Ptolemy IV coin found in Queensland – Part 3

This posting is about the discovery of a Ptolemaic Egyptian coin that was reputed to have been made in 1910 by a farmer in coastal Queensland.  The story of its discovery and subsequent identification as evidence of secret visitors is set out in Part 1.  In Part 2 the coin evidence is described and analysed.  This analysis identified that there are, in fact, two different coins, and that there is a high likelihood that one is a modern forgery.  The implications of this are now considered as part of an overall assessment of the validity of the find.

Assessment of the claim

There are a number of considerations that have to be taken into account in assessing this claim.  First is the considerable time lag between discovery and reporting of the find, another is the third- and fourth-hand account of the discovery and lastly there is a real question about the coin itself.  Lets look at these in turn.

Firstly, there was a long gap between discovery and reporting.  The timeline of the discovery story is:

1910    Andrew Henderson finds coin while digging a fence line

1962    Henderson shows it to son of Joe Gilmore, who shows it to his father

1962    Henderson dies, aged 83

1963    Terry examines coin and talks to Gilmore, photographs the coin

196?    Gilmore has coin examined by member of Brisbane Numismatic Society

1965   Terry article in August issue of Walkabout

1966    Terry article in People

1967   Second Terry article in Walkabout, now convinced of authenticity of the coin

1978    Gilroy examines coin [possibly no longer in Gilmore family possession]

According to this account forty two years passed between the discovery of the coin and its story being passed on.  This has to be considered to be a significant length of time and one in which it is perfectly possible for forgetfulness or confusion to set in, let alone whimsy or mischief.  Henderson was a very old man and near death, and this also has to be considered relevant in the passing on of the story.  Because of this time lag there has to be suspicion about the accuracy of the details that were passed on by Henderson.  One particular aspect is the specificity of the date.  Henderson reputedly remembered that it was 1910, and that this was accurately reported by Joe Gilmore’s son to his father and then to Terry.  Without some corroboration, such as the fence being required because the land was sold in that year, question marks remain as to its accuracy after such a long period of time.

The discovery date is recognised by Terry [1967] as making it far less likely that the coin was brought back by troops from the Middle East.  However, the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 revolutionised the sea passage  between Britain and Australia, bringing travellers to Egypt, and created a boom in souvenir production.  This issue is an interesting and complex one and deserves consideration in more detail than can be offered here.  It is certain, however, that there was no shortage of real and fake Egyptian trinkets in Australian homes before the beginning of the Great War, enough to cause concern for antique dealers.

The second consideration is the chain of story-telling.  By the time Terry visited the area Henderson had died.  The story therefore passed from Henderson, possibly close to death and certainly very old, to the son of Joe Gibson and then to Gibson himself.  It is not clear if the Gibsons were close to Henderson, and whether the son was of an age where he either listened or grasped what he was told.  Terry had a third-hand telling of the coin’s discovery, which again puts some concern over the accuracy of the details.

The third issue is that of the two coins.  The coins shown by Terry and Gilroy both depict bronze Ptolemy IV coins of identical design but are demonstrably different coins.  Gilroy is unclear as to who had the coin in 1978 when he sought it out.  If it was Gilmore then it is hard to understand why he would have other identical coins in his possession that may have resulted in an innocent mix-up.

The fourth issue is particularly damning.  It is almost certain that the coin illustrated by Terry is a modern fake, as evidenced by the many visible casting bubbles on the surface of the coin.  It may have been found by Henderson in 1910 as he says, but it cannot be used as proof of an early Egyptian landing.  It remains open whether Henderson was the perpetrator or was himself a victim of fraud or hoax.  It is even possible for him to have faked the story of its discovery, but believing the coin to be genuine.

Taken together these four major concerns – the length of time between discovery and reporting, tits reliance on third-hand retelling of the recollections of a very old man, the surprising discovery that two different coins are put forward as evidence, and lastly that one of the coins is an almost certain fake  – all undermine any credibility it has as evidence in support of secret visitor advocates.  The apparent rich context that included tangible evidence in the form of a photo of the coin and its discoverer, and accompanying detail of who, when and where, are not as robust as they seem when considered carefully and, in fact, helped in the process of debunking the claim.

There are further avenues to be explored and they join a longish list being developed as part of the work plan for the thesis.  It may be possible to track down the coin[s] even now, and interview some who know parts of the story.  Michael Terry’s personal papers in the National Library of Australia need to be examined as well for correspondence from Gilmore, and Gilroy may also help resolve some of the inconsistencies.

Conclusion

Ultimately I need to decide whether this is a convincing piece of evidence.  On its own, regardless of when it was found, an Egyptian coin is too weak a trigger to say there is a lost Egyptian phase of Australia’s history.  This would be a big call and requires, as Carl Sagan said, big evidence.  The onus has to be on those who say that the orthodox history got it wrong to put up their alternative evidence to support their argument, and especially to expect it to undergo robust scrutiny.  The 1910 Ptolemy IV coin has far too many questions about it to be considered as good evidence in support of any claim for pre-Cook arrivals in Queensland.  While the actual story of its discovery remains uncertain, as does the issue of the two coins, it is the status of the coin illustrated by Terry as being a fake that means it cannot be accepted as evidence of anything.

Postscript

Since this was written, I have done more research in Terry’s private papers.  Go to Part IV to discover what I have found out.

References

Published references

Barnard, Charlotte [editor] 1987
The last explorer: the autobiography of Michael Terry, FRGS, FRGSA, ANU Press / Northern Territory Research Unit, Canberra.

Dewar, M. 2009
‘Michael Terry: the last explorer?’ Journal of Northern Territory History, 20, pp. 51-74.

Gilroy, R. 1978
‘Egyptians in Australia’, Paranormal and psychic Australian, vol. 3 [8], pp. 6-9, 29-31.

Gilroy, R. 1995
Mysterious Australia,   Nexus Publishing, Mapleton.

Gilroy, R. 2000
Pyramids of the Pacific: the unwritten history of Australia, URU Publications, Katoomba.

Gilroy, R. and H. Gilroy 2003
Mysterious Australia, URU Publications, Katoomba, 2nd edition.

Gilroy, R. 2011
[Extract from Chapter 20], Pyramids of destiny, http://www.mysteriousaustralia.com/pyramid-sequel/chapter20.html, accessed 20.1.2011.

Megaw, Vincent 1967
‘Archaeology, art, and Aborigines: a survey of historical sources and later Australian prehistory’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 53[4], pp. 272-294.

Terry, M. 1965
‘Did Ptolemy know of Australia?’ Walkabout, August 1965, pp. 30-31.

Terry, M. 1966
People, 23.3.1966  [not seen].

Terry, M. 1967
‘Australia’s unwritten history’, Walkabout, August 1967, pp. 19-23.

Internet

Awareness Quest 2011
‘Hidden bits of history – Australian archaeological anomalies’, http://www.awarenessquest.com/html/australian_archaeological_anom.html, accessed 20.1.2011.

Calgary Coin 2011
‘Reference guide: Fakes, forgeries and counterfeits – cast forgeries’,  http://www.calgarycoin.com/reference/fakes/cast.htm, accessed 20.1.2011.

Digital Historia Numorum 2011
‘Cyrenaica’, http://www.snible.org/coins/hn/cyrenaica.html, accessed 20.1.2011

Prokopov, I. 2011
‘Evidence of casting’, Forum ancient coins,  http://www.forumancientcoins.com/fakes/thumbnails.php?album=14, accessed 20.1.2011.

PtolemAE Project 2011
‘Ptolemaic bronze coin denomination series’, http://www.megagem.com/ancient/ptolemy_series.html, accessed 20.1.2011.

Treasure Enterprises 2011
‘Australian archaeology’, http://www.treasureenterprises.com/Miscellaneous/Archaeology_in_australia.htm, accessed 20.1.2011.

Figure sources

Figure 1.  Originally published in Terry [1966] and reproduced in Megaw [1967], from which this copy is taken.

Figure 2.  Originally published by Gilroy [1995].  This copy is copied from the Awareness Quest website.

Figure 3.  Detail of Figure 1 with additions by DG to show casting bubbles.

All figures have been included to assist describing my research on secret visitor claims and reviewing and critiquing evidence, which constitute fair dealing under S41 of the Australian Copyright Act 1968.

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