achieve extensive research into Sharifian coinage for the first time. The jewellery that was found with the coins also gives them dating parameters that previously had been unavailable.

The find gives us the opportunity to glance into history at the time of Queen Elizabeth’s rule, when trade between England and Morocco had been thriving and relations were excellent. English Merchants where eager to do business with the Muslims as they brought much to the country.

 

First published in: The Muslim News - Issue 137, Friday 29 September 2000 - 1 Rajab 1421

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