Medieval Mint in Canada Challenges Story of North American Discovery

A gold coin discovered in Newfoundland could ‘rewrite the history books’. This coin directly challenges the common story of the discovery of North America and suggests that Europeans were in Newfoundland earlier than currently believed.

Exciting discovery of medieval coin in Canada

This week, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador issued a press release saying the controversial gold coin was found this summer by Edward Hynes, a local amateur historian. Heralded as the oldest English coin ever discovered in Canada, this quarter precious was minted in London sometime between 1422 AD and 1427 AD, when it was valued at one shilling and eight pence, about $81 today.

Because this medieval coin was discontinued around 1470 AD, its discovery on a Canadian beach presents archaeologists with “a historical puzzle.” Is this coin the smoking gun that proves European occupation in North America sooner than currently thought?

A Henry VI quarter noble, a medieval coin excavated in Canada that was originally minted in London between 1422 and 1427. ( Government of Newfoundland and Labrador )

The Great North American Discovery Question

Medieval Icelandic sagas said that Leif Erikson rediscovered North America in AD 1001, but archaeologists always ignored these stories as mythological. However, that all changed in 1978 when archaeologists discovered an 11th-century Norse settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in Canada.

According to generally accepted history, the next European explorer arrived in Newfoundland in 1497 AD. This was John Cabot, the Italian navigator credited with the rediscovery of Newfoundland. However, the newly discovered medieval gold coin found in Canada predates John Cabot’s journey by 70 years.

Jamie Brake, a Canadian provincial archaeologist CBC news that according to the accepted historical narrative, at the time this coin was minted “people in England didn’t know about Newfoundland or North America,” which is why the discovery is “so exciting.”

The researcher added that evidence of a pre-16th-century occupation of the New World would be “quite astonishing and very important in this part of the world.” This was a modest statement, because in reality, such a discovery would require a rewrite of history, discredit John Cabot, and tell an entirely new origin story.

The oldest English medieval coin discovered in Canada

This quarter precious gold coin dates from the reign of King Henry VI in the 1420s AD. It thus predates the “half groat” coin unearthed last year from the beach at the Cupids Cove Plantation Provincial Historic Site, which dates back to the 1490s.

The Henry VII

The Henry VII “half groat”, or two-penny piece, minted in Canterbury, England sometime between 1493 and 1499 and discovered at the Cupids Cove Plantation Provincial Historic Site in Newfoundland, Canada in 2021. ( Government of Newfoundland and Labrador )

As this is the oldest coin ever discovered in Canada, the location where it was discovered has not been disclosed for security reasons. Rem told CBC news that everyone involved is “very vague about the location”. However, he did reveal that it “was found on a beach near a recorded archaeological site dating back to the 18th century. .”

According to Paul Berry, the former curator of the Bank of Canada’s Currency Museum, the mystery of how the medieval coin got to the spot where it was discovered “is likely to persist for some time.” Berry said that while the coin was probably out of circulation when it was lost, “that doesn’t help provide answers as to how it got there.”

While Paul Berry suggests it was dropped “after” it was out of circulation, archaeologist Brake suggests it may have been dropped by someone “before” the Italian explorer Cabot arrived here in AD 1479. Who, then, would have dropped the gold coin before Cabot’s official discovery of North America in 1497 AD?

Statue of John Cabot gazing across Bonavista Bay from Cape Bonavista, the place where, according to lore, he first saw land on the northeast coast of the island of Newfoundland.  (Evan T. Jones / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Statue of John Cabot gazing across Bonavista Bay from Cape Bonavista, the place where, according to lore, he first saw land on the northeast coast of the island of Newfoundland. (Evan T Jones / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Who Rediscovered North America? Elite explorers or fishermen?

According to Heritage of Newfoundland In 1481 AD, English merchant John Day sailed on one of Bristol’s two ships, the George and the Trinity, in search of the mythical island of Brasile. Supposedly loaded with salt, the two boats are suspected to have discovered Newfoundland’s cod-filled Grand Banks, one of the world’s richest fishing grounds.

In a letter written by John Day to the anonymous “Lord Grand Admiral,” who many believe was Christopher Columbus, the merchant said that the land John Cabot discovered was “the mainland the men of Bristol found” in 1481. And so far why Day has not announced that it is about his discovery, it is thought that he has tried to keep the whereabouts of the abundant fishing grounds a secret for as long as possible.

Would any of the hundreds of Bristol merchants and navigators who sailed in the western sea before John Cabot have landed in Newfoundland? If so, maybe they bought something from a native merchant and left behind a gold coin? There are many questions, but for now, there’s a chance that this medieval coin is the smoking gun that provides evidence of pre-Cabot Europeans in North America.

Top image: both sides of the medieval coin found in Canada, a Henry VI quarter precious struck in London between 1422 and 1427. Source: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

By Ashley Cowie

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