Between 2015 and 2019, excavations in the central plains region of China revealed a collection of some of the world’s oldest metal coinage, in what is currently considered the world’s oldest mint.
The archeological dig site in Guanzhuang, in Henan Province, uncovered multiple casts for metal spade coins. These monies were in circulation from roughly 770 to 220 BCE. Before the use of circle-shaped coins, the earliest currencies were tradable, useful, tools. Over time smaller versions of the tools, and then eventually symbols of the tools served as currency.
In China, spade coins are symbols of farming spades. The complexity of trade, in Guanzhuang, 2500 years ago, necessitated a smaller item to serve as a promissory note. Shovels are useful but cumbersome. Coinage helps society develop by applying value to non-value items.
The application of value to the tiny spades, which measured 143mm in total length, simplified a barter economy into a trade economy, allowing for further social advancements. All early currency systems likely co-existed with barter systems. It takes time for new ideas to catch on, and for those ideas to be made into laws.
The history of money is a long and winding road that we are lucky to learn more about with each new discovery. Access the full report about the oldest mint in the world online through Cambridge Core from Cambridge University Press. Thank you for joining us today. See you next time on Pendant and Ring!