All three of the coins predate the 1790 voyage of British Captain Meares, who sailed with Chinese craftsmen and a cargo of Chinese coins to set up a trading post at Yuquot (Friendly Cove) in Nootka Sound, B.C., and Vitus Bering, whose exploration in 1741 led to Russian settlement in what is now Alaska. It begs the question of whether these coins are evidence of a pre-contact aboriginal-trade network, connecting interior Athapaskans and coastal Chilkat Tlingit with the Pacific Rim.
“Since the coin has been identified as being minted during the Ming dynasty [1403–1424], and not Qing dynasty [1880– 1930], I don't have a problem in believing the coin could have been left by First Nations or was likely obtained as a result of aboriginal trading between coastal and interior groups,” explains archaeologist Keary Walde, who made the Beaver Creek discovery. “Did [the trading] occur in the 16th, 17th, 18th century, or later? Who knows? I am a strong supporter of aboriginal-trade networks throughout the archaeological past.”
However, Grant Keddie, Royal B.C. Museum’s archaeology curator, cautions that these isolated coins are too small a sample for conclusions.
“A single Ming dynasty coin would be statistically more likely to be from an earlier aboriginal-trade network based on the fact that Ming coins are very rare compared to Qing dynasty assemblages from the known historic-trade-period assemblages found in British Columbia,” he says. “It would seem likely, however, that older coins were making their way over long distances around the Pacific Rim. Japanese coins first appear in archaeological sites on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the 12th century.”
Walde says the pre-Columbian coin was misidentified as early 1900s by tourists of Chinese ancestry staying in the same hotel as their archaeology crew. It seemed plausible that Chinese placer miners left it behind when travelling through to the Chisana Gold Rush, from 1913 to the 1920s.
“There are caches of coins in the interior of B.C. found associated with the gold- rush period that were brought by Chinese miners, but only a few that are likely from an earlier period,” Keddie says.
Few records remain of Chinese miners trying their luck in the Klondike and Chisana Gold
Rush, possibly because they ended up as cooks and bartenders, Peggy D’Orsay explains. D’Orsay is a librarian with Yukon Archives and a contributor to the Asian Hidden History project. During the 1901 census, she says, “only one person was Chinese: Toney Yeehung worked as a cook in a mining camp on Upper Bonanza.” There is no evidence of Chinese labourers participating in the construction of the international White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, as most workers were European.