An old swivel gun found on a remote Northern Territory beach in 2010 had been lying on the seabed for as long as 250 years, new dating tests show.
Scientists say this suggests that there was previously unknown foreign contact with Australian shores before Captain Cook discovered Australia in 1770.
A Darwin boy discovered the bronze cannon at Dundee Beach, southwest of Darwin, in 2010.
Christopher Doukas found the 107cm-long gun, an anti-personnel light artillery piece, buried in the sand during an unusually low tide.
Australian scientist Tim Stone says the find will help re-write the nation’s history.
Dr Stone is an Australian geomorphologist and member of the Past Masters, a multidisciplinary team that explores historic mysteries.
“The cannon is one of the most significant historical artefacts ever found in northern Australia,” he said.
When first reported, it was speculated the gun might have once belonged to 16th century seafarers from Portugal.
However, the Past Masters think that Macassan or other sailors from Indonesia are likely to have lost the gun as long ago as 250 years.
The likely date of around 1760 places the gun at the start of the Macassan trepang trade, possibly during the days of exploration in search of the sea delicacy.
An Indonesian vessel could have been blown off course and on to Australian shores, and the gun find could represent one such incident.
To date the weapon, geochronologist Dr Matt Cupper from the University of Melbourne carefully removed sediment from within the gun barrel and then, using optically stimulated luminescence dating methods, measured how long the gun had been buried in the sand.
He found that the gun had been lying on the seabed for as long as 250 years.
Further metal analysis tests are being undertaken in Australia and North America to try to determine the source of the bronze used to cast the gun.
“With the help of these tests the Past Masters hope to learn more about the exact age and origin of the cannon,” said Ian McIntosh, adjunct Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University’s Indianapolis campus in the US and another member of the team.
Until now, Australian historians assumed that the Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon was the first European to have reached Australian shores in 1606, closely followed by his fellow Dutch seafarer Dirk Hartog a few years later.
But several finds in the past years suggest Australia needs to re-write or at least add to its history books.
Apart from the swivel gun, five up to 1000-year old coins from the ancient African kingdom of Kilwa found in the Northern Territory in 1944 opened up the possibility that seafarers from distant countries might have landed in Australia much earlier than what is known today.