How did the people of the Bronze Age manage their finances before money became mainstream? Researchers at the universities of Göttingen and Rome discovered that bronze scrap found in stockpiles in Europe circulated as currency. These pieces of junk – which could include swords, axes, and jewelry broken into pieces – were used as cash in the late Bronze Age (1350-800 BC) and actually conformed to a system of weight used throughout Europe. This research suggests that something very similar to our “world market” evolved across Western Eurasia from the daily use of scrap metal for cash by ordinary people some 1,000 years before the start of classical civilizations. . The results were published in Journal of Archaeological Science.
This study analyzed approximately 2,500 metal objects and fragments among the thousands of clusters of late Bronze Age fragments that over time have come to light in Central Europe and Italy. The researchers used a statistical technique to determine whether a sample of measurements is due to an underlying system. This technique can detect, for example, whether the analyzed objects are multiples of a unit of weight. The researchers’ analysis provides very significant results for fragments and offcuts, meaning that these metal objects were intentionally fragmented in order to meet predetermined weights. Analyzes confirm that the unit of weight that regulated the mass of metals was the same unit represented in European balancing weights from the same period. The researchers conclude that these scraps were used as currency and that the fragmentation of the bronze objects was aimed at obtaining “small change” or money.
Prehistoric commerce is generally thought of as a primitive system based on bartering and exchanging gifts, with money emerging as a kind of evolutionary milestone somewhere during the formation of Western state corporations. The study challenges this notion by introducing the concept that money was a bottom-up convention rather than top-down regulation. The Bronze Age currency in Western Eurasia emerges in a socio-political context in which public institutions did not exist (as they did in Europe) or were not interested in the application of any kind of policy. monetary (as in Mesopotamia). In fact, the money was widespread and used daily at all levels of the population.
The spread of the use of scrap metal for cash occurred against the background of the formation of a global market in Western Eurasia. “There was nothing ‘primitive’ in the money before the coin, because the money before the coins fulfilled exactly the same functions as modern money today”, explains Dr Nicola Ialongo of the Institut de prehistory and ancient history of the University of Göttingen. Ialongo adds: “The use of this scrap metal was not an unexpected development, as it is likely that perishable goods were used as currency long before the discovery of metallurgy, but the real turning point was the invention of weighing technology in the Near East circa 3000 BC. This provided, for the first time in human history, the objective means of quantifying the economic value of things and services, or, indeed, of other words, to award them a prize ”.
The study is the result of an international collaboration between the “Weight and Value” project of the University of Göttingen and led by Professor Lorenz Rahmstorf and the Sapienza University of Rome.
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