Paleolithic principle dating
The Mesopotamian shekel – the first known form of currency – emerged nearly 5,000 years ago. The discovery of hordes of coins of lead, copper, silver and gold all over the globe suggests that coinage – especially in Europe, Asia and North Africa – was recognized as a medium of commodity money at the beginning of the first millennium A. The wide circulation of Roman, Islamic, Indian and Chinese coins points to premodern commerce (1250 B. Money soon became an instrument of political control.Taxes could be extracted to support the elite and armies could be raised.They wanted to facilitate business dealings, while merchants from the Near East and South Asia had their own Rolodexes of business contacts.Coinage was not just a local affair but also a way of leaving a calling card, a signature and a symbolic token of connections.
On the East African coast, there were local merchants and kings of the local Swahili who followed Islam and cultivated these external contacts with other Indian Ocean traders.As the history of money has shown, currency’s impact is double-edged: It enabled the movement of goods and services, migration and settlement amongst strangers.It brought wealth to some, while hastening the development of socioeconomic and other distinctions.But whatever the format, human beings have long used currency as a means of exchange, a method of payment, a standard of value, a store of wealth and a unit of account.As an anthropologist who’s made discoveries of ancient currency in the field, I’m interested in how money evolved in human civilization – and what these archaeological finds can tell us about trade and interaction between far-flung groups.