Roman coins dating from the reign of Constantine the great (272 A.D.–337 A.D) have been found in the ruins of a Japanese castle dating from around 1300—more than 20 years before European explorers first reached that island nation.
The coins were found in the ruins of Katsuren Castle, which is located near Uruma, Okinawa, the southernmost Japanese islands.
According to a report in the Japan Times, it is the first time such ancient European artifacts have been discovered in Japan.
The board of education in the city of Uruma said that the four copper coins would appear to have been acquired during Okinawa’s trade with China and Southeast Asia.
The find is a “precious historical material suggesting a link between Okinawa and the Western world,” the board of education said.
Each coin measures 1.6 to 2 cm. in diameter. The designs and patterns on both sides are unclear due to abrasion. X-ray analysis, however, revealed that the coins showed an image of Constantine I and a soldier holding a spear.
Other relics unearthed from the site include a coin from the 17th century Ottoman Empire, as well as five other round metallic items that also appear to be coins.
“It is a strange and interesting find. We don’t think that there is a direct link between the Roman empire and Katsuren castle, but the discovery confirms how this region had trade relations with the rest of Asia,” a spokesperson from the board of education said.
Japanese archaeologist Hiroyuki Miyagi told media that when he had heard that Roman and Ottoman coins had been unearthed from the ruins, he initially thought it was a hoax, or that replicas that had been dropped there by tourists or pranksters.
Now, however, he believes that the coins ended up in Japan after passing through different trade routes that linked the West to Asia.