Researchers including Göttingen University show Bronze Age witnessed revolution in small change across Europe
How did people living in the Bronze Age manage their finances before money became widespread? Researchers from the Universities of Göttingen and Rome have discovered that bronze scrap found in hoards in Europe circulated as a currency. These pieces of scrap – which might include swords, axes, and jewellery broken into pieces – were used as cash in the late Bronze Age (1350-800 BC), and in fact complied with a weight system used across Europe. This research suggests that something very similar to our ‘global market’ evolved across Western Eurasia from the everyday use of scrap for cash by ordinary people some 1000 years before the beginning of classical civilizations. The results were published in Journal of Archaeological Science.
This study analysed around 2,500 metal objects and fragments from among the thousands of hoards of fragments from the late Bronze Age that, over time, have been unearthed in Central Europe and Italy. The researchers used a statistical technique that can determine if a sample of measurements is due to an underlying system. This technique can detect, for instance, if the analysed objects are multiples of a weight unit.
Bronze Age money across Europe: Metal scraps from the ‘soldier’s pouch’ of the Late Bronze Age battlefield of Tollensee Valley, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
Photo: Volker Minkus, copyright Thomas Terberger
The spread of the use of metallic scraps for cash happened against the background of the formation of a global market in Western Eurasia. “There was nothing ‘primitive’ about pre-coinage money, as money before coins performed exactly the same functions that modern money does now,” explains Dr Nicola Ialongo at the University of Göttingen’s Institute for Prehistory and Early History.
The study is the result of an international collaboration between the project ‘Weight and Value’ at the University of Göttingen and directed by Professor Lorenz Rahmstorf, and Sapienza University of Rome.
Contacts and sources:
Publication: A small change revolution. Weight systems and the emergence of the first Pan-European money. Ialongo, N., Lago, G. 2021. Journal of Archaeological Science, 2021. DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2021.105379 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2021.105379
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