#55 Chinese traders in the Yukon

"HISTORY: Chinese were early traders in Yukon", from the Canadian Mining Journal

I was on a team that discovered a mid 19th century Spanish coin on the North Carolina Coast once but this is really cool.

A CRM firm in Canada, Ecofor Consulting, discovered a Chinese coin minted between 1667 and 1671 on a proposed new road to a new mine.  The firm was doing a heritage impact assessment for Western Copper and Gold.

The article states that although Chinese coins are common on the west coast, this is only the third coin to have been found in the Yukon.  It was found on a promontory overlooking a river and a creek tributary.  It was a likely place for a traveler to have rested or camped, said James Mooney, the archaeologist with Ecofor.

The coin adds to the body of evidence that the Chinese market connected with Yukon First Nations through Russian and coastal Tlingit trade intermediaries during the late 17th and 18th centuries and perhaps as early as the 15th century. The Chinese coin was found within the Selkirk First Nation traditional territory on the historic trade route from Dyea to Fort Selkirk.

Coins were often brought to the area by Russian traders who traded furs to the Chinese.  The Russians traded  tobacco, tea, beads, firearms, iron implements, kettles, needles, clothing and flour to the Tlinglit in exchange for furs including those of the sea otter, fur seal, fox, beaver, lynx, and marten.

The Tlingit tightly controlled direct trade with the interior First Nations by controlling access to the Chilkoot Pass, one of the few entry points through the coastal mountains to the interior.

The four holes around the perimeter of the coin were not there when the coin was minted.  According to Mooney, "The extra holes could have been made in China - coins were sometimes nailed to a gate, door or ridgepole for good luck."  Mooney says that the First Nations sometimes drilled holes in coins to attach them to clothing, use them as decoration, or sewed them in layers like roofing shingles onto hide shirts as a protection from arrow impacts (17th century bullet proof vests!)

The president and COO of Western Copper and Gold, Paul West-Sells, is satisfied with the work that is being done to contribute to the understanding of the Yukon's heritage.  He also said that, "Heritage resource assessments are an important part of the environment and socio-economic baseline work of any project..."

This sounds like a well run project that is producing fascinating results.  Hopefully Ecofor can continue to have a productive relationship with Western and that Western continues to value not only the heritage of the Yukon but also the dissemination of this information to the public.  Nice job!


2008  The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology (iPad App), Oxford University Press, 2nd ed.   Developed by Handmark, Inc.

Coin A metal token, usually a disc, with specific weight and value, usually stamped with designs and inscriptions.  The earliest known coins in the world were minted by the kingdom of Lydia in the Near East in the 7th century BC.  The coins, made of electrum, were simply pieces of metal of standardized weight stamped with designs, and later inscriptions, to identify the issuing authority.  It is not exactly certain how they were initially used, but it was probably for high-level ceremonial exchange rather than everyday trade.  After Cyrus the Great gained control of Lydia in the 6th century BC the Achaemenid Persians adopted a gold coinage that typically had a portrait of their king on one side and a punch mark on the other.  The Greek cities of Asia Minor also copied the Lydian idea for coins in the 7th century, after which the idea spread widely throughout Greece.  The first Roman coins were struck in the early 3rd century BC, initially in precious metals but by the later 3rd century in bronze as the "as" and the "denarius" in silver.  The 4th century BC staters of Phillip II and Alexander III of Macedon provided the prototypes for coins in Europe which developed their own sequence based on the use of Celtic art and local designs.

In the Far East, coinage developed in India in the 5th century BC through contacts with Persian/Achaemenid coinage by Mauryans and Kushans.  In China shells and other small items were used as money down to the Zhou Dynasty and beyond, but from the 3rd century BC onwards round coins with a central square hole began to circulate.